Many individuals of African-American descent have been graduates of the Military Academy at West Point. The second and third each have Greene County connections and I wondered about the first one was Henry Ossian Flipper.
Serving with the 10th Cavalry leading the Buffalo soldiers in the Apache Wars, Flipper’s record was excellent. Unfortunately, there were rumors of misconduct and so he received a dishonorable discharge. In 1994, his descendants petitioned to have the records re-examined and so his service record was changed to reflect an honorable discharge. He was officially pardoned in 1999 posthumously.
The second graduate was John Alexander and the third Col. Charles Young. These two men were at West Point at the same time and were roommates. Both taught at Wilberforce University later in their careers.
I shared the story of Lt. John Alexander, the second graduate recently and so will recall only some of his experiences.
Lt. Alexander first attended Oberlin College in 1880, and then was accepted for the US Military Academy. He was well-liked and respected as a Cadet, finishing 32 of a class of 64. At the time of his graduation in 1887, he received more applause than any other graduate.
His first assignment was in Nebraska, then Wyoming. From there he was sent to Utah and on to Kansas where he was commissioned 1st Lieutenant.
Following the years spent in the Western part of the country, he was assigned to teach military science at Wilberforce University.
In March 1894, he was waiting at a barber shop for his turn to get a haircut. When he got up to walk toward the chair, he collapsed and died on the spot. He was buried in Cherry Grove Cemetery in Xenia.
In 1918, his service was recognized by the government when a camp near North Newport News was re-named Camp Alexander in his honor.
The third graduate is probably the most famous, Col. Charles Young, whose home at Wilberforce has been recently declared a National Monument and tribute to the Buffalo Soldiers.
Born in Kentucky, he graduated at the top of his class in high school at the age of 16. He taught for a time, them applied to the West Point Academy, graduating in 1889.
He was assigned to the 10th Cavalry in Nebraska and from there went to Utah. During the Spanish American war he was assigned in Cuba where he was part of the army which routed Poncho Villa.
He served as one of the first Military Attaches when stationed in Haiti and later commanded the 10th Cavalry in 1903 at the Presidio in San Francisco.
Young spoke several languages and enjoyed music. He played piano, violin and guitar and composed several original songs. He served as acting superintendent at Sequoia National Park in California. One of his first projects and perhaps the one for which he is best known was providing adequate roads, allowing wagons to pass, and later encouraging visitors with automobiles to visit the park to enjoy the scenery.
He was a Military Instructor at Wilberforce University and during that period purchased a home which had previously been a stop on the Underground Railroad.
In 1918, during a routine physical, the doctors determined that his blood pressure was too high and he was relieved from active duty.
He wanted to prove that he was fit for any duty and so rode his horse from Wilberforce to Washington D. C., a distance of about 500 miles. When he arrived, he met with the Secretary of War and asked to be reinstated. Following the reinstatement, he was promoted to Full Colonel and rather than being assigned to duty in Europe, he was sent to Illinois. Later he assigned once again to Liberia in Western Africa.
He died In Liberia and his body was returned to the United States for burial. He was one of the few soldiers whose services were held in the Arlington amphitheater. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. At the time of his death, he was the highest ranking African-American officer in the US Army.
Unlike those who entered the Academy with the intent of being in the military, Theopolis Steward, born in New Jersey in 1843, was interested in a career as a minister. He attended school in New Jersey and then was ordained an African Methodist Episcopal minister in 1863.
Following the Civil War, he organized AME churches in Georgia and South Carolina and was very active in reconstruction politics in Georgia.
Later he graduated from the Episcopal Divinity School in Philadelphia and then received his Doctorate from Wilberforce University. At that time he was serving as pastor of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Wilberforce.
Between 1872 and 1891 he established and aided a church in Haiti, and then he enlisted in the 25th U. S. Colored Infantry, where he served as Chaplain until 1907.
He returned to Wilberforce to teach history, French and logic and later became vice-president of the University. He remained on the faculty until his death in 1924.
Joan Baxter is a local resident and historical columnist.
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