Part 3 out of 7
reason we condemn as beneath contempt the spirit
which drives him to an isolation, in bearing which
the black shows himself the superior of the white.
We do not ask nor do we care to encourage any thing
more than decent courtesy. But the young gentlemen
who boast of holding only official intercourse with
their comrade should remember that no one of them
stands before the country in any different light
from him. West Point is an academy for the training
of young men, presumably representative of the people,
for a career sufficiently honorable to gratify any
ambition. The cadets come from all parts of the
country, from all ranks of the social scale. Amalgamated
by the uniform course of studies and the similarity of
discipline, the separating fragments at the end of the
student life carry similar qualities into the life
before them, and step with almost remarkable social
equality into the world where they must find their
level. It would be expecting too much to hope that the
companionship which surmounts or breaks down all the
barriers of caste, should tread with equal heel the
prejudices of color. But it would be more manly in
these boys, if they would remember how easy ordinary
courtesy would be to them, how much it would lighten
the life of a young man whose rights are equal to
their own. It is useless to ignore the inevitable.
This colored boy has his place; he should have fair,
encouragement to hold it. Heaping neglect upon him
does not overcome the principle involved in his
appointment, and while we by no means approve of
such appointments we do believe in common justice."
On the other hand, many have desired this information
for a practical use, and that, too, whether they were
prejudiced or not. That is, if friends, they were
anxious to know how I fared, whether or not I was to
be a success, and if a success to use that fact in
the interest of the people; and if enemies, they
wanted naturally to know the same things in order to
use the knowledge to the injury of the people if I
proved a failure.
I have not always been able to distinguish one class
from the other, and have therefore been quite reticent
about my life and treatment at West Point. I have, too,
avoided the newspapers as much as possible. I succeeded
in this so well that it was scarcely known that I was
at the Academy. Much surprise was manifested when I
appeared in Philadelphia at the Centennial. One gentleman
said to me in the Government building: "You are quite
an exhibition yourself. No one was expecting to see a
But I wander from my theme. It is a remarkable fact
that the new cadets, in only a very few instances,
show any unwillingness to speak or fraternize. It is
not till they come in contact with the rougher elements
of the corps that they manifest any disposition to
avoid one. It was so in my own class, and has been so
in all succeeding classes.
When I was a plebe those of us who lived on the same
floor of barracks visited each other, borrowed books,
heard each other recite when preparing for examination,
and were really on most intimate terms. But alas! in
less than a month they learned to call me "nigger,"
and ceased altogether to visit me. We did the Point
together, shared with each other whatever we purchased
at the sulter's, and knew not what prejudice was. Alas!
we were soon to be informed! In camp, brought into
close contact with the old cadets, these once friends
discovered that they were prejudiced, and learned to
abhor even the presence or sight of a "d--d nigger."
Just two years after my entrance into the Academy, I
met in New York a young man who was a plebe at the
time I was, and who then associated with me. He
recognized me, hurried to me from across the street,
shook my hand heartily, and expressed great delight at
seeing me. He showed me the photograph of a classmate,
told me where I could find him, evidently ignorant of
my ostracism, and, wishing me all sorts of success,
took his leave. After he left me I involuntarily asked
myself, "Would it have been thus if he had not been
'found on his prelim?' " Possibly not, but it is very,
There are some, indeed the majority of the corps are
such, who treat me on all occasions with proper
politeness. They are gentlemen themselves, and treat
others as it becomes gentlemen to do. They do not
associate, nor do they speak other than officially,
except in a few cases. They are perhaps as much
prejudiced as the others, but prejudice does not
prevent all from being gentlemen. On the other hand,
there are some from the very lowest classes of our
population. They are uncouth and rough in appearance,
have only a rudimentary education, have little or no
idea of courtesy, use the very worst language, and in
most cases are much inferior to the average negro. What
can be expected of such people? They are low, and their
conduct must be in keeping with their breeding. I am
not at all surprised to find it so. Indeed, in ordinary
civil life I should consider such people beneath me in
the social scale, should even reckon some of them as
roughs, and consequently give them a wide berth.
What surprises me most is the control this class seems
to have over the other. It is in this class I have
observed most prejudice, and from it, or rather by it,
the other becomes tainted. It seems to rule the corps
by fear. Indeed, I know there are many who would
associate, who would treat me as a brother cadet, were
they not held in constant dread of this class. The
bullies, the fighting men of the corps are in it. It
rules by fear, and whoever disobeys its beck is "cut."
The rest of the corps follows like so many menials
subject to command. In short, there is a fearful lack
of backbone. There is, it seems at first sight, more
prejudice at West Point than elsewhere. It is not
really so I think.
The officers of the institution have never, so far
as I can say, shown any prejudice at all. They have
treated me with uniform courtesy and impartiality.
The cadets, at least some of them, away from West
Point, have also treated me with such gentlemanly
propriety. The want of backbone predominates to such
an alarming extent at West Point they are afraid to
do so there. I will mention a few cases under this
subject of treatment.
During my first-class camp I was rather surprised on
one occasion to have a plebe--we had been to the
Centennial Exhibition and returned, and of course my
status must have been known to him--come to my tent
to borrow ink of me. I readily complied with his
request, feeling proud of what I thought was the
beginning of a new era in my cadet life. I felt he
would surely prove himself manly enough, after thus
recognizing me, to keep it up, and thus bring others
under his influence to the same cause. And I was
still further assured in this when I observed he
made his visits frequent and open. At length, sure of
my willingness to oblige him, he came to me, and, after
expressing a desire to "bone up" a part of the fourth-
class course, and the need he felt for such "boning,"
begged me to lend him my algebra. I of course readily
consented, gave him my key, and sent him to my trunk
in the trunk rooms to get it. He went. He got it, and
returned the key. He went into ecstasies, and made no
end of thanks to me for my kindness, etc. All this
naturally confirmed my opinion and hope of better
recognition ultimately. Indeed, I was glad of an
opportunity to prove that I was not unkind or ungenerous.
I supposed he would keep the book till about September,
at which time he would get one of his own, as every
cadet at that time was required to procure a full
course of text-books, these being necessary for
reference, etc., in future life. And so he did. Some
time after borrowing the book, he came to me and
asked for India ink. I handed him a stick, or rather
part of one, and received as usual his many thanks.
Several days after this, and at night, during my
absence--I was, if I remember aright, at Fort Clinton
making a series of observations with a zenith telescope
in the observatory there--he came to the rear of my
tent, raised the wall near one corner, and placed the
ink on the floor, just inside the wall, which he left
down as he found it.
I found the ink there when I returned. I was utterly
disgusted with the man. The low, unmanly way in which
he acted was wholly without my approval. If he was
disposed to be friendly, why be cowardly about it? If
he must recognize me secretly, why, I would rather
not have such recognition. Acting a lie to his fellow-
cadets by appearing to be inimical to me and my
interests, while he pretended the reverse to me,
proved him to have a baseness of character with which
I didn't care to identify myself.
September came at last, and my algebra was returned.
The book was the one I had used my first year at the
Academy. I had preserved it, as I have all of my
books, for future use and as a sort of souvenir of
my cadet life. It was for that sole reason of great
value to me. I enjoined upon him to take care of the
book, and in nowise to injure it. My name was on the
back, on the cover, and my initial, "F," in two other
places on the cover. When the book was returned he
had cut the calfskin from the cover, so as to remove
my name. The result was a horrible disfiguration of
the book, and a serious impairment of its durability.
The mere sight of the book angered me, and I found it
difficult to retrain from manifesting as much. He
undoubtedly did it to conceal the fact that the book
was borrowed from me. Such unmanliness, such cowardice,
such baseness even, was most disgusting; and I felt
very much as if I would like to--well, I don't know
that I would. There was no reason at all for mutilating
the book. If he was not man enough to use it with my
name on it, why did he borrow it and agree not to
injure it? On that sole condition I lent it. Why did
he not borrow some one else's and return mine?
I have been asked, "What is the general feeling of the
corps towards you? Is it a kindly one, or is it an
unfriendly one. Do they purposely ill-treat you or do
they avoid you merely?" I have found it rather difficult
to answer unqualifiedly such questions; and yet I
believe, and have always believed, that the general
feeling of the corps towards me was a kindly one.
This has been manifested in multitudes of ways, on
innumerably occasions, and under the most various
circumstances. And while there are some who treat me
at times in an unbecoming manner, the majority of the
corps have ever treated me as I would desire to be
treated. I mean, of course, by this assertion that
they have treated me as I expected and really desired
them to treat me, so long as they were prejudiced.
They have held certain opinions more or less
prejudicial to me and my interests, but so long as
they have not exercised their theories to my
displeasure or discomfort, or so long as they have
"let me severely alone," I had no just reason for
complaint. Again, others, who have no theory of their
own, and almost no manliness, have been accustomed "to
pick quarrels," or to endeavor to do so, to satisfy I
don't know what; and while they have had no real
opinions of their own, they have not respected those
of others. Their feeling toward me has been any thing
but one of justice, and yet at times even they have
shown a remarkable tendency to recognize me as having
certain rights entitled to their respect, if not their
As I have been practically isolated from the cadets,
I have had little or no intercourse with them. I have
therefore had but little chance to know what was
really the feeling of the corps as a unit toward
myself. Judging, however, from such evidences as I
have, I am forced to conclude that it is as given
above, viz., a feeling of kindness, restrained
kindness if you please.
