Black People &
Their Place In World History  

By: Dr. Leroy Vaughn, MD, MBA

A Dynamic, Honest and Powerful View of Black History










IV. AFTER 1776

V. AFTER 1865 -

VI. AFTER 1900 -


Black Wall Street

5 Black Presidents

Black Inventors



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How To Compute
Why I Survive Aids
Free Energy &
 The N-Machine


The Secret of comfortable computing




AFTER 1865 









The deaths of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry saddened us all because many of us grew up watching these fictional cowboys help tame the old west.  However, what’s even sadder is that virtually none of us can name a single Black cowboy either real or fictional.  The very word “cowboy” was initially only applied to Black men who took care of cows.  Similarly, Black men who worked in the house were called “house boys.”  Nevertheless, once cowboys became the heroes of western novels and later television, Black people totally disappeared from the Old West. 

Joseph G. McCoy created the need for “cowboys” when he established a market and railroad-shipping center at Abilene, Kansas.  Before McCoy was able to convince the Union Pacific Railroad to extend its tracks into Abilene, ranchers in Texas had no way to get their cattle to beef hungry Eastern and Midwestern markets.  Most of the cattle were merely slaughtered for their hides.  It was estimated that over 4 million cattle grazed in Texas at the end of the Civil War.  Once the marketplace for buyers and sellers of cattle was created, cattlemen had only to get their herds from Texas into the Abilene, Kansas cattle trains.  The best known trail for delivering these cattle was called the Chisholm Trail.  Its main stem ran from the Rio Grand through Austin, Waco, and Fort Worth, Texas before entering Oklahoma and finally Kansas. 

A cattle crew of eleven men, the trail boss, eight cowboys, a wrangler and a cook,  usually managed an average herd of 2,500 cattle.  Approximately two to four Black cowboys were present on most cattle drives because among them were many of the best riders and ropers in the Midwest.  Ironically enough, all cowhands - whether White or Black - soon became known as cowboys which White Texans strongly resented.  The eight cowboys usually rode in pairs with two in the front and rear and two on each side of the herd.  Moreover, the cook was usually a retired Black cowboy and the wrangler was frequently a Black teenager who took care of the horses. 

Ab Blocker, one of the most famous of the trail bosses, said he intentionally hired large numbers of Black cowboys because of their outstanding performances during the two to three month long arduous and dangerous trail drives.  One Black cowboy actually saved his life.  All the real cowboys - Black, Brown, Red, and White - shared the same jobs and dangers.  They ate the same food and slept in the same area.  Cowboys had to be willing to work almost day and night to the point of exhaustion and under the most strenuous conditions.  They continuously risked death through drowning (at river crossings) and attacks from wild animals including wolves and snakes.  They also faced illness produced by high winds and freezing thunderstorms. 

This constant threat of danger developed an extreme comradery among cowboys on the trail.  In fact, when a Black cowboy became the first person imprisoned in the new Abilene jail, his Black and White cowboy crew immediately broke him out and ran the sheriff out of town.  At the end of their long cattle drives, a few Black cowboys remained on northern ranges to become horse breakers, ranch hands and even sheriffs or outlaws, but most of them drew their pay and rode back to Texas for yet another cattle drive.

Despite the legendary performances of great lawmen like Wyatt Earp and Batt Masterson, Black soldiers, known as the Buffalo Soldiers, were primarily responsible for keeping law and order in the Old West.  Their peace keeping missions between cattlemen and farmers (who fought to keep cattle off of their crops) was primarily responsible for making expansion of the cattle empire possible.  The Buffalo Soldiers were also the primary force that helped stop Indian attacks on cattlemen moving up the Chisholm Trail.  The Congressional Act of July 28, 1866 established two Black infantry regiments and two Calvary regiments.  All four saw continuous service in the West during the three decades following the Civil War.  The Black Calvary fought in almost every part of the West from Mexico to Montana.  Both General Miles and General Merritt praised their black troops as “courageous, skilled, intelligent, and brave in battle.”

It should not be surprising that Black men were among the best horse riders in the Old West because they were traditionally responsible for the care and maintenance of horses while working as stable boys, trainers, and jockeys.  In fact, thirteen of the fourteen jockeys who participated in the first running of the Kentucky Derby were Black.  Moreover, from 1875 until 1902 Black jockeys won eleven Kentucky Derby titles.  Isaac Murphy, who won the Kentucky Derby in 1884, 1890, and 1891, was recognized as America’s finest rider during the last two decades of the 19th century.  Forty years passed before Earl Sande tied his record of three Kentucky Derby titles.  Black jockeys continued their outstanding performances until racism barred them from the racetracks and replaced them with White jockeys.

