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Image courtesy of buffalosoldiersmccmd.org

Buffalo Soldiers Museum presents free showing of ‘Held in Trust’

Dramatic film tells the story of Lt. Henry O. Flipper, first black graduate of West Point

By Phil Raschke

In honor of Black History Month, the Tacoma Buffalo Soldiers Museum proudly presents the film “Held in Trust,” which tells the dramatic story of Lt. Henry Ossian Flipper, the first African American graduate of the U.S. Military Academy. Film will be shown at 1 p.m. on Feb. 10 and Feb. 17 and is free to the public. In the introduction of this hour-long film, General Colin Powell introduces the topic and Ozzie Davis narrates. The film features George Robert Snead as Flipper.

Henry Ossian Flipper was born a slave in Thomasville, Ga. 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 only commanded 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.

Flipper, however, 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. He ordered Flipper court-martialed, but Flipper was found innocent of the embezzlement charge after Flipper’s friends, sensing a setup, donated replacement funds within four days.

But a second charge of conduct unbecoming an officer was later added to the court martial. This charge was based on Flipper’s failure to immediately report the missing funds once he knew the funds were gone. This 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 died in 1940 in Atlanta, having 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. After his passing, others carried on Flipper’s 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. 59 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 nor his love for his country.

The Buffalo Soldiers Museum is located at 1940 S. Wilkeson St. in Tacoma. Free on-street parking is available. Museum admission is free and open to the public. Donations are welcome. For more information, call (253) 272-4257. The museum’s website is www.buffalosoldierstacoma.org.

The 9th and 10th Horse Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers Museum in Tacoma is a non-profit 501(c)(3). Since its founding in 2005, Tacoma’s Buffalo Soldiers Museum has served as a community resource encompassing a significant — and all too often overlooked — facet of American history.

“The mission is achieved through educational programs, historic research, youth outreach programs and exhibits. The museum creates and disseminates knowledge about the history of the Buffalo Soldiers and their service and contributions,” notes the museum’s Executive Director Jackie Jones-Hook.

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