Here are some of the evidences which have come under
I once heard a cadet make the following unchristian
remark about myself when a classmate had been
accidentally hurt at light-battery drill: "I wish it
had been the nigger, and it had killed him." I couldn't
help looking at him, and I did; but that, and nothing
more. Some time after this, at cavalry drill, we were
side by side, and I had a rather vicious horse, one in
fact which I could not manage. He gave a sudden jump
unexpectedly to me. I almost lost my seat in the saddle.
This cadet seized me by the arm, and in a tone of voice
that was evidently kind and generous, said to me, "For
heaven's sake be careful. You'll be thrown and get
hurt if you don't." How different from that other wish
Another evidence, and an important one, may be given
in these words. It is customary for the senior, or,
as we say, the first class, to choose, each member,
a horse, and ride him exclusively during the term.
The choice is usually made by lot, and each man
chooses according to the number he draws. By
remarkable good fortune I drew No. 1, and had
therefore the first choice of all the horses in the
As soon as the numbers drawn were published, several
classmates hastened to me for the purpose of effecting
an exchange of choice. It will at once be seen that
any such change would in no manner benefit me, for
if I lost the first choice I might also lose the
chance of selecting a good horse. With the avowed
intention of proving that I had at least a generous
disposition, and also that I was not disposed to
consider, in my reciprocal relations with the cadets,
how I had been, and was even then treated by them, I
consented to exchange my first choice for the
This agreement was made with the first that asked for
an exchange. Several others came, and, when informed
of the previous agreement, of course went their way.
A day or two after this a number of cadets were
discussing the choice of horses, etc., and reverted to
the exchange which I had made. One of them suggested
that if an exchange of a choice higher than fourteen
were suggested to me, I might accept it.
What an idea, he must have had of my character to
suppose me base enough to disregard an agreement I
had already made!
However, all in the crowd were not as base as he was,
and one of them was man enough to say:
"Oh no! that would be imposing upon Mr. Flipper's
good nature." He went on to show how ungentlemanly
and unbecoming in a "cadet and gentleman" such an
act would be. The idea was abandoned, or at least
was never broached to me, and if it had been I would
never have entertained it. Such an act on the part
of the cadet could have arisen only from a high sense
of manly honor or from a feeling of kindness.
There are multitudes of little acts of kindness
similar to these, and even different ones. I need
not--indeed as I do not remember them all I cannot
--mention them all. They all show, however, that
the cadets are not avowedly inclined to ill-treat
me, but rather to assist me to make my life under
the circumstances as pleasant as can be. And there
may be outside influences, such as relatives or
friends, which bias their own better judgments and
keep them from fully and openly recognizing me. For
however hard either way may be, it is far easier to
do as friends wish than as conscience may dictate,
when conscience and friends differ. Under such
conditions it would manifestly be unjust for me to
expect recognition of them, even though they
themselves were disposed to make it. I am sure this
is at least a Christian view of the case, and with
such view I have ever kept aloof from the cadets. I
have not obtruded myself upon them, nor in any way
attempted to force recognition from them. This has
proved itself to be by far the better way, and I
don't think it could well be otherwise.
The one principle which has controlled my conduct
while a cadet, and which is apparent throughout my
narrative, is briefly this: to find, if possible,
for every insult or other offence a reason or motive
which is consistent with the character of a gentleman.
Whenever I have been insulted, or any thing has been
done or said to me which might have that construction,
I have endeavored to find some excuse, some reason
for it, which was not founded on prejudice or on
baseness of character or any other ungentlemanly
attribute; or, in other words, I wanted to prove that
it was not done because of my color. If I could find
such a reason--and I have found them--I have been
disposed not only to overlook the offence, but to
forgive and forget it. Thus there are many cadets who
would associate, etc., were they not restrained by the
force of opinion of relatives and friends. This cringing
dependence, this vassalage, this mesmerism we may call
it, we all know exists. Why, many a cadet has openly
confessed to me that he did not recognize us because
he was afraid of being "cut."
Again, I find some too high-toned, too punctilious,
to recognize me. I attribute this not to the
loftiness of their highnesses nor to prejudice, but
to the depth of their ignorance, and of course I
forgive and forget. Others again are so "reckless,"
so "don't care" disposed, that they treat me as fancy
dictates, now friendly, now vacillating, and now
inimical. With these I simply do as the Romans do.
If they are friendly, so am I; if they scorn me, I
do not obtrude myself upon them; if they are
indifferent, I am indifferent too.
There is a rather remarkable case under this subject
which has caused me no little surprise and
disappointment. I refer to those cadets appointed by
colored members of Congress.
It was quite natural to expect of them better treatment
than of others, and yet if in any thing at all they
differed from the former, they were the more reserved
and discourteous. They most "severely let me alone."
They never associated, nor did they speak, except
officially, and then they always spoke in a haughty
and insolent manner that was to me most exasperating.
And in one case in particular was this so. One of those
so appointed was the son of the colored Congressman who
sent him there, and from him at least good treatment
was reasonably expected. There have been only two such
appointments to my knowledge, and it is a singular fact
that they were both overbearing, conceited, and by no
means popular with their comrades. The status of one
was but little better than my own, and only in that
his comrades would speak and associate. He was not
"cut," but avoided as much as possible without making
the offence too patent.
There was a cadet in the corps with myself who
invariably dropped his head whenever our eyes met.
His complexion was any thing but white, his features
were rough and homely, and his person almost entirely
without symmetry or beauty. From this singular
circumstance and his physique, I draw the conclusion
that he was more African than Anglo-Saxon. Indeed, I
once heard as much insinuated by a fellow-cadet, to
whom his reply was: "It's an honor to be black."
Near the close of this chapter I have occason to
speak of fear. There I mean by fear a sort of
shrinking demeanor or disposition to accept insults
and other petty persecutions as just dues, or to
leave them unpunished from actual cowardice, to
which fear some have been pleased to attribute my
generally good treatment. This latter fact has been
by many, to my personal knowledge, attributed to
fear in another quarter, viz., in the cadets
themselves. It has many times been said to me by
persons at West Point and elsewhere: "I don't suppose
many of those fellows would care to encounter you?"
This idea was doubtless founded upon my physical
proportions--I am six feet one and three-quarter
inches high, and weigh one hundred and seventy-five
pounds. In behalf of the corps of cadets I would
disclaim any such notions of fear,
First. Because the conception of the idea is not
logical. I was not the tallest, nor yet the largest
man in the corps, nor even did I give any evidence
of a disposition to fight or bully others.
Second. Because I did not come to West Point purposely
to "go through on my muscle." I am not a fighting
character, as the cadets--those who know me--can well
Third. Because it is ungenerous to attribute what
can result from man's better nature only to such
base causes as fear or cowardice. This seems to be
about the only way in which many have endeavored to
explain the difference between my life at West Point
and that of other colored cadets. They seem to think
that my physique inspired a sort of fear in the cadets,
and forced them at least to let me alone, while the
former ones, smaller in size, did therefore create no
such fear until by persistent retaliation it was shown
they were able to defend themselves.
Now this, I think, is the most shallow of all reasoning
and entirely unworthy our further notice.
Fourth. I should be grieved to suppose any one
feared me. It is not my desire to go through life
feared by any one. I can derive no pleasure from
any thing which is accorded me through motives of
fear. The grant must be spontaneous and voluntary
to give me the most pleasure. I want nothing, not
even recognition, unless it be freely given, hence
have I not forced myself upon my comrades.
"But the sensible Flipper accepted the situation,
and proudly refused to intrude himself on the white
boys." -- Atlanta (Ga.) Herald.
Fifth. Because it is incompatible with the dignity
of a "cadet and a gentleman" for one to fear another.
Sixth. Because it is positively absurd to suppose
that one man of three hundred more or less would
be feared by the rest individually and collectively,
and no rational being would for an instant entertain
any such idea. There is, however, a single case
which may imply fear on the part of the cadet most
concerned. A number of plebes, among them a colored
one, were standing on the stoop of barracks. There
were also several cadets standing in the doorway,
and a sentinel was posted in the hall. This latter
individual went up to one of the cadets and said to
him, "Make that nigger out there get his hands
around," referring to this plebe mentioned above.
I happened to come down stairs just at that time,
and as soon as he uttered those words he turned
and saw me. He hung his head, and in a cowardly
manner sneaked off, while the cadets in the door
also dispersed with lowered heads. Was it fear?
Verily I know not. Possibly it was shame.
Again I recall a rather peculiar circumstance
which will perhaps sustain this notion of fear
on the part of the cadets. I have on every
occasion when I had command over my fellow-cadets
in any degree, noticed that they were generally
more orderly and more obedient than when this
authority was exercised by another.
