Burial marker of 1st African American graduate of West Point corrected in Thomasville

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By: Lanetra Bennett
March 17, 2017

THOMASVILLE, Ga. (WCTV) -- The City of Thomasville honored the legacy of Lieutenant Henry O. Flipper Friday.

Lt. Flipper was a former slave who became the first African American to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

A new bronze burial marker was unveiled at the Flipper Cemetery Friday afternoon. The new marker corrected an error related to Lt. Flipper's military service.

The error was discovered after the City of Thomasville unveiled an all-steel, decorative fence at the cemetery in 2015.

Kha McDonald, the City of Thomasville Senior Assistant Manager, said, "This is history. West Point, in fact, has an annual Founders Day that pays honor to Lt. Flipper. So, it's a proud moment for Thomasville to say that one of our own has done something that has impacted history, and the Army."

McDonald says Lt. Flipper was also the first African American officer to command regular troops in the U.S. Army.

New granite markers for his parents' graves were also installed. Their graves are next to Flipper's.


By: WCTV Eyewitness News
March 17, 2017

THOMASVILLE, Ga. (WCTV) -- The City of Thomasville and West Point Society of Tallahassee is celebrating the life and legacy of one of the area's most celebrated military figures.

Born in Thomasville in 1856, Lt. Henry O. Flipper was a former slave who went on to become the first African American graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Flipper was also the first African American officer to command regular troops in the U.S. Army. He was court martialed and unjustly dismissed from the Army in 1882, but in 1976 he was exonerated and his military honors were posthumously restored. He went on to a career in engineering following his military service.

"Lt. Flipper's legacy is significant and a source of pride for all of Thomasville," Senior Assistant City Manager Kha McDonald says.

Flipper died in Atlanta in 1940. Today, he is buried in Thomasville, and is receiving a new bronze burial marker. His parents will also receive new granite burial markers as part of a noon ceremony.

The new markers are necessary to correct an error regarding Lt. Flipper's service.

In 2015, when the City of Thomasville unveiled a steel, decorative fence to replace the chain link fence at the Flipper Cemetery, officials realized, with the help of the West Point Society of Tallahassee, that his marker stated he was a member of the 10th Oklahoma militia, when Flipper was actually a member of the 10th U.S. Calvary.

"In historical terms, we were told the error was 'significant and important' to Lt. Flipper's military service," McDonald says. "Of course, our intention is to honor Lt. Flipper, so we felt correcting this designation on his burial marker was critical."

Thomasville isn't the only place that recognizes the importance of Lt. Flipper's accomplishments. He is honored annually through West Point's Flipper Dinner, which has been held every year since 1977. The dinner honors a senior cadet who has demonstrated "the highest qualities of leadership, self-discipline and perseverance in the face of unusual difficulties."

Today's burial marker unveiling ceremony will be held at 12 noon. It's open to the public and free of charge. General Lloyd J. Austin III will be the keynote speaker. General Austin is the second African American from Thomasville to graduate from West Point.