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Buffalo Soldiers Museum presents free showing

Held in Trust, story of first black graduate of West Point

Lt. Henry O. Flipper, the first black graduate of West Point. Photo credit:

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In honor of Black History Month, the Tacoma Buffalo Soldiers Museum proudly presents the film Held in Trust, the dramatic story of Lt. Henry Ossian Flipper, the first African American graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The film will be shown Feb. 10 and 17 at 1 p.m. and is free to the public.

This hour-long film is introduced by Gen. Colin Powell, narrated by Ozzie Davis and features George Robert Snead as Flipper.

Henry Ossian Flipper was born a slave in Thomasville, Georgia, in March 1856. He was the oldest of five brothers born to the family of Isabelle and Festus Flipper. While attending the all-black Clark Atlantic University in Atlanta, he received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Life at the academy was not easy for Flipper, but he persevered and was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1877.

His first duty assignment was with the famous 10th Cavalry, an all-black Buffalo Soldier unit stationed at Fort Concho near present day San Angelo, Texas.

Prior to Flipper's arrival on the frontier, Buffalo Soldier units were commanded only by white officers. Shunned by many of his fellow white officers, Flipper worked hard to earn their respect and served with distinction during the Apache Wars.

However, he fell victim to racial attitudes following his transfer to Fort Davis in West Texas. Funds entrusted to his care by a strict post commander mysteriously disappeared. Flipper was court-martialed, but was later found innocent of the embezzlement charge after his friends, sensing a setup, donated replacement funds within four days.

A second charge of conduct unbecoming an officer was later added to the court martial. This charge was based on Flipper's failure to report the missing funds immediately.  The charge was upheld, and in 1881, Flipper was dishonorably discharged from the service. This punishment was a serious and unusual sentence, as other officers convicted of similar charges were often given much lighter sentences.

Flipper spent the rest of his life fighting to clear his name, but without success.

He spent the remainder of his life working as a successful civil engineer in Texas, Mexico and Venezuela. He also worked for several years as assistant to New Mexico Senator Albert Fall during Fall's time as Secretary of the Interior in the early 1920s.

Flipper died in 1940 in Atlanta. After his passing, others carried on his cause for justice, and on Feb. 19, 1999, President Bill Clinton granted Flipper a full pardon based on a review of his trial and presentation of new evidence. Fifty-nine years after his death, a good man finally had his good name restored.

Don't miss this powerful story of a man who never gave up his search for justice or his love for his country.

Held in Trust, 1 p.m., Feb. 10 and 17, free, Buffalo Soldiers Museum, 1940 South Wilkeson, Tacoma, 253.272.4257

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