Thus whenever I commanded the guard there
were very few reports for offences committed by
members of the guard. They have ever been obedient
and military. In camp, when I was first in command
of the guard, I had a most orderly guard and a very
pleasant tour, and that too, observe, while some of
the members of it were plebes and on for the first
time. On all such occasions it is an immemorial
custom for the yearlings to interfere with and haze
the plebe sentinels. Not a sentinel was disturbed,
not a thing went amiss, and why? Manifestly because
it was thought --and rightly too--that I would not
connive at such interference, and because they feared
to attempt it lest they be watched and reported.
Later, however, even this semblance of fear disappeared,
and they acted under me precisely as they do under
others, because they are convinced that I will not
stoop to spy or retaliate.
"The boys were rather afraid that when he should come
to hold the position as officer of the guard that he
would swagger over them; but he showed good sense and
taste, merely assuming the rank formally and leaving
his junior to carry out the duty."--New York Herald.
And just here it is worthy of notice that the press,
in commenting upon my chances of graduating, has
never, so far as I know, entertained any doubts of
my ability to do so. It has, on the contrary,
expressed the belief that the probability of my
graduating depended upon the officers of the Academy,
and upon any others who, by influence or otherwise,
were connected with the Academy. Some have even
hinted at politics as a possible ground upon which
they might drop me.
All such opinions have been created and nurtured by
the hostile portion of the press, and, I regret to
say, by that part also which ought to have been more
friendly, if not more discreet. No branch of the
government is freer from the influences and whims
of politicians than the National Military Academy.
Scarcely any paper has considered how the chances
of any cadet depended upon himself alone. The
authorities of the Academy are, or have been,
officers of the army. They are, with one or two
exceptions, graduates, and therefore, presumably,
"officers and gentlemen." To transform young men
into a like ilk as themselves is their duty. The
country intrusts them with this great responsibility.
To prove faithless to such a charge would be to risk
position, and even those dearer attributes of the
soldier, honor and reputation. They would not dare
ill-treat a colored cadet or a white one. Of course
the prejudice of race is not yet overcome entirely,
and possibly they may be led into some indiscretion
on account of it; but I do not think it would be
different at any other college in the country. It is
There are prejudices of caste as well as prejudices
of race, and I am most unwilling to believe it
possible that any officer would treat with injustice
a colored cadet who in true gentlemanly qualities,
intelligence, and assiduousness equals or excels
certain white ones who are treated with perfect
equanimity. With me it has not been so. I have been
treated as I would wish to be in the majority of cases.
There have been of course occasions where I've fancied
wrong had been done me. I expected to be ill-treated.
I went to West Point fully convinced that I'd have "a
rough time of it." Who that has read the many newspaper
versions of the treatment of colored cadets, and of
Smith in particular would not have been so convinced?
When, therefore, any affront or any thing seemingly of
that nature was offered me, I have been disposed,
naturally I think, to unduly magnify it, because I
expected it. This was hasty and unjust, and so I
admit, now that I am better informed. What was
apparently done to incommode or discourage me has
been shown to have been done either for my own
benefit or for some other purpose, not to my harm.
In every single instance I have, after knowing better
the reason for such acts, felt obliged to acknowledge
the injustice of my fears. At other times I have been
agreeably surprised at the kindnesses shown me both by
officers and cadets, and have found myself at great
loss to reconcile them with acts I had already adjudged
as malicious wrongs.
I have, too, been particularly careful not to fall
into an error, which, I think, has been the cause
of misfortune to at least one of the cadets of color.
If a cadet affront another, if a white cadet insult a
colored one for instance, the latter can complain to
The proper authorities, and, if there be good reason
for it, can always get proper redress. This undoubtedly
gives the consolation of knowing that the offence will
not be repeated, but beyond that I think it a great
mistake to have so sought it. A person who constantly
complains, even with some show of reason, loses more or
less the respect of the authorities. And the offenders,
while they refrain from open acts, do nevertheless
conduct their petty persecutions in such a manner that
one can shape no charge against them, and consequently
finds himself helpless. One must endure these little
tortures--the sneer, the shrug of the shoulder, the
epithet, the effort to avoid, to disdain, to ignore--
and thus suffer; for any of them are--to me at least--
far more hard to bear than a blow. A blow I may resist
or ignore. In either case I soon forget it. But a sneer,
a shrug of the shoulder, mean more. Either is a blow at
my sensitiveness, my inner feelings, and which through
no ordinary effort of mind can be altogether forgotten.
It is a sting that burns long and fiercely. How much
better to have ignored the greater offences which could
be reached, and to have thus avoided the lesser ones,
which nothing can destroy! How much wiser to stand like
a vast front of fortification, on some rocky moral height
absolutely unassailable, passively resisting alike the
attack by open assault and the surer one by regular
approaches! The assault can be repulsed, but who can, who
has ever successfully stopped the mines and the galleries
through which an entrance is at length forced into the
"We cannot expect the sons to forget the lessons of the
sires; but we have a right to demand from the general
government the rooting out of all snobbery at West Point,
whether it is of that kind which sends poor white boys to
Coventry, because they haven't a family name or wealth,
or whether it be that smallest, meanest, and shallowest
of all aristocracies--the one founded upon color.
"If the government is not able to root out these
unrepublican seeds in these hotbeds of disloyalty and
snobbery, let Congress shut up the useless and expensive
appendages and educate its officers at the colleges of
the country, where they may learn lessons in true
Republican equality and nationality. The remedy lies
with Congress. A remonstrance, at least, should be heard
from the colored members of Congress, who are insulted
whenever a colored boy is ill-treated by the students
or the officers of these institutions. So far from being
discouraged by defeats, the unjust treatment meted out
to the young men should redouble the efforts of others
of their class to conquer this new Bastile by storm. It
should lead every colored Congressman to make sure that
he either sends a colored applicant or a white one who
has not the seeds of snobbery or caste in his soul."
I shall consider this last clause at the end of this
chapter, where I shall quote at length the article
from which this passage is taken.
If I may be pardoned an opinion on this article, I do
not think the true remedy lies with Congress at all.
I do not question the right to demand of Congress any
thing, but I do doubt the propriety or need of such a
proceeding, of course, in the case under consideration.
As to "that kind which sends poor white boys to Coventry,"
because of their poverty, etc., I can say with absolute
truthfulness it no longer exists. When it did exist the
power to discontinue it did not lie with Congress.
Congress has no control over personal whims or prejudices.
But I make a slight mistake. There was a time when
influence, wealth, or position was able to secure a
cadetship. At that time poor boys very rarely succeeded
in getting an appointment, and when they did they were
most unmercifully "cut" by the snobs of aristocracy who
were at the Academy. Then the remedy did lie with
Congress. The appointments could have been so made as
to exclude those snobs whose only recommendation was
their position in society, and so also as to admit boys
who were deserving, although they were perhaps poor.
This remedy has been made, and all classes (white),
whether poor or rich, influential or not, are on terms
of absolute equality.
But for that other kind, "the one founded upon color,"
Congress has no remedy, no more than for fanaticism or
something of that kind.
This article also tells us that "the government has been
remiss in not throwing around them the protection of its
authority." I disdainfully scout the idea of such
protection. If my manhood cannot stand without a
governmental prop, then let it fall. If I am to stand
on any other ground than the one white cadets stand
upon, then I don't want the cadetship. If I cannot
endure prejudice and persecutions, even if they are
offered, then I don't deserve the cadetship, and much
less the commission of an army officer. But there is a
remedy, a way to root out snobbery and prejudice which
but needs adoption to have the desired effect. Of
course its adoption by a single person, myself for
instance, will not be sufficient to break away all
the barriers which prejudice has brought into existence.
I am quite confident, however, if adopted by all colored
cadets, it will eventually work out the difficult
though by no means insoluble problem, and give us further
cause for joy and congratulations.
The remedy lies solely in our case with us. We can
make our life at West Point what we will. We shall
be treated by the cadets as we treat them. Of course
some of the cadets are low--they belong to the younger
classes-- and good treatment cannot be expected of
them at West Point nor away from there. The others,
presumably gentlemen, will treat everybody else as
becomes gentlemen, or at any rate as they themselves
are treated. For, as Josh Billings quaintly tells us,
"a gentleman kant hide hiz true karakter enny more
than a loafer kan."
Prejudice does not necessarily prevent a man's being
courteous and gentlemanly in his relations with others.
If, then, they be prejudiced and treat one with ordinary
civility, or even if they let one "severely alone," is
there any harm done? Is such a course of conduct to be
denounced? Religiously, yes; but in the manner of every
-day life and its conventionalities, I say not by any
means. I have the right--no one will deny it--of
choosing or rejecting as companions whomsoever I will.
If my choice be based upon color, am I more wrong in
adopting it than I should be in adopting any other
reason? it may be an unchristian opinion or fancy that
causes me to do it, but such opinion or fancy is my own,
and I have a right to it. No one objects to prejudice
as such, but to the treatment it is supposed to cause.