In July 1876, the booming new town of Deadwood, South Dakota, decided to have a roping contest to settle once and for all who was the best roping cowboy.  Contestants came from miles around to win the $200 prize.  A Black cowboy named Nat Love, who subsequently wrote his autobiography, was several minutes faster than his nearest competition.  With the roping contest completed, a dispute soon arose over who was the best marksman.  Nat Love also won the subsequent shooting contest by placing all fourteen of his rifle shots in the bull’s eye target at 150 yards.  In addition to the prize money, Nat Love was given the title “Deadwood Dick” which he carried with “honor” ever after.

Bill Pickett is credited with having originated the sport of “bulldogging.”  Bulldogging is defined as “throwing a steer by seizing the horns and twisting the neck.”  According to Bill Pickett’s boss, Zack Miller who owned the 101 Ranch, “Bill Pickett was the greatest sweat and dirt cowhand that ever lived - bar none.”  The Miller Brothers’ 101 Ranch later became famous for putting on one of the finest rodeos in the world and played in such places as Chicago, New York, London, and Mexico City.  One of their greatest attractions was Bill Pickett who would actually bring down steers with only his teeth.

As the agricultural frontier moved west, the open range was transformed into farms with barbed-wire boundaries, which significantly reduced the public domain for cattle trails.  The long cattle drives also gradually declined as the railroads built branch lines into large Texas cities.  By 1890, the legendary era of the cowboy was over, except in fictional novels where Black cowboys completely vanished from their role as self-reliant and masterful heroes of the Old West.


In 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte stated that history was only “a lie agreed upon.”  Nothing could be more illustrative than the history of the Statue of Liberty originally called “Liberty Enlightening the World.”  The liberation of African-American slaves was the only inspiration for the creation of a Statue of Liberation for Edouard Rene LeFebvre DeLaboulaye.  He recruited a young sculptor, Frederick Auguste Bartholdi, to create a Black female slave statue holding a broken chain in her left hand and with broken chains of slavery at her feet.

The official web site of the Statue of Liberty states that the statue was given to the people of the United States by the people of France as an expression of friendship and to commemorate the centennial of American Independence (1776).  The Encyclopedia Britannica states Bartholdi designed the Statue of Liberty as a monument to the Franco-American alliance of 1778.  These are absolute and total lies!  Edouard Rene LeFebvre DeLaboulaye, an internationally renowned lawyer and author of a three-volume history of the United States, first discussed the idea of a symbol to represent the end of U.S. slavery at a dinner party in 1865, at his country home near Versailles, France.  In attendance at the dinner party were many abolitionists including Victor Hugo and Frederick Auguste Bartholdi, who had initially been retained to create a sculptured bust of Mr. DeLaboulaye.

Victor Hugo and Edouard DeLaboulaye were leaders of the French abolitionist movement.  They hated slavery and were in strong support of John Brown when he attempted to arm slaves in West Virginia for rebellion by raiding the armory at Harpers Ferry in 1859.  After John Brown failed and was hanged, Hugo and DeLaboulaye took up a collection among the French people and presented a gold metal to John Brown’s widow.

After Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States in 1861, the French liberals and abolitionists including Hugo, Bartholdi, and DeLaboulaye urged Lincoln to free the slaves even if civil war resulted.  Lincoln was told: “You would become the first country in history to have fought a war against itself to free the internal slave and you would go down in history as a truly great country and a beacon of light to all freedom loving people.”  The French abolitionists saw the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 as a worthless piece of paper since it only freed slaves in the Confederate controlled states where Lincoln had no jurisdiction and not in Union controlled states where Lincoln was still in authority.  When the war ended in 1865, French abolitionists were extremely happy and in addition to again urging Lincoln to free all slaves, DeLaboulaye and Bartholdi requested permission to build and dedicate a monument or colossal statuary to that freeing of all slaves in America.  When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, DeLaboulaye again headed the abolitionists’ committee that presented a gold metal to Mrs. Lincoln, just as he had done for the widow of John Brown.

In addition to a staunch abolitionist, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904) was an outstanding French sculptor.  Bartholdi trained to be an architect in Alsace and Paris and then studied painting with Ary Scheffer and sculpture with J.F. Soitoux.  Bartholdi’s life and ideas changed dramatically after 1855 when he toured Egypt and witnessed the magnificent colossal monuments and statues created by the ancient Black Egyptians.  Bartholdi’s creation of a giant Black ex-slave female with broken chairs at her feet and left hand was readily accepted in France.  Although liberals, freemasons, and businessmen with American interests were the most enthusiastic supporters of the project, by 1881 some 100,000 people and 181 towns throughout France had contributed money.

