On March 17th at 12 noon, the City of Thomasville and the West Point Society of Tallahassee will host an event at the Flipper Cemetery that will unveil a new bronze burial marker for Lt. Henry O. Flipper and granite markers for his parents. According to Kha McDonald, Senior Assistant City Manager, the new markers are more befitting of such contributors to Thomasville’s and West Point’s history.
“Lt. Flipper’s legacy is significant and a source of pride for all of Thomasville,” said McDonald. “He was a former slave who went on to become the first African American graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point and the first African American officer to command regular troops in the U.S. Army.”
The event will feature General Lloyd J. Austin III (USA-Ret) as the keynote speaker. General Austin was a graduate of Thomasville High School, Class of 1971 and a graduate of the Military Academy at West Point, Class of 1975. General Austin is the second African American from Thomasville to graduate from West Point, with Lt. Flipper being the first. During his distinguished 41-year career in the Army, General Austin was described as a “soldier’s soldier.” Prior to his retirement, he was the commanding general of U.S. Central Command, overseeing the U.S. efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan and parts of the Middle East.
According to McDonald, the new markers were necessary to correct an inadvertent error that existed related to Lt. Flipper’s military service. The error was discovered after the City of Thomasville unveiled an all-steel, decorative fence to replace the chain link fence that was at the Flipper Cemetery.
“Shortly after we unveiled the new fence in March 2015, we were approached by members of the West Point Society of Tallahassee with the news that there was ‘one military error of significance’ on Lt. Flipper’s marker,” said McDonald. “We’ve discovered that Lt. Flipper was a member of the 10th US Cavalry and not the 10th Oklahoma, as his previous marker stated.”
McDonald said that the 10th Oklahoma was a territorial militia and not part of the standing army of the United States. “In historical terms, we were told the error was ‘significant and important’ to Lt. Flipper’s military service,” she said. “Of course, our intention is to honor Lt. Flipper, so we felt correcting this designation on his burial marker was critical.”
Dr. H. Steven Hammond, President of the West Point Society of Tallahassee, announced that General Austin will be featured speaker at their annual Founder’s Day celebration to commemorate the founding of West Point 1802 by then President Thomas Jefferson. The West Point Society of Tallahassee has had a long-standing interest in the maintenance and care of Lt. Flipper’s gravesite.
“For several years, the West Point Society of Tallahassee has had an annual day of cemetery maintenance to honor and commemorate Lt. Flipper’s service to the Army and to West Point,” McDonald said.
Together, the City of Thomasville and the West Point Society of Tallahassee collaborated to fund a replacement bronze marker for Lt. Flipper’s grave. This initiative was expanded to replace the concrete markers of Lt. Flipper and his parents with granite markers as well.
Lt. Flipper is honored annually by West Point through the Flipper Dinner, an event that has been held yearly since 1977, the centennial anniversary of Flipper’s graduation from the Academy. The Flipper Dinner also honors a senior cadet who has demonstrated the highest qualities of leadership, self-discipline and perseverance in the face of unusual difficulties. This year’s event was held this year on February 9, 2017 and featured guest speakers Vice President Mike Pence and 2010 West Point graduate Alejandro Villanueva. Villanueva is also a former Army Ranger and Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive tackle.
The event unveiling the new burial markers is being held in partnership with the West Point Society of Tallahassee. It is scheduled for Friday, March 17th at Lt. Flipper’s gravesite at 12 noon. The event is free of charge and the public is invited to attend. For more information, please call 227-7001.