If one is disposed to ill-treat another, he'll do it,
prejudiced or not prejudiced. Only low persons are so
disposed, and happily so for West Point, and indeed for
the whole country.
"The system of competitive examination for admission,
so largely adopted within the past few years in many
of our large cities, has resulted in recruiting the
corps with lads of bright intellect and more than
ordinary attainments, while the strict physical
examination has rigorously excluded all but those of
good form and perfect health. The competitive system
has also given to the Academy students who want to
learn, instead of lads who are content to scramble
through the prescribed course as best they can,
escaping being "found" (a cadet term equivalent to
the old college word 'plucked') by merely a hair's-
The old way of getting rid of the rough, uncouth
characters was to "find" them. Few, very few of
them, ever got into the army. Now they are excluded
by the system of competitive examination even from
entering the Military Academy, and if they should
succeed in getting to West Point, they eventually
fail, since men with no fixed purpose cannot
graduate at West Point.
Now if the "colored cadets" be not of this class
also, then their life at West Point will not be
much harder than that of the others. The cadets
may not associate, but what of that? Am I to blame
a man who prefers not to associate with me? If that
be the only charge against him, then my verdict is
for acquittal. Though his conduct arises from, to
us, false premises, it is to his sincere convictions
right, and we would not in the slightest degree be
justified in forcing him into our way of looking at
it. In other words, the remedy does not lie with
The kind of treatment we are to receive at the
hands of others depends entirely upon ourselves.
I think my life at West Point sufficiently proves
the truth of this assertion. I entered the Academy
at a time when, as one paper had it, West Point
was a "hotbed of disloyalty and snobbery, a useless
and expensive appendage." I expected all sorts of
ill-treatment, and yet from the day I entered till
the day I graduated I had not cause to utter so much
as an angry word. I refused to obtrude myself upon
the white cadets, and treated them all with uniform
courtesy. I have been treated likewise. It simply
depended on me what sort of treatment I should
receive. I was careful to give no cause for bad
treatment, and it was never put upon me. In making
this assertion I purposely disregard the instances
of malice, etc., mentioned elsewhere, for the reason
that I do not believe they were due to any deep
personal convictions of my inferiority or personal
desire to impose upon me, but rather were due to the
fear of being "cut" if they had acted otherwise.
Our relations have been such, as any one will
readily observe, that even officially they would
have been obliged to recognize me to a greater or
less extent, or at the expense of their consciences
ignore me. They have done both, as circumstances
and not inclination have led them to do.
A rather unexpected incident occurred in the summer
of '73, which will show perhaps how intense is that
gravitating force--if I may so term it--which so
completely changes the feelings of the plebes, and
even cadets, who, when they reported, were not at
all prejudiced on account of color.
It was rather late at night and extremely dark. I
was on guard and on post at the time. Approaching
the lower end of my post, No. 5, I heard my name
called in a low tone by some one whom I did not
recognize. I stopped and listened. The calling was
repeated, and I drew near the place whence it came.
It proved to be a cadet, a classmate of mine, and
then a sentinel on the adjacent post, No. 4. We
stood and talked quite awhile, as there was no
danger either of being seen by other cadets--an
event which those who in any manner have recognized
me have strenuously avoided--or "hived standing on
post." It was too dark. He expressed great regret
at my treatment, hoped it would be bettered, assured
me that he would ever be a friend and treat me as a
Another classmate told me, at another time, in
effect the same thing. I very naturally expected a
fulfilment of these promises, but alas! for such
hopes! They not only never fulfilled them, but
treated me even as badly as all the others. One of
them was assigned a seat next to me at table. He
would eat scarcely anything, and when done with that
he would draw his chair away and pretend to be imposed
upon in the most degrading manner possible. The other
practised similar manoeuvres whenever we fell in at
any formation of company or section. They both called
me "nigger," or "d--d nigger," as suited their
inclination. Yet this ought, I verily believe, to be
attributed not to them, but to the circumstances that
led them to adopt such a course.
On one occasion, however, one of them brought to
my room the integration of some differential
equation in mechanics which had been sent me by
our instructor. He was very friendly then,
apparently. He told me upon leaving, if I
desired any further information to come to his
"house," and he would give it. I observed that he
called me "Mr. Flipper."
One winter's night, while on guard in barracks
during supper, a cadet of the next class above
my own stopped on my post and conversed with me
as long as it was safe to do so. He expressed--
as all have who have spoken to me--great regret
that I should be so isolated, asked how I got
along in my studies, and many other like questions.
He spoke at great length of my general treatment. He
assured me that he was wholly unprejudiced, and would
ever be a friend. He even went far enough to say, to
my great astonishment, that he cursed me and my race
among the cadets to keep up appearances with them,
and that I must think none the less well of him for
so doing. It was a sort of necessity, he said, for he
would not only be "cut," but would be treated a great
deal worse than I was if he should fraternize with me.
Upon leaving me he said, "I'm d--d sorry to see you
come here to be treated so, but I am glad to see you
Unfortunately the gentleman failed at the examination,
then not far distant, and of course did not have much
opportunity to give proof of his friendship. And thus,
"The walk, the words, the gesture could supply,
The habit mimic and the mien belie."
When the plebes reported in '76, and were given seats
in the chapel, three of them were placed in the pew
with myself. We took seats in the following order,
viz., first the commandant of the pew, a sergeant and
a classmate of mine, then a third-classman, myself,
and the plebes. Now this arrangement was wholly
unsatisfactory to the third-classman, who turned to
the sergeant and asked of him to place a plebe between
him and myself. The sergeant turned toward me, and
with an angry gesture ordered me to "Get over there."
I refused, on the ground that the seat I occupied had
been assigned me, and I therefore had no authority to
change it. Near the end of the service the third-
classman asked the sergeant to tell me to sit at the
further end of the seat. He did so. I refused on the
same ground as before. He replied, "Well, it don't
make any difference. I'll see that your seat is
changed." I feared he would go to the cadet
quartermaster, who had charge of the arrangement of
seats, and have my seat changed without authority. I
reported to the officer in charge of the new cadets,
and explained the whole affair to him.
"You take the seat," said he, "assigned you in the
guard house"--the plan of the church, with names
written on the pews, was kept here, so that cadets
could consult it and know where their seats were--
"and if anybody wants you to change it tell them I
ordered you to keep it."
The next Sabbath I took it. I was ordered to change
it. I refused on the authority just given above. The
sergeant then went to the commandant of cadets, who
by some means got the impression that I desired to
change my seat. He sent for me and emphatically
ordered me to keep the seat which had by his order
been assigned me. Thus the effort to change my seat,
made by the third-classman through the sergeant, but
claimed to have been made by me, failed. It was out
of the question for it to be otherwise. If the sergeant
had wanted the seat himself he would in all probability
have got it, because he was my senior in class and
lineal rank. But the third-classman was my junior in
both, and therefore could not, by any military
regulation, get possession of what I was entitled to
by my superior rank. And the effort to do so must be
regarded a marvellous display of stupidity, or a belief
on the part of the cadet that I could be imposed upon
with impunity, simply because I was alone and had shown
no disposition to quarrel or demand either real or
While in New York during my furlough--summer of '75
--I was introduced to one of her wealthy bankers. We
conversed quite a while on various topics, and finally
resumed the subject on which we began, viz., West Point.
He named a cadet, whom I shall call for convenience
John, and asked if I knew him. I replied in the
affirmative. After asking various other questions of
him, his welfare, etc., he volunteered the following
bit of information:
"Oh! yes," said he, "I've known John for several years.
He used to peddle newspapers around the bank here. I
was agreeably surprised when I heard he had been
appointed to a cadetship at West Point. The boys who
come in almost every morning with their papers told me
John was to sell me no more papers. His mother has
scrubbed out the office here, and cleaned up daily for
a number of years. John's a good fellow though, and
I'm glad to know of his success."
This information was to me most startling. There
certainly was nothing dishonorable in that sort
of labor--nay, even there was much in it that
deserved our highest praise. It was honest, humble
work. But who would imagine from the pompous bearing
assumed by the gentleman that he ever peddled
newspapers, or that his mother earned her daily
bread by scrubbing on her knees office floors? And
how does this compare with the average negro?
It is not to me very pleasant to thus have another's
private history revealed, but when it is done I can't
help feeling myself better in one sense at least than
my self-styled superiors. I certainly am not really
one thing and apparently another. The distant
haughtiness assumed by some of them, and the constant
endeavor to avoid me, as if I were "a stick or a stone,
the veriest poke of creation," had no other effect
than to make me feel as if I were really so, and to
discourage and dishearten me. I hardly know how I
endured it all so long. If I were asked to go over it
all again, even with the experience I now have, I fear
I should fail. I mean of course the strain on my mind
and sensitiveness would be so great I'd be unable to
There is that in every man, it has been said, either
good or bad, which will manifest itself in his speech
or acts. Keeping this in mind while I constantly
study those around me, I find myself at times driven
to most extraordinary conclusions. If some are as good
as their speech, then, if I may be permitted to judge,
they have most devoutly observed that blessed
commandment, "Honor thy father and thy mother, that
thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy
God giveth thee," in that they have profited by their
teaching both mentally and morally.