In 1871, Frederic Bartholdi at the urging of DeLaboulaye undertook a voyage to America to sale his idea of a colossal statue clearly symbolizing the end of chattel slavery in the United States.  He was armed with a large terracotta statue and numerous drawings to clearly illustrate his proposed Statue of Liberty.  The original African face of the Statue of Liberty was published in The New York Post dated June 17, 1986 as part of the centennial celebration.  Bartholdi found little American support for his African slave model.  In 1878, as the African head of Miss Liberty first went on display at the Universal Exposition in Paris, France, rampant reaction raged throughout the American South.

Bartholdi finally had to abandon his original ideas and changed the Statue of Liberty to the features we are now familiar with.  The African face was re-sculptured into the face of his mother Madame Bartholdi.  A tablet of law tucked into her folded arm that bears the date July 4, 1776, replaced the broken chains in the slave’s left hand.  Ironically, the chains were left at the feet but the meaning changed from broken American slavery to broken English tyranny.

On May 18, 1986 during the centennial celebration, The New York Times joined The New York Post in describing the original Statue of Liberty and the intention of DeLaboulaye and Bartholdi in presenting this statue to America.  It’s unconscionable that the Encyclopedia Britannica and the official Statue of Liberty literature can still lie and say that this is a monument celebrating American Independence of 1776 and/or the Franco-American alliance of 1778.  Dr. Jack Felder sums it up clearly: “Once in place, Miss Liberty received a new meaning.  She was hailed as the ‘Mother of White Exiles,’ greeting European immigrants seeking freedom in America.  Nothing in the original conceptions of Bartholdi or DeLaboulaye envisioned this role for their stature.”


Lynching is defined as mob execution, usually by hanging, without the benefit of trial and often accompanied with torture and body mutilation.  The usual scenario included a mob of up to 5,000 White men attacking a single, defenseless Black man and executing him for a crime he was never convicted of or even charged with in most cases.  Lynching is considered one of the most horrific chapters in African American history and is only exceeded by slavery in cruelty and savagery toward another human being.

Lynching Statistics













































Ironically, the term “lynch” is derived from the name of Charles Lynch, a Virginia planter and patriot during the American Revolution, who directed violence toward White British loyalists.  After the Civil War and emancipation, lynching became almost synonymous with hanging and torturing African American males.  Between 1882 and 1930 more than 3,300 Black male victims were hanged, burned alive, castrated, and mutilated by mostly southern White mobs who have never faced any charges for these criminal acts.  Coroners and law officials typically attributed the murders to “parties unknown.”  Most historians and sociologists agree that mob executions was really about social control and to maintain the status quo of White superiority and had little to due with crime control.

Ida B. Wells (1862-1931) could easily be called the mother of the anti-lynching movement.  She was the first of eight children born to slave parents in Holly Springs, Mississippi.  After emancipation, she attended several schools run by northern Methodist missionaries including Rust College.  In 1879, after the yellow fever epidemic claimed the lives of both her parents, she moved to Memphis, Tennessee with the younger children and accepted a teaching position.  Because of her great concern for racial injustice, Wells was invited to write for a local church paper.  As her fame increased, she was asked to contribute to several Baptist newspapers.  She eventually became editor and partner of the “Free Speech and Headlight” Baptist newspaper.

In 1892, the brutal lynching of three close friends in Memphis started Ida B. Wells on a militant, uncompromising, single-minded crusade against lynching from which she would never retreat.  Her three friends committed the crime of opening a grocery store, which successfully competed with a White grocer directly across the street.  For the crime of becoming too “uppity”, a large White mob took the three proprietors from their grocery store, tortured and killed them.  Ms. Wells wrote angry editorials in her newspaper encouraging Blacks to leave Memphis if possible and to boycott White businesses, which left several White companies including the newly opened streetcar line on the verge of bankruptcy.

Ida B. Wells decided to launch her anti-lynching movement on several fronts.  She first wanted to explode the myth that lynching was primarily to protect White women from rape by Black men.  She published detailed statistics on lynching, which demonstrated that less than one-fifth of the victims of lynch mobs were even accused of rape by their killers.  She said that racist southern White mobs “cry rape” to brand their victims as “moral monsters” and to place them “beyond the pale of human sympathy.”  She wrote that while Southern White men raped Black women and children with impunity, they considered any liaison between a Black man and a White woman as involuntary by definition.  She pointed out that children produced by White-Black relationships were called “mulatto” from the Spanish word for mule because racist Whites believed that mixed-race children, like the offspring of donkeys and horses, were an inferior breed that could not reproduce.  When Ms. Wells suggested in print that White women were often willing participants with Black men, a large White mob destroyed the presses of her newspaper and would have killed her had she not been visiting friends in New York.  Thomas Fortune invited her to stay in New York and write for the “New York Age”.  She was also allowed to exchange the circulation list of the “Free Speech” for a one fourth interest in the “Age” and immediately began to write a series on lynching.

