Book Review: The Fall of a Black Army Officer: Racism & the Myth of Henry O. Flipper


by Charles M. Robinson III

Norman, Ok: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008. Pp. xviii, 189. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $29.95. ISBN:0806135212

In his 1994 book The Court-Martial of Lieutenant Henry Flipper, Robinson, an historian of the frontier army, held to the view that Flipper's 1881 conviction for embezzlement was rooted in racism. 

Reviewing materials not available at the time he did the earlier book, in the present work Robinson concludes that, while not denying the existence of racism in the army, Flipper had indeed been careless with funds, albeit probably intentionally.  Such financial misconduct apparently was not uncommon in the Old Army, as very young officers were often given responsibility for large sums with little or not training.  A number of other officers in the period were also found short in their accounts.  The penalties handed out to most of these officers, however, were not usually immediate expulsion from the service, which is where the Flipper case differs from theirs.

While reviewing the Flipper case, Robinson also provides some interesting insights into the financial side of the frontier Army, a look at its social norms (which Flipper had transgressed by having a covert relationship with a maid), and military life on the frontier.

An important read not only for those interested in racism and the army, but also in the military history of the frontier, racisim in military life, and the Old Army.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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