On the other hand, we hear from many the very worst
possible language. Some make pardonable errors, while
others make blunders for which there can be no excuse
save ignorance. Judging their character by their
speech, what a sad condition must be theirs; and more,
what a need for missionary work!
This state of affairs gives way in the second, and
often in the first year, to instruction and discipline.
West Point's greatest glory arises from her unparalleled
success in polishing these rough specimens and sending
them forth "officers and gentlemen." No college in the
country has such a "heterogeneous conglomeration"--to
quote Dr. Johnson--of classes. The highest and lowest
are represented. The glory of free America, her
recognition of equality of all men, is not so apparent
anywhere else as at West Point. And were prejudice
entirely obliterated, then would America in truth be
that Utopia of which so many have but dreamed. It is
rapidly giving way to better reason, and the day is not
far distant when West Point will stand forth as the
proud exponent of absolute social equality. Prejudice
weakens, and ere long will fail completely. The advent
of general education sounds its death knell. And may
the day be not afar off when America shall proclaim her
emancipation from the basest of all servitudes, the
subservience to prejudice!
After feeling reasonably sure of success, I have often
thought that my good treatment was due in a measure to
a sort of apprehension on the part of the cadets that,
when I should come to exercise command over them, I
would use my authority to retaliate for any ill-treatment
I had suffered. I have thought this the case with those
especially who have been reared in the principles of
prejudice, and often in none other, for "prejudices, it
is well known, are the most difficult to eradicate from
the heart whose soil has never been loosened or
fertilized by education. They grow there as firm as
weeds among rocks."
When the time did come, and I proved by purely
gentlemanly conduct that it was no harder, no more
dishonorable, to be under me than under others, this
reserve vanished to a very great extent. I might
mention instances in which this is evident.
At practical engineering, one day, three of us were
making a gabion. One was putting in the watling,
another keeping it firmly down, while I was preparing
it. I had had some instruction on a previous day as
to how it should be made, but the two others had not.
When they had put in the watling to within the proper
distance of the top they began trimming off the twigs
and butt ends of the withes. I happened to turn toward
the gabion and observed what they were doing. In a tone
of voice, and with a familiarity that surprised my own
self, I exclaimed, "Oh, don't do that. Don't you see
if you cut those off before sewing, the whole thing
will come to pieces? Secure the ends first and then
cut off the twigs."
They stopped working, listened attentively, and one
of them replied, "Yes, that would be the most sensible
way." I proceeded to show them how to sew the watling
and to secure the ends. They were classmates. They
listened to my voluntary instruction and followed it
without a thought of who gave it, or any feeling of
At foot battery drill one day I was chief of piece.
After a time the instructor rested the battery. The
cannoneers at my piece, instead of going off and
sitting down, gathered around me and asked questions
about the nomenclature of the piece and its carriage.
"What is this?" "What is it for?" and many others.
They were third-classmen. Certainly there was no
prejudice in this. Certainly, too, it could only be
due to good conduct on my part. And here is another.
Just after taps on the night of July 12th, 1876, while
lying in my tent studying the stars, I happened to
overhear a rather angry conversation concerning my
It seems the cadet speaking had learned beforehand
that he and myself would be on duty a few days hence,
myself as senior and he as junior officer of the guard.
His chums were teasing him on his misfortune of being
under me as junior, which act caused him to enter into
a violent panegyric upon me. He began by criticising
my military aptitude and the manner in which I was
treated by the authorities, that is, by the cadet
officers, as is apparent from what follows:
"That nigger," said he, "don't keep dressed. Sometimes
he's 'way head of the line. He swings his arms, and
does other things not half as well as other 'devils,'
and yet he's not 'skinned' for it."
What a severe comment upon the way in which the file-
closers discharge their duties! Severe, indeed, it
would be were it true. It is hardly reasonable, I
think, to suppose the file-closers, in the face of
prejudice and the probability of being "cut," would
permit me to do the things mentioned with impunity,
while they reported even their own classmates for them.
And here again we see the fox and sour grapes. The
gentleman who so honored me with his criticism was
junior to me in every branch of study we had taken up
to that time except in French. I was his senior in
tactics by-- well, to give the number of files would
be to specify him too closely and make my narrative
too personal. Suffice it to say I ranked him, and I
rather fancy, as I did not gain that position by
favoritism, but by study and proficiency, he should
not venture to criticise. But so it is all through
life, at West Point as well as elsewhere. Malcontents
are ever finding faults in others which they never
think of discovering in themselves.
When the time came the detail was published at
parade, and next day we duly marched on guard.
When I appeared on the general parade in full
dress, I noticed mischievous smiles on more than
one face, for the majority of the corps had turned
out to see me. I walked along, proudly unconscious
of their presence.
Although I went through the ceremony of guard
mounting without a single blunder, I was not at
all at ease. I inspected the front rank, while my
junior inspected the rear. I was sorely displeased
to observe some of the cadets change color as they
tossed up their pieces for my inspection, and that
they watched me as I went through that operation.
Some of them were from the South, and educated to
consider themselves far superior to those of whom
they once claimed the right of possession. I know
it was to them most galling, and although I fully
felt the responsibility and honor of commanding the
guard, I frankly and candidly confess that I found
no pleasure in their apparent humiliation.
I am as a matter of course opposed to prejudice,
but I nevertheless hold that those who are not
have just as much right to their opinions on the
matter as they would have to any one of the various
religious creeds. We in free America at least would
not be justified in forcing them to renounce their
views or beliefs on race and color any more than
those on religion.
We can sometimes, by so living that those who differ
from us in opinion respecting any thing can find no
fault with us or our creed, influence them to a just
consideration of our views, and perhaps persuade them
unconsciously to adopt our way of thinking. And just
so it is, I think, with prejudice. There is a certain
dignity in enduring it which always evokes praise
from those who indulge it, and also often discovers
to them their error and its injustice.
Knowing that it would be unpleasant to my junior
to have to ask my permission to do this or that,
and not wishing to subject him to more mortification
than was possible, I gave him all the latitude I
could, telling him to use his own discretion, and
that he need not ask my permission for any thing
unless he chose.
This simple act, forgotten almost as soon as done,
was in an exceedingly short time known to every cadet
throughout the camp, and I had the indescribable
pleasure, some days after, of knowing that by it I
had been raised many degrees in the estimation of
the corps. Nor did this knowledge remain in camp.
It was spread all over the Point. The act was talked
of and praised by the cadets wherever they went, and
their conversations were repeated to me many times by
When on guard again I was the junior, and of course
subject to the orders of the senior. He came to me
voluntarily, and in almost my own words gave me
exactly the same privileges I had given my junior,
who was a chum of my present senior. In view of the
ostracism and isolation to which I had been subjected,
it was expected that I would be severe, and use my
authority to retaliate. When, however, I did a more
Christian act, did to others as I would have them do
to me, and not as they had sometimes done, I gave cause
for a similar act of good-will, which was in a degree
beyond all expectation accorded me.
Indeed, while we are all prone to err, we are also
very apt to do to others as they really do to us. If
they treat us well, we treat them well; if badly, we
treat them so also. I believe such to be in accordance
with our nature, and if we do not always do so our
failure is due to some influence apart from our
better reason, if we do not treat them well, or our
first impulse if we do. If now, on the contrary, I
had been severe and unnecessarily imperious because
of my power, I should in all probability have been
treated likewise, and would have fallen and not have
risen in the estimation of the cadets.
It has often occurred to me that the terms "prejudice
of race, of color," etc., were misnomers, and for this
reason. As soon as I show that I have some good
qualities, do some act of kindness in spite of insult,
my color is forgotten and I am well treated. Again, I
have observed that colored men of character and
intellectual ability have been treated as men should
be by all, whether friends or enemies; that is to say,
no prejudice of color or race has ever been manifested.
I have been so treated by men I knew to be--to use a
political term--"vile democrats." Unfortunately a bad
temper, precipitation, stubbornness, and like qualities,
all due to non-education, are too often attributes of
colored men and women. These characteristics lower the
race in the estimation of the whites, and produce, I
think, what we call prejudice. In fact I believe
prejudice is due solely to non-education and its effects
in one or perhaps both races.
Prejudice of--well, any word that will express these
several characteristics would be better, as it would
be nearer the truth.
There is, of course, a very large class of ignorant
and partially cultured whites whose conceptions can
find no other reason for prejudice than that of color.
I doubt very much whether they are prejudiced on that
account as it is. I rather think they are so because
they know others are for some reason, and so cringing
are they in their weakness that they follow like so
many trained curs. This is the class we in the South
are accustomed to call the "poor white trash," and
speaking of them generally I can neglect them in this
discussion of my treatment, and without material error.