The second approach of Ida B. Wells in her anti-lynching movement was to appeal to the Christian conscience of powerful non-southern Whites.  She published two pamphlets (“Southern Horror” in 1892 and “A Red Book” in 1895) in hopes that extensive statistical analyses of lynching would clearly point out that the southern rape fantasy was merely “an excuse to get rid of Negroes who were acquiring wealth and property.”  She pointed out that the same lynch mob that killed a Nashville Black man accused of visiting a White woman left unharmed a White man convicted of raping an eight year old girl.  Since Ms. Well’s viewed lynching as primarily an economic issue, she hoped that economic pressure from the “ruling-class Whites” could produce southern social change.  She began a lecture tour in the Northeast in 1892 and in 1894 she lectured in England where she helped organize the British Anti-Lynching Society.  Ms. Wells was able to effect a curtailment of British investment in the South by suggesting that this could influence American sentiment.  In 1895, Ida B. Wells toured the northern and western states organizing American anti-lynching societies.

Ida B. Wells told African Americans that her analysis of mob violence suggested that it abated whenever Blacks exercised “manly self-defense.”  In “Southern Horrors” she suggested, “a Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every Black home.”  She also told Blacks that they must retaliate with their economic power.  She urged Blacks to boycott White businesses or to migrate to Oklahoma since Black labor was the industrial strength of the South.  She said: “The more the Afro-American yields and cringes and begs, the more he has to do so, the more he is insulted, outraged, and lynched.”

Since Southern courts would not punish lynching participants, Ms. Wells lobbied for legislation that would make lynching a federal crime.  In 1901, Ida B. Wells met with President William McKinley and pressed for his support with anti-lynching legislation.  However, she could not get McKinley or Theodore Roosevelt to support an anti-lynching bill that was introduced in Congress in 1902.  As one of the founding members of the NAACP in 1909, she made her anti-lynching campaign including anti-lynching legislation among the NAACP’s highest priorities.  The NAACP investigated specific incidents and published national statistics on lynching in an attempt to sway public support to put a stop to lynching.  In 1918, the NAACP was able to get Republican Congressman Leonidas Dyer to introduce a bill that subjected lynch mobs to a charge of capital murder for their actions.  The Dyer Bill passed in the House of Representatives but failed in the Senate because southern Democrats never allowed the bill out of committee.  Congressman Dyer re-introduced the bill each year for the next ten years, but it never again passed either house.

As a result of the life-long crusade of Ida B. Wells against lynching, she became the inspiration for organizations throughout the country that opposed lynching.  For example, The American Civil Liberties Union, The Commission on Interracial Cooperation, and The Communist Party of the United States all played a role in the anti-lynching campaign.  Ironically, White middle class Southern women for whom lynching was suppose to protect, formed the Jessie Daniel Ames Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching in 1930.  In honor of her legacy, a low-income housing project in Chicago was named after Ida B. Wells in 1941; and in 1990, the U.S. Postal Service issued an Ida B. Wells commemorative stamp.  The “militant,” “uncompromising,” “outspoken,” and “fearless” Ida B. Wells can surely look back upon her life as a genuine success in helping to end one of the most horrific chapters in African American history.


Joel A. Rogers and Dr. Auset Bakhufu have both written books documenting that at least five former presidents of the United States had Black people among their ancestors.  If one considers the fact that European men far outnumbered European women during the founding of this country, and that the rape and impregnation of an African female slave was not considered a crime, it is even more surprising that these two authors could not document Black ancestors among an ever larger number of former presidents.  The presidents they name include Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Warren Harding, and Calvin Coolidge.

The best case for Black ancestry is against Warren G. Harding, our 29th president from 1921 until 1923.  Harding himself never denied his ancestry.  When Republican leaders called on Harding to deny the "Negro" history, he said, "How should I know whether or not one of my ancestors might have jumped the fence." William Chancellor, a White professor of economics and politics at Wooster College in Ohio, wrote a book on the Harding family genealogy and identified Black ancestors among both parents of President Harding.  Justice Department agents allegedly bought and destroyed all copies of this book.  Chancellor also said that Harding's only academic credentials included education at Iberia College, which was founded in order to educate fugitive slaves.

Andrew Jackson was our 7th president from 1829 to 1837.  The Virginia Magazine of History, Volume 29, says that Jackson was the son of a White woman from Ireland who had intermarried with a Negro.  The magazine also said that his eldest brother had been sold as a slave in Carolina.   Joel Rogers says that Andrew Jackson Sr. died long before President Andrew Jackson Jr. was born. He says the president's mother then went to live on the Crawford farm where there were Negro slaves and that one of these men was Andrew Jr's father.  Another account of the "brother sold into slavery” story can be found in David Coyle's book entitled "Ordeal of the Presidency" (1960).

Thomas Jefferson was our 3rd president from 1801 to 1809.  The chief attack on Jefferson was in a book written by Thomas Hazard in 1867 called "The Johnny Cake Papers."  Hazard interviewed Paris Gardiner, who said he was present during the 1796 presidential campaign, when one speaker states that Thomas Jefferson was “a mean-spirited son of a half-breed Indian squaw and a Virginia mulatto father.”  In his book entitled "The Slave Children of Thomas Jefferson," Samuel Sloan wrote that Jefferson destroyed all of the papers, portraits, and personal effects of his mother, Jane Randolph Jefferson, when she died on March 31, 1776.  He even wrote letters to every person who had ever received a letter from his mother, asking them to return that letter.  Sloan says, "There is something strange and even psychopathic about the lengths to which Thomas Jefferson went to destroy all remembrances of his mother, while saving over 18,000 copies of his own letters and other documents for posterity."  One must ask, "What is it he was trying to hide?"

Abraham Lincoln was our 16th president from 1861 to 1865.  J. A. Rogers quotes Lincoln's mother, Nancy Hanks, as saying that Abraham Lincoln was the illegitimate son of an African man.  William Herndon, Lincoln's law partner, said that Lincoln had very dark skin and coarse hair and that his mother was from an Ethiopian tribe.  In Herndon's book entitled "The Hidden Lincoln" he says that Thomas Lincoln could not have been Abraham Lincoln's father because he was sterile from childhood mumps and was later castrated.  Lincoln's presidential opponents made cartoon drawings depicting him as a Negro and nicknamed him “Abraham Africanus the First."

Calvin Coolidge was our 30th president, and he succeeded Warren Harding.  He proudly admitted that his mother was dark because of mixed Indian ancestry.  However, Dr. Bakhufu says that by 1800 the New England Indian was hardly any longer pure Indian, because they had mixed so often with Blacks.  Calvin Coolidge's mother's maiden name was "Moor."  In Europe the name "Moor" was given to all Black people just as the name Negro was used in America.

All of the presidents mentioned were able to pass for White and never acknowledged their Black ancestry.  Millions of other children who were descendants of former slaves have also been able to pass for White.  American society has had so much interracial mixing that books such as “The Bell Curve”, discussing IQ evaluations based solely on race, are totally unrealistic.


When the famous anthropologist Dr. Richard Leakey discovered bones in Africa in 1956, which were millions of years old, his accomplishment was belittled by people who regularly asked the question, "but what has Africa contributed to world progress?"  He could not understand why people were so poorly informed, since he knew that the collective contributions of Black people to civilization, science, and invention are so extensive that it is not possible to live a full day in the United States, or any other part of the world without sharing in the benefits of those contributions.  Still the genius of the Black imagination that has influenced every aspect of life in the United States and elsewhere is virtually unknown to most people.

Very few homes in America have as many as two books, which discuss the achievements of the Black race, either past or present.  During the slave trade, many of the slaves from the former Songhay Empire were highly educated and were credited with teaching Caribbean and American farmers successful agricultural techniques.  They also invented various tools and equipment to lessen the burden of their daily work.  Most slave inventors were nameless, such as the slave owned by the Confederate President Jefferson Davis who designed the ship propeller used by the entire Confederate Navy.

Following the Civil War, the growth of industry in this country was tremendous and much of this was made possible with inventions by ethnic minorities.  By 1913 over 1,000 inventions were patented by Black Americans.  Among the most notable inventors were Jan Matzeliger, who developed the first machine to mass-produce shoes, and Elijah McCoy, who invented automatic lubrication devices for steam engines.  Granville Woods had 35 patents to improve electric railway systems including the first system to allow moving trains to communicate.  He even sued Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison for stealing his patents and won both cases.  Garrett Morgan developed the first automatic traffic signal and gas mask, and Norbert Rilleux who created the technique for converting sugar cane juice into white sugar crystals.  Moreover, Rillieux was so brilliant that in 1854 he left Louisiana and went to France where he spent ten years working with the Champollions deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics from the Rosetta Stone.  Lewis Latimer created an inexpensive cotton-thread filament, which made electric light bulbs practical because Edison's original light bulb only burned for a few minutes.  More recent inventors include McKinley Jones, who invented the movable refrigeration unit for food transport in trucks and trains and Lloyd Quarterman who with six other Black scientists, worked on the creation of the atomic bomb along (code named the Manhattan Project.)  Quaterman also helped develop the first nuclear reactor, which was used in the atomically powered submarine called the Nautilus.