In camp at night the duties of the officers of the
guard are discharged part of the night by the senior
and the other part by the junior officer. As soon as
it was night--to revert to the subject of this article
--my junior came to me and asked how I wished to
divide the night tour.
"Just suit yourself. If you have any reason for wanting
a particular part of the night, I shall be pleased to
have you take it."
He chose the latter half of the night, and asked me to
wake him at a specified time. After this he discovered
a reason for taking the first half, and coming to me
"If it makes no difference to you I will take the first
half of the night."
"As you like," was my reply.
"You 'pile in' then, and I'll wake you in time," was
Observe the familiarity in this rejoinder.
The guard was turned out and inspected by the officer
of the day at about 12.20 P.M. After the inspection I
retired, and was awakened between 1 and 2 P.M. by my
junior, who then retired for the night.
The officer in charge turned out and inspected the
guard between 2 and 3 p.m.
Several of the cadets were reported to me by the
corporals for violating regulations. The reports
were duly recorded in the guard report for the day.
I myself reported but one cadet, and his offence was
"Absence from tattoo roll-call of guard."
These reports were put in under my signature, though
not at all made by me, as also was another of a very
It seems--for I didn't know the initial circumstances
of the case--that a citizen visiting at West Point
asked a cadet if he could see a friend of his who was
a member of the corps. The cadet at once sought out
the corporal then on duty, and asked him to go to camp
and turn out this friend. The corporal did not go. The
cadet who requested him to do so reported the fact to
the officer of the day. The latter came at once to me
and directed me, as officer of the guard, to order him
to go and turn out the cadet, and to see that he did it.
I did as ordered. The corporal replied, "I have turned
him out." As the cadet did not make his appearance the
officer of the day himself went into camp, brought him
out to his citizen friend, and then ordered me in
positive terms to report the corporal for gross
disobedience of orders. I communicated to him the
corporal's reply, and received a repetition of his
order. I obeyed it, entering on my guard report the
"--, disobedience of orders, not turning out a cadet
for citizen when ordered to do so by the officer of
The commandant sent for me, and learned from me all
the circumstances of the case as far as I knew them.
He made similar requirements of the corporal himself.
Connected with this case is another, which, I think,
should be recorded, to show how some have been disposed
to act and think concerning myself. At the dinner table,
and on the very day this affair above mentioned
occurred, a cadet asked another if he had heard about--,
mentioning the name of the cadet corporal.
"No, I haven't," he replied; "what's the matter with
"Why, the officer of the day ordered him reported for
disobedience of orders, and served him right too."
"What was it? Whose orders did he disobey?"
"Some cit wanted to see a cadet and asked C--if he
could do so. C--asked--, who was then on duty, to go
to camp and turn him out. He didn't do it, but went
off and began talking with some ladies. The officer
of the day directed the senior officer of the guard
to order him to go. He did order him to go and--
replied, "I have turned him out," and didn't go. The
officer of the day then turned him out, and ordered
him to be reported for disobedience of orders, and I
say served him right."
"I don't see it," was the reply.
"Don' t see it? Why--'s relief was on post, and it
was his duty to attend to all such calls during his
tour; and besides, I think ordinary politeness would
have been sufficient to make him go."
"Well, I can sympathize with him anyhow."
"Sympathize with him! How so?"
"Because he's on guard to-day." What an excellent
reason! "Because he's on guard to-day," or, in other
words, because I was in command of the guard.
He then went on to speak of the injustice of the
report, the malice and spirit of retaliation shown
in giving it, and hoped that the report would not
be the cause of any punishment. And all this because
the report was under my signature.
When the corporal replied to me that he had turned
out the cadet, I considered it a satisfactory answer,
supposing the cadet's non-appearance was due to delay
in arranging his toilet. I had no intention of
reporting him, and did so only in obedience to
positive orders. There surely was nothing malicious
or retaliatory in that; and to condemn me for
discharging the first of all military duties--viz.,
obedience of orders--is but to prove the narrowness
of the intellect and the baseness of the character
which are vaunted as so far superior to those of the
"negro cadet," and which condemn him and his actions
for no other reason than that they are his. How could
it be otherwise than that he be isolated and persecuted
when such minds are concerned?
In his written explanation to the commandant the
corporal admitted the charge of disobedience of
orders on his part, but excused himself by saying
he had delegated another cadet to discharge the
duty for him. This was contrary to regulations,
and still further aggravated his offence.
For an incident connected with this tour of guard
duty, see chapter on "Incidents, Humor," etc.
The only case of downright malice that has come to
my knowledge--and I'm sure the only one that ever
occurred--is the following:
It is a custom, as old as the institution I dare
say, for cadets of the first and second classes to
march in the front rank, while all others take
their places in the rear rank, with the exception
that third-classmen may be in the front rank whenever
it is necessary for the proper formation of the
company to put them there. The need of such a custom
is apparent. Fourth-classmen, or plebes not accustomed
to marching and keeping dressed, are therefore unfit
to be put in the front rank. Third- classmen have to
give way to the upper classmen on account of their
superior rank, and are able to march in the front
rank only when put there or allowed to remain there
by the file-closers. When I was a plebe, and also
during my third-class year, I marched habitually in
the rear rank, as stated with reason elsewhere. But
when I became a second-classman, and had by class
rank a right to the front rank, I took my place there.
Just about this time I distinctly heard the cadet
captain of my company say to the first sergeant, or
rather ask him why he did not put me in the rear rank.
The first sergeant replied curtly, "Because he's a
second-classman now, and I have no right to do it."
This settled the question for the time, indeed for
quite a while, till the incident above referred to
At a formation of the company for retreat parade in
the early spring of '76, it was necessary to transfer
some one from the front to the rear rank. Now instead
of transferring a third- classman, the sergeant on
the left of the company ordered me, a second classman,
into the rear rank. I readily obeyed, because I felt
sure I'd be put back after the company was formed and
inspected, as had been done by him several times
before. But this was not done. I turned to the sergeant
and reminded him that he had not put me-back where I
belonged. He at once did so without apparent hesitation
or unwillingness. He, however, reported me for speaking
to him about the discharge of his duties. For this
offence, I submitted the following explanation:
WEST POINT, N. Y., April 11, 1876.
Offense: Speaking to sergeant about formation of company
Explanation: I would respectfully state that the above
report is a mistake. I said nothing whatever about the
formation of the company. I was put in the rear rank,
and, contrary to custom, left there. As soon as the
command " In place, rest," was given, I turned to the
nearest sergeant and said, "Mr.--, can I take my place
in the front rank?" He leaned to the front and looked
along the line. I then said, "There are men in the front
rank who are junior to me." I added, a moment after,
"There is one just up there," motioning with my head
the direction meant. He made the change.
HENRY O. FLIPPER,
Cadet Priv., Comp. "D," First Class.
To Lieut. Colonel--, Commanding Corps of Cadets.
This explanation was sent by the commandant to the
reporting sergeant. He indorsed it in about the
Respectfully returned with the following statement:
It was necessary in forming the company to put Cadet
Flipper in the rear rank, and as I saw no third-
classman in the front rank, I left him there as
stated. I reported him because I did not think he
had any right to speak to me about the discharge of
"------, Cadet Sergeant Company "D."
A polite question a reflection on the manner of
discharging one's duty! A queer construction indeed!
Observe, he says, he saw no third-classman in the
front rank. It was his duty to be sure about it, and
if there was one there to transfer him to the rear,
and myself to the front rank. In not doing so he
neglected his duty and imposed upon me and the
dignity of my class. I was therefore entirely
justified in calling his attention to his neglect.
This is a little thing, but it should be borne in mind
that it is nevertheless of the greatest importance. We
know what effect comity or international politeness has
on the relations or intercourse between nations. The
most trifling acts, such as congratulations on a birth
or marriage in the reigning family, are wonderfully
efficacious in keeping up that feeling of amity which
is so necessary to peace and continued friendship between
states. To disregard these little things is considered
unfriendly, and may be the cause of serious consequences.
There is a like necessity, I think, in our own case.
Any affront to me which is also an affront to my class
and its dignity deserves punishment or satisfaction. To
demand it, then, gives my class a better opinion of me,
and serves to keep that opinion in as good condition as
I knew well that there were men in the corps who would
readily seize any possible opportunity to report me,
and I feared at the time that I might be reported for
speaking to the sergeant. I was especially careful to
guard against anger or roughness in my speech, and to
put my demand in the politest form possible. The offence
was removed. I received no demerits, and the sergeant
had the pleasure or displeasure of grieving at the failure
of his report.
I am sorry to know that I have been charged, by some not
so well acquainted with West Point and life there as they
should be to criticise, with manifesting a lack of dignity
in that I allowed myself to be insulted, imposed upon, and
otherwise ill-treated. There appears to them too great a
difference between the treatment of former colored cadets
and that of myself, and the only way they are pleased to
account for this difference is to say that my good
treatment was due to want of "spunk," and even to fear,
as some have said. It evidently never occurred to them
that my own conduct determined more than all things else
the kind of treatment I would receive.