Lets conclude with two current contributors.  It should not be surprising that we don't know about the wonderful contributions of Blacks in the past because we are not even made aware of the startling scientific achievements during our own lifetime.  For example, Otis Bodkin invented an electrical device used in all guided missiles and all IBM computers, and Colonel Frederick Gregory, who was not only the first Black astronaut pilot but the person who also redesigned the cockpits for the last three space shuttles.  Gregory was also on the team that pioneered the microwave instrumentation landing system.  In  2000, Bendix Aircraft Company began a worldwide promotion of this microwave instrumentation landing system that can land planes without a pilot.



President Thomas Jefferson under an 1802 Act of Congress, initially established the U.S. Military at West Point, New York, as a corps of engineers.  General Sylvanus Thayer was appointed superintendent in 1814, and became known as the “Father of West Point” because of his academic expansion.  Since members of Congress had to nominate West Point cadets, no African Americans were nominated until the Reconstruction period when Black voters elected Black Congressmen.  The 13th, 14th, and 15th constitutional amendments made election of Black Congressmen possible.  Emancipation was accomplished by the 13th amendment (1865); citizenship through the 14th amendment (1868); and the 15th amendment granted suffrage to Black males (1870).

African American Congressmen nominated 27 Blacks to West Point Academy between 1870 and 1887.  Only 12 members of the group passed the academic and physical examinations for admission.  Academically, they were examined in mathematics (including fractions and decimals) in addition to the rules of correct grammar.  Candidates also had to demonstrate knowledge of “U.S. and world geography, by discussing various historical periods, wars, and U.S. administrations.”  The physical examination required the absence of infectious and chronic disease.  During the four-year program, the cadets studied French, Spanish, chemistry, engineering, philosophy, law, mathematics (including calculus), mineralogy, and geology.  Despite the many nominations, only three African Americans graduated from West Point Academy during its first 130 years of existence.

The first African American nominated to West Point was James Webster Smith who attended from 1870 until January 1874.  James Smith was described as “a hot headed activist, bent on righting the wrongs of racial inequality.”  Smith was forced to repeat his first year at West Point because of an alleged lie in response to a charge of inattention in the ranks.  After his fourth year, Smith wrote his patron, David Clark of Connecticut, complaining about the academy’s mistreatment of Black cadets.  His letters sparked a congressional board of inquiry, which eventually recommended the court martial of several White cadets.  However, since one of the White cadets was the nephew of William Belknap, Secretary of War, the punishment was reduced to a mere reprimand.  Smith’s personal and public need to eradicate social injustice at West Point Academy resulted in extreme classmate hatred and the eventual dismissal of Smith from the academy for fighting after a court martial and three-week imprisonment.

Johnson Chesnut Whittaker was chosen to fill the vacancy created by James Smith’s dismissal.  Contrary to Smith, Whittaker was described as a quiet, shy, cowardly student who sought solace in the Bible.  After completing four years and just prior to his final examinations, Whittaker was found on the floor of his room, “bleeding and insensible, bound hand and foot to his bedstead.  His head was partly shaved, and his feet and hands slashed.”  Whittaker claimed that three masked men were responsible, and this created such uproar in the press that Congress initiated another investigation.  A court of inquiry accused Whittaker of self-mutilation to avoid his final examinations.  He received a court marital and was sentenced to a dishonorable discharge from the military and one year hard labor in prison.  President Chester Arthur reversed the entire proceedings but did not allow him to finish West Point.

Henry Flipper, a former slave, was a roommate of both James Smith and Johnson Whittaker and was determined to finish West Point Academy at all costs.  Henry received his appointment to West Point Academy upon the recommendation of Congressman James Freeman, who needed the Black vote for re-election.  Despite threats, bribes as high as $5,000, and refusal of any cadets to speak to him for four years, Flipper became the first Black West Point graduate on June 14, 1877.  Prominent Blacks throughout the nation were proud of Flipper’s accomplishment and Charles Douglass, son of Frederick Douglass, sponsored a New York City reception in his honor.

On January 2, 1878 Flipper received his commission as second lieutenant and was assigned to the all Black 10th U.S. Calvary (called the Buffalo Soldiers) at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.  Henry Flipper performed exceptionally well during his first four years and was well liked by everyone.  He served admirably in a number of combat assignments on the frontier and also worked brilliantly as an engineer.  He designed and perfected a drainage system that eliminated diseased stagnant rainwater (and subsequent malaria) that was plaguing the fort.  Still known as “Flipper’s Ditch”, it became a national landmark in 1977.  Unfortunately, he was transferred to Fort Davis, Texas in 1881 commanded by the racist Colonel William Shafter.  Shafter disliked Blacks in general and the Buffalo Soldiers in particular.  Shortly after Lieutenant Flipper’s arrival, he was accused of stealing commissary funds.  Flipper stated at his court martial that he hid the funds in his personal trunk because there was no secure place to keep the commissary funds and that Colonel Shafter was fully aware of this.  Despite the fact that Colonel Shafter had Lucy Smith, Flipper’s White housekeeper, laundress, and cook, searched and that $2,800 in commissary checks were found in her blouse, this fact was never mentioned at the trial.  Moreover, the local town merchants, who highly admired Flipper, took up a collection and replaced all the missing funds.  The court martial panel could not convict Flipper of embezzlement but were able to convict him of “conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman.”  Although the Army’s judge advocate general concluded that the conviction was racially motivated, President Chester Arthur refused to reverse his conviction, and Flipper was dishonorably discharged.

Henry Flipper used his outstanding education at West Point Academy to carve out a distinguished career as a civil and mining engineer, especially in and around Mexico, since he had learned fluent Spanish.  He initially worked for an American mining company surveying land in Mexico.  When Texas and Arizona joined the United States, Flipper translated Spanish land deeds and titles for the Land Grant Court and investigated their authenticity in Mexico City records.  Flipper later joined the Justice Department and Senate Foreign Relations Committee as an expert on Mexican political developments.  Subsequently, Secretary of Interior, Albert Fall, a close friend of Henry Flipper, chose him as chief civil engineer in determining the course for the Alaskan railroad lines.

Flipper unsuccessfully devoted his entire life to clearing his name.  Four bills were introduced in Congress between 1903 and 1908 to clear Flipper, but racist southern politicians allowed the bills to die in committee.  Despite all of his accomplishments, he died bitterly disappointed in 1940 at age 84.  The redemption of Flipper’s name was rekindled by a schoolteacher from Valdosta, Georgia named Ray MacColl who learned about Flipper while taking a Black history course and embarked on a tireless campaign to right what he regarded as a major injustice.  Through MacColl’s efforts, the Army’s Board for the Correction of Military Records reviewed the circumstances of Flipper’s discharge and changed his discharge from dishonorable to honorable in 1976.  Moreover in 1977, exactly 100 years after his graduation, the Henry O. Flipper Memorial Award was established at West Point Academy and is given annually to the cadet who best demonstrates leadership, self discipline, and perseverance.  On February 11, 1978, his remains were moved from an unmarked grave in Atlanta and reburied, with full military honors in his hometown of Thomasville, Georgia.

On February 19, 1999, President Clinton granted Henry Flipper the first post-humorous pardon in American history, calling the pardon “an event that is 117 years overdue.”  Retired General Colin Powell, who attended the pardon ceremony, kept a picture of Flipper on the wall of his office at the Pentagon when he was Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff.  Powell wrote in his autobiography: “We knew that the path through the underbrush of prejudice and discrimination had been cleared by the sacrifices of nameless Blacks who had gone before us, the Henry Flippers…and to them we owed everything.” 

Henry Flipper is now a revered figure at West Point where a memorial bust is dedicated to him in the cadet library.  Eighty Black cadets graduated in West Point Academy’s class of 2000, and they should never forget that African Americans “stand tall because we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.”  Pioneers are those with “arrows in their backs,” and we must never stop honoring our pioneers.


Despite stellar performances through five previous wars, Black servicemen in the early 1900s were hated by the South and despised and unappreciated by the North.  Southerners hated Blacks in uniform because radical Republicans in Congress had used Black soldiers to police the South during Reconstruction and as added humiliation after their Civil War defeat.  After Reconstruction, Black soldiers were sent to the Western frontier to fight “hostile Indians,” but found the environment of White racism tremendously more hostile than the Native Americans.  Nothing more typified American racial hatred for the Black soldier than the “Brownsville Affair.”

During the summer of 1906 the first battalion of the 25th infantry regiment was transferred from Fort Niobrara in Nebraska to Fort Brown, a post near Brownsville, Texas at the mouth of the Rio Grande River, to protect against Mexican revolutionaries.  These 167 men had outstanding credentials for service, loyalty, discipline, and bravery during battles fought in Cuba and the Philippines.  Six of these Black soldiers held the Medal of Honor and thirteen had been awarded citations for bravery in the Spanish-American War.  More than half of the soldiers had been in uniform for more than five years; twenty five had served in active duty for more than ten years; and one had accrued more that twenty seven years.  The citizens of Brownsville were appalled and wrote William Howard Taft, the Secretary of War, requesting that he keep the White 26th infantry at Fort Brown instead.  The War Department refused to repeal the order and responded to the Brownsville citizens: “The fact is that a certain amount of race prejudice between Whites and Blacks seems to have become almost universal throughout the country, and no matter where colored troops are sent there are always some who make objections to their coming.”