Every one not stubbornly prejudiced against West Point,
and therefore not disposed to censure or criticise every
thing said or done there, knows how false the charge is.
And those who make it scarcely deserve my notice. I would
say to them, however, that true dignity, selon nous,
consists in being above the rabble and their insults, and
particularly in remaining there. To stoop to retaliation
is not compatible with true dignity, nor is vindictiveness
manly. Again, the experiment suggested by my accusers has
been abundantly tried, and proved a most ridiculous
failure, while my own led to a glorious success.
I do not mean to boast or do any thing of the kind,
but I would suggest to all future colored cadets to
base their conduct on the aristonmetpon, the golden
mean. It is by far the safer, and surely the most
Before closing this chapter I would add with just
pride that I have ever been treated by all other
persons connected with the Academy not officially,
as becomes one gentleman to treat another. I refer
to servants, soldiers, other enlisted men, and
employés. They have done for me whatever I wished,
whenever I wished, and as I wished, and always kindly
and willingly. They have even done things for me to
the exclusion of others. This is important when it is
remembered that the employés, with one exception, are
"NATIONAL SCHOOLS AND SNOBOCRACY.
"'Cadet Smith has arrived in Columbia. He did not
"'Alexander Bouchet, a young man of color, graduates
from Yale College, holding the fifth place in the
largest class graduated from that ancient institution.'
"These simple announcements from different papers
tersely sum up the distinction between the military
and civil education of this country. One is exclusive,
snobbish, and narrow, the other is liberal and
"No one who has watched the course of Cadet Smith
and the undemocratic, selfish, and snobbish treatment
he has experienced from the martinets of West Point,
men educated at the expense of the government, supported
by negro taxes, as well as white, who attempt to dictate
who shall receive the benefits of an education in our
national charity schools--no one who has read of his
court-martialings, the degradations and the petty insults
inflicted upon him can help feeling that he returns home
to-day, in spite of the Phoenix's sneers, a young hero
who has 'passed' in grit, pluck, perseverance, and all
the better qualities which go to make up true manhood,
and only has been 'found' because rebel sympathizers at
West Point, the fledglings of caste, and the Secretary
of War, do not intend to allow, if they can prevent it,
a negro to graduate at West Point or Annapolis, if he is
known to be a negro.
"Any one conversant with educational matters who has
examined the examinations for entrance, or the
curriculum of the naval and military academies, will
not for a moment believe that their requirements, not
as high as those demanded for an ordinary New England
high school, and by no means equal in thoroughness,
quantity, or quality to that demanded for entrance at
Yale, Amherst, Dartmouth, or Brown, are too high or
abstruse to be compassed by negroes, some of whom have
successfully stood all these, and are now pursuing
their studies in the best institutions of the North.
"No fair-minded man believes that Smith, Napier and
Williams, Conyers and McClellan, have had impartial
treatment. The government itself has been remiss in
not throwing about them the protection of its authority.
Had these colored boys been students at St. Cyr, in
Paris, or Woolwich, in England, under despotic France
and aristocratic England, they would have been treated
with that courtesy and justice of which the average
white American has no idea. The South once ruled West
Point, much to its detriment in loyalty, however much,
by reason of sending boys more than prepared. It
dominated in scholarship. It seeks to recover the lost
ground, and rightly fears to meet on terms of equality
in the camp the sons of fathers to whom it refused
quarter in the war and butchered in cold blood at Fort
Pillow. We cannot expect the sons to forget the lessons
of the sires; but we have a right to demand from the
general government the rooting out of all snobbery at
West Point, whether it is of that kind which sends poor
white boys to Coventry, because they haven't a family
name or wealth, or whether it be that smallest, meanest,
and shallowest of all aristocracies--the one founded
"If the government is not able to root out these
unrepublican seeds in these hot-beds of disloyalty
and snobbery, then let Congress shut up the useless
and expensive appendages and educate its officers at
the colleges of the country, where they may learn
lessons in true republican equality and nationality.
The remedy lies with Congress. A remonstrance at least
should be heard from the colored members of Congress,
who are insulted whenever a colored boy is ill-treated
by the students or the officers of these institutions.
So far from being discouraged by defeats, the unjust
treatment meted out to these young men should redouble
the efforts of others of their class to carry this new
Bastile by storm. It should lead every colored
Congressman to make sure that he either sends a colored
applicant or a white one who has not the seeds of
snobbery and caste in his soul. Smith, after four years
of torture, comes home, is driven home, because, forsooth,
he might attend the ball next year! He is hounded out of
the Academy because he would have to be assigned to a
white regiment! There are some negroes who feel that
their rights in the land of their birth are superior to
the prejudices of the enemies of the Union, and who dare
to speak and write in behalf of these rights, as their
fathers dared to fight for them a very few years ago.
"Bouchet, under civil rule, enters Yale College the
best prepared student of one hundred and thirty
freshmen, and all through his course is treated like
a gentleman, both by the faculty and the students, men
who know what justice means, and have some adequate
idea of the true theory of education and gentlemanly
conduct. Two freed boys, from North Carolina and South
Carolina, slaves during the war, prepare at the best
Northern academics, and enter, without remonstrance,
Amherst and Dartmouth. What divinity, then, hedges
West Point and Annapolis? What but the old rebel
spirit, which seeks again to control them for use in
future rebellions as it did in the past. The war
developed some unwelcome truths with regard to this
snobbish and disloyal spirit of our national
institutions, and the exploits of some volunteer
officers showed that all manhood, bravery, skill, and
energy were not contained in West Point or Annapolis,
or, if there, did not pertain solely to the petty
cliques that aim to give tone to those academies. It
is not for any officer, the creature of the government
--it is not for any student, the willing ward of that
government--to say who shall enter the national schools
and be the recipients of my bounty. It is the duty of
every member of Congress to see that the government
sanctions no such spirit; and it becomes every loyal
citizen who wishes to avoid the mistakes of the former
war to see to it that no class be excluded, and that
every boy, once admitted, shall have the strictest
justice dealt out to him, a thing which, thus far,
has not been done in the case of the colored cadets.
"The true remedy lies in the feelings and sympathies
of the officers of these academies, in the ability
and fair investigations of the board of examiners;
not from such gentlemen as at present seem to rule
This article was taken from some South Carolina paper
during the summer of '74. Its tone is in accordance
with the multitude of articles upon the same subject
which occurred about the same time, and, like them all,
or most of them, is rather farfetched. It is too broad.
Its denunciations cover too much ground. They verge
As to Conyers and McClellan at the Naval Academy I
know nothing. Of Napier I know nothing. Of Smith I
prefer to say nothing. Of Williams I do express the
belief that his treatment was impartial and just.
He was regularly and rightly found deficient and
duly dismissed. The article seems to imply that he
should not have been "found" and dismissed simply
because he was a negro. A very shallow reason indeed,
and one "no fair-minded man" will for an instant
Of four years' life at the Academy, I spent the
first with Smith, rooming with him. During the
first half year Williams was also in the corps
with us. The two following years I was alone. The
next and last year of my course I spent with
Whittaker, of South Carolina. I have thus had an
opportunity to become acquainted with Smith's
conduct and that of the cadets toward him. Smith
had trouble under my own eyes on more than one
occasion, and Whittaker* has already received blows
in the face, but I have not had so much as an angry
word to utter. There is a reason for all this, and
had "Niger Nigrorum" been better acquainted with it
he had never made the blunder he has.
*Johnson Chestnut Whittaker, of Camden, South Carolina,
appointed to fill vacancy created by Smith's dismissal,
after several white candidates so appointed had failed,
entered the Academy in September, 1876. Shortly after
entering he was struck in the face by a young man from
Alabama for sneering at him, as he said, while passing
by him. Whittaker immediately reported the affair to the
cadet officer of the day, by whose efforts this
belligerent Alabama gentleman was brought before a court-
martial, tried, found guilty, and suspended for something
over six months, thus being compelled to join the next
class that entered the Academy.
I cannot venture more on the treatment of colored
cadets generally without disregarding the fact that
this is purely a narrative of my own treatment and
life at West Point. To go further into that subject
would involve much difference of opinion, hard
feelings in certain quarters, and would cause a
painful and needless controversy.
JULY 1, 1876! Only one year more; and yet how wearily
the days come and go! How anxiously we watch them, how
eagerly we count them, as they glimmer in the distance,
and forget them as they fade! What joyous anticipation,
what confident expectation, what hope animates each
soul, each heart, each being of us! What encouragement
to study this longing, this impatience gives us, as if
it hastened the coming finale! And who felt it more
than I? Who could feel it more than I? To me it was
to be not only an end of study, of discipline, of
obedience to the regulations of the Academy, but even
an end to isolation, to tacit persecution, to melancholy,
to suspense. It was to be the grand realization of my
hopes, the utter, the inevitable defeat of the minions
of pride, prejudice, caste. Nor would such consummation
of hopes affect me only, or those around me. Nay, even
I was but the point of "primitive disturbance," whence
emanates as if from a focus, from a new origin, prayer,
friendly and inimical, to be focused again into
realization on one side and discomfiture on the other.
My friends, my enemies, centre their hopes on me. I
treat them, one with earnest endeavor for realization,
the other with supremest indifference. They are deviated
with varying anxiety on either side, and hence my joy,
my gratitude, when I find, July 1, 1876, that I am a
A first-classman! The beginning of realization, for had
I not distanced all the colored cadets before me? Indeed
I had, and that with the greater prospect of ultimate
success gave me double cause for rejoicing.
A first-classman! "There's something prophetic in it,"
"The country begins to be agitated by the approaching
graduation of young Flipper, the colored West Point
cadet from Atlanta. If he succeeds in getting into the
aristocratic circles of the official army there will
be a commotion for a certainty. Flipper is destined to
Such was the nature of the many editorials which
appeared about this time, summer of '76. The
circumstance was unusual, unexpected, for it had
been predicted that only slaughter awaited me at
that very stage, because Smith had failed just
there, just where I had not.
"Henry Flipper, of Atlanta, enjoys the distinction
of being the only negro cadet that the government is
cramming with food and knowledge at West Point. He
stands forty-sixth in the third class, which includes
eighty-five cadets. A correspondent of the New York
Times says that, while all concede Flipper's progress,
yet it is not believed that he will be allowed to
graduate. No negro has passed out of the institution
a graduate, and it is believed that Flipper will be
eventually slaughtered in one way or another. The
rule among the regulars is: No darkeys need apply."
"Smith's dismissal leaves Henry Flipper the sole
cadet of color at West Point. Flipper's pathway
will not be strewn with roses, and we shall be
surprised if the Radicals do not compel him, within
a year, to seek refuge from a sea of troubles in his
father's quiet shoe shop on Decatur Street."
Isn't it strange how some people strive to drag
everything into politics! A political reason is
assigned to every thing, and "every thing is
The many editors who have written on the subject
of the colored cadets have, with few exceptions,
followed the more prejudiced and narrow-minded
critics who have attributed every thing, ill-
treatment, etc., to a natural aversion for the
negro, and to political reasons. They seem to
think it impossible for one to discharge a duty
or to act with justice in any thing where a negro
is concerned. Now this is unchristian as well as
hasty and undeserved. As I have said elsewhere in
my narrative, aside from the authorities being de
facto "officers and gentlemen," and therefore
morally bound to discharge faithfully every duty,
they are under too great a responsibility to permit
them to act as some have asserted for them, to compel
me "to seek refuge from a sea of troubles," or to
cause me to "be eventually slaughtered in one way or
another." Who judges thus is not disposed to judge
fairly, but rather as suits some pet idea of his own,
to keep up prejudice and all its curses.
It would be more Christian, and therefore more just,
I apprehend, to consider both sides of the question,
the authorities and those under them. Other and better
reasons would be found for some things which have
occurred, and reasons which would not be based on
falsehood, and which would not tend to perpetuate
the conflict of right and prejudice. My own success
will prove, I hope, not only that I had sufficient
ability to graduate--which by the way none have
questioned--but also that the authorities were not
as some have depicted them. This latter proof is
important, first, because it will remove that fear
which has deterred many from seeking, and even from
accepting appointments when offered, to which determent
my isolation is largely due; and second, because it will
add another to the already long list of evidences of
the integrity of our national army.
To return to the last quotation. Immediately after the
dismissal of Smith, indeed upon the very day of that
event, it was rumored that I intended to resign. I
learned of the rumor from various sources, only one of
which I need mention.
I was on guard that day, and while off duty an officer
high in rank came to me and invited me to visit him at
his quarters next day. I did so, of course. His first
words, after greeting, etc., were to question the truth
of the rumor, and before hearing my reply, to beg me to
relinquish any such intention. He was kind enough to
give me much excellent advice, which I have followed
most religiously. He assured me that prejudice, if it
did exist among my instructors, would not prevent them
from treating me justly and impartially. I am proud to
testify now to the truth of his assurance. He further
assured me that the officers of the Academy and of the
army, and especially the older ones, desired to have me
graduate, and that they would do all within the legitimate
exercise of their authority to promote that end. This
assurance has been made me by officers of nearly every
grade in the army, from the general down, and has ever
been carried out by them whenever a fit occasion presented
Surely this is not discouraging. Surely, too, it is not
causing me "to seek refuge from a sea of troubles." We
need only go back to the article quoted from the Era,
and given in Chapter III., to find an explanation for
"We know that any young man, whether he be poor or black,
or both, may enter any first-class college in America and
find warm sympathetic friends, both among students and
faculty, if he but prove himself to be possessed of some
This is the keynote to the whole thing. One must not
expect to do as one pleases, whether that be right or
wrong, or right according to some fanatical theory,
and notwithstanding to be dealt with in a manner
warranted only by the strictest notion of right.
We must force others to treat us as we wish, by giving
them such an example of meekness and of good conduct as
will at least shame them into a like treatment of us.
This is the safer and surer method of revenge.
"Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst,
give him drink; for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of
fire on his head."
To proceed: I am undoubtedly a first-classman. None
other has enjoyed that eminence. There are many honors
and responsibilities incident to that position or rank.
First-classmen have authority at times over their fellow-
cadets. How will it be when I come to have that authority?
Will that same coldness and distance be manifested as
hitherto? These are important questions. I shall be brought
necessarily into closer relations with the cadets than
before. How will they accept such relationship? The
greatest proof of their personal convictions will be
manifested in their conduct here. If they evade my
authority, or are stubborn or disobedient, then are their
convictions unfriendly indeed. But if kind, generous,
willing to assist, to advise, to obey, to respect myself
as well as my office, then are they, as I ever believed
them to be, gentlemen in all that recognizes no prejudice,
no caste, nothing inconsistent with manhood.
There are certain privileges accorded to first-classmen
which the other classes do not enjoy. The privates of
the first class do duty as officers of the guard, as
company officers at company and battalion drills, at
light battery drills, and at other drills and ceremonies.
In all these cases they have command of other cadets.
These cadets are subject to their orders and are liable
to be reported--indeed such is required--for disobedience,
stubbornness, or for any thing prejudicial to good order
and good discipline.
In this fact is a reason--the only one, I think, which
will in any manner account for the unpardonable reserve
of many of the cadets. To be subject to me, to my orders,
was to them an unbearable torture. As they looked forward
to the time when I should exercise command over them, they
could not help feeling the mortification which would be
I must modify my statement. They may be prejudiced, and
yet gentlemen, and if gentlemen they will not evade
authority even though vested in me.
We go into camp at West Point on the 17th of June, '76
for ten days. During all that time I enjoy all the
privileges of first-classmen. Nothing is done to make it
unpleasant or in any way to discourage or dishearten me.
We go to Philadelphia. We visit the Centennial, and there
not only is the same kindness shown me, but I find a
number of cadets accost me whenever we meet, on the
avenues and streets, on the grounds and in the city.
They ask questions, converse, answer questions. This
occurred several times at the Southern Restaurant, as
well as elsewhere. After the parade on the 4th of July,
every kindness was shown me. Those cadets near me bought
lemons, lemonade, etc, and shared with me, and when, on
another occasion, I was the purchaser, they freely partook
of my "good cheer." What conclusion shall I draw from this?
That they are unfriendly or prejudiced? I fain would drop
my pen and burn my manuscript if for even an instant I
thought it possible. And yet how shall I explain away this
bit of braggadocio in the words italicized in this article
from the Philadelphia Times?
"The Color Line.--One of the first-classmen is Mr.
Flipper, of Georgia, a young colored man. 'We don't
have any thing to do with him off duty,' said one of
the cadets yesterday. 'We don't even speak to him. Of
course we have to eat with him, and drill with him,
and go on guard with him, but that ends it. Outside
of duty, we don't know him.' 'Is he intelligent?' 'Yes;
he stands high in his class, and I see no reason to
doubt that he will graduate next June. He has the negro
features strongly developed, but in color he is rather
Easily enough, I think. In the first place the
statement is too broad, if made by a cadet, which
I very much doubt. There are some of that "we" who
do know me outside of duty. And if a cadet made the
statement he must have been a plebe, one unacquainted
with my status in the corps, or one who, strenuously
avoiding me himself, supposed all others likewise did
so. The cadet was not a first-classman. There is a
want of information in his last answer which could not
have been shown by a first-classman.
Again, he says we "go on guard with him." Now that
is untrue, as I understand it. The word "with" would
imply that we were on guard in the same capacity, viz.,
as privates. But first-classmen do no guard duty in
that capacity, and hence not being himself a first-
classman he could not have been on guard"with" me. If
he had said "under him," his statement would have been
nearer the truth.
After a stay of ten days in Philadelphia, we return
to West Point, and still the same respect is shown
me. There is but little more of open recognition, if
any, than before, and yet that I am respected is shown
in many ways. See, for example, the latter part of
chapter on "Treatment."
Again, during my first year I many times overheard