The Brownsville citizens immediately posted new signs announcing “NO NIGGERS OR DOGS ALLOWED” on saloons, restaurants, and all public and recreational facilities.  However, since Brownsville is located near the Mexican border, most of the town’s inhabitants were low paid Mexican workers, and these Hispanics welcomed the soldiers at their establishments.  Consequently, Whites became very concerned that the assertive Black infantrymen might inspire Mexicans to challenge the status quo of White dominance and to resist local Jim Crow practices.  As much as the White citizens of Brownsville hated Black soldiers, they saw an interracial alliance as an even greater threat to their town and felt compelled to eliminate the Black military presence by whatever means necessary.

Shortly after midnight on August 14, 1906 a group of men across the road from Fort Brown and dressed in army uniforms began firing shots randomly into buildings and at streetlights for about ten minutes.  The random bullets killed a bartender, and seriously wounded a police lieutenant.  Military rifle cartridges and clips from Springfield rifles recently issued to the 25th regiment were found at the scene.  Several Brownsville citizens immediately claimed that they saw Blacks shooting.  Major Penrose said it could not have been Black soldiers because all the battalion’s soldiers were accounted for by company commanders at the 10:00 PM curfew check and again immediately after the shooting.  The rifles were also checked and none had been recently fired.  The Major stated that anyone could wear an army uniform because old uniforms were routinely discarded outside the fort and that ammunition and rifles were known to have been sold to the citizens of Brownsville by the White 26th regiment that occupied the fort before the Black soldiers.  Brownsville Mayor, Fred Come, organized an investigating committee of local citizens who found witnesses who professed to have heard voices that sounded Black.  Five witnesses said they saw Black soldiers but could not identify anyone, and they were not under oath.  The committee prefaced their questions by stating: “We know that this outrage was committed by Negro soldiers. We want any information that will lead to a discovery of who did it.”  The committee did not call a single soldier to the inquiry.

After one day of testimony the committee sent a telegram to President Theodore Roosevelt stating: “Our women and children are terrified and our men practically under constant alarm and watchfulness.  No community can stand this strain…we ask you to have the troops at once removed from Fort Brown and replaced by White soldiers.”  President Roosevelt ordered two investigations, one by Major August Blocksom and a second by General Ernest Garlington, a racist native of South Carolina.  They took as evidence the testimony of White citizens and spent military cartridges and concurred that Black soldiers had committed the crime.  They completely ignored the testimony of a civilian employee of the fort who swore that after the shooting he had seen four Brownsville citizens dressed in uniforms and carrying rifles.  The officers concluded that the Black soldiers’ denial of the shooting was proof of “collusion” and a “conspiracy-of-silence” and since no soldier would confess, they recommended dismissing the entire battalion.  General Garlington added: “The secretive nature of the race, where crimes charged to members of their color are made, is well known.”

President Theodore Roosevelt delayed his decision until after his re-election so as not to loose much needed Black support.  Subsequently, on November 28, 1906, he ordered the discharge of all 167 soldiers of the first battalion without honor, and he denied the soldiers all back pay and pension benefits.  The soldiers never received a formal trial or the benefit of legal counsel, and this remains the only example of mass punishment without the benefit of trial in U.S. military history.  White people across the country celebrated Roosevelt’s decision.  The “New Orleans Picayune” reported: “Whatever may be the value of the Negro troops in time of war, the fact remains they are a curse to the country in time of peace.”  In December 1906 during the first congressional session after the Brownsville incident, Congressman John Garner of Texas, whose district included Brownsville, introduced a bill that “called for elimination of all Blacks currently in the military and barring Black enlistment.”  Although his bill was defeated, he re-introduced similar bills in each of the next three sessions.  Franklin Roosevelt rewarded Garner’s racial hatred by selecting him as his vice president in 1932 and 1936.

Senator Joseph Foraker of Ohio tried to rally support without success for the Black soldiers and even proposed a bill providing the men an opportunity to reenlist.  Foraker’s defense of the Brownsville soldiers and criticism of the White House “so infuriated Theodore Roosevelt that the President proceeded to “hound the Senator from public life.”  However, 66 years later (March 1971) Black California Congressman Augustus Hawkins introduced legislation to amend the records of the 25th regiment to “honorable discharge.”  On December 6, 1972, President Nixon signed a bill authorizing a one-time pension payment of $25,000 to 86 year old Dorsie Willis, the only survivor among those discharged, and thus partially corrected one of the greatest injustices in military history. 

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