- Year Published: 1878
- Language: English
- Country of Origin: United States of America
- Source: Flipper, H. O. (1878). The Colored Cadet at West Point. New York, NY: Homer Lee & Co.
- Flesch–Kincaid Level: 10.1
- Word Count: 14,923
Flipper, H. (1878). Chapter 16: Smith at West Point. The Colored Cadet at West Point (Lit2Go Edition). Retrieved April 17, 2014, from
Flipper, Henry O.. "Chapter 16: Smith at West Point." The Colored Cadet at West Point. Lit2Go Edition. 1878. Web. <>. April 17, 2014.
Henry O. Flipper, "Chapter 16: Smith at West Point," The Colored Cadet at West Point, Lit2Go Edition, (1878), accessed April 17, 2014,.
James Webster Smith, a native of South Carolina, was appointed to a cadetship at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, in 1870, by the Hon. S. L. Hoge. He reported, as instructed, at the Military Academy in the early summer of 1870, and succeeded in passing the physical and intellectual examination prescribed, and was received as a "conditional cadet." At the same time one Howard reported, but unfortunately did not succeed in "getting in."
In complexion Smith was rather light, possibly an octoroon. Howard, on the contrary, was black. Howard had been a student at Howard University, as also had been Smith. Smith, before entering the Academy, had graduated at the Hartford High School, and was well prepared to enter upon the new course of studies at West Point.
In studies he went through the first year's course without any difficulty, but unfortunately an affaire d'honneur—a "dipper fight"—caused him to be put back one year in his studies. In going over this course again he stood very high in his class, but when it was finished he began going down gradually until he became a member of the last section of his class, an "immortal," as we say, and in constant danger of being "found."
He continued his course in this part of his class till the end of his second class year, when he was declared deficient in natural and experimental philosophy, and dismissed. At this time he had been in the Academy four years, but had been over only a three-years' course, and would not have graduated until the end of the next year, June, 1875.
As to his trials and experiences while a cadet, I shall permit him to speak. The following articles embrace a series of letters written by him, after his dismissal, to the New National Era and Citizen, the political organ of the colored people, published at Washington, D. C.:
"SIR: I saw an article yesterday in one of our local papers, copied from the Brooklyn Argus, concerning my dismissal from the Military Academy. The article referred to closes as follows: 'Though he has written letters to his friends, and is quite sanguine about returning and finally graduating, the professors and cadets say there is not the slightest chance. Said a professor to a friend, the other day: "It will be a long time before any one belonging to the colored race can graduate at West Point."'
"Now, Sir, I would like to ask a few questions through the columns of your paper concerning these statements, and would be glad to have them answered by some of the knowing ones.
"In the first place, what do the professors and cadets know of my chances for getting back, and if they know any thing, how did they find it out? At an interview which I had with the Secretary of War, on the 17th instant, he stated that he went to West Point this year for a purpose, and that he was there both before and after my examination, and conversed with some of the professors concerning me. Now, did that visit and those conversations have any thing to do with the finding of the Academic Board? Did they have any thing to do with that wonderful wisdom and foresight displayed by the professors and cadets in commenting upon my chances for getting back? Why should the Secretary of War go to West Point this year 'for a purpose,' and converse with the professors about me both before and after the examination? Besides, he spoke of an interview he had had with Colonel Ruger, Superintendent of the Academy, in New York, on Sunday, the 12th instant, in reference to me; during which Colonel Ruger had said that the Academic Board would not recommend me to return. Is it very wonderful that the Academic Board should refuse such recommendation after those very interesting conversations which were held 'both before and after the recommendation?' Why was the secretary away from West Point at the time of the examination.
"In the next place, by what divine power does that learned oracle, a professor, prophesy that it will be a long time before any one belonging to the colored race can graduate at West Point? It seems that he must have a wonderful knowledge of the negro that he can tell the abilities of all the colored boys in America. But it is possible that he is one of the younger professors, perhaps the professor of philosophy, and therefore expects to live and preside over that department for a long time, though to the unsophisticated mind it looks very much as though he would examine a colored cadet on the color of his face.
"I think he could express himself better and come much nearer the truth by substituting shall for can in that sentence. Of course, while affairs remain at West Point as they have always been, and are now, no colored boy will graduate there; but there are some of us who are sanguine about seeing a change, even if we can't get back.
"Late Cadet U.S.M.A."
As I told you in my last communication, I shall now proceed to give you an account of my four years' stay at West Point.
"I reported there on the 31st of May, 1870, and had not been there an hour before I had been reminded by several thoughtful cadets that I was 'nothing but a d—d nigger.' Another colored boy, Howard, of Mississippi, reported on the same day, and we were put in the same room, where we stayed until the preliminary examination was over, and Howard was sent away, as he failed to pass.
"While we were there we could not meet a cadet anywhere without having the most opprobrious epithets applied to us; but after complaining two or three times, we concluded to pay no attention to such things, for, as we did not know these cadets, we could get no satisfaction.
"One night about twelve o'clock some one came into our room, and threw the contents of his slop-pail over us while we were asleep. We got to our door just in time to hear the 'gentleman' go into his room on the floor above us. This affair reported itself the next morning at 'Police Inspection,' and the inspector ordered us to search among the tobacco quids, and other rubbish on the floor, for something by which we might identify the perpetrator of the affair. The search resulted in the finding of an old envelope, addressed to one McCord, of Kentucky. That young 'gentleman' was questioned in reference, but succeeded in convincing the authorities that he had nothing to do with the affair and knew nothing of it.
"A few days after that, Howard was struck in the face by that young 'gentleman,' 'because,' as he says, 'the d—d nigger didn't get out of the way when I was going into the boot-black's shop.' For that offence Mr. McCord was confined to his room, but was never punished, as in a few days thereafter he failed at the preliminary examination, and was sent away with all the other unfortunates, including Howard.
"On the 28th of June, 1870, those of us who had succeeded in passing the preliminary examination were taken in 'plebe camp,' and there I got my taste of 'military discipline,' as the petty persecutions of about two hundred cadets were called. Left alone as I was, by Howard's failure, I had to take every insult that was offered, without saying any thing, for I had complained several times to the Commandant of Cadets, and, after 'investigating the matter,' he invariably came to the conclusion, 'from the evidence deduced,' that I was in the wrong, and I was cautioned that I had better be very particular about any statements that I might make, as the regulations were very strict on the subject of veracity.
"Whenever the 'plebes' (new cadets) were turned out to 'police' camp, as they were each day at 5 A.M. and 4 P.M., certain cadets would come into the company street and spit out quids of tobacco which they would call for me to pick up. I would get a broom and shovel for the purpose, but they would immediately begin swearing at and abusing me for not using my fingers, and then the corporal of police would order me to put down that broom and shovel, 'and not to try to play the gentleman here,' for my fingers were 'made for that purpose.' Finding there was no redress to be had there, I wrote my friend Mr. David Clark, of Hartford, Ct., to do something for me. He had my letter published, and that drew the attention of Congress to the matter, and a board was sent to West Point to inquire into the matter and report thereon. That board found out that several cadets were guilty of conduct unbecoming a cadet and a gentleman and recommended that they be court- martialled, but the Secretary of War thought a reprimand would be sufficient. Among those reprimanded were Q. O'M. Gillmore, son of General Gillmore; Alex. B. Dyer, son of General Dyer; and James H. Reid, nephew of the Secretary of War (it is said). I was also reprimanded for writing letters for publication.
"Instead of doing good, these reprimands seemed only to increase the enmity of the cadets, and they redoubled their energies to get me into difficulty, and they went on from bad to worse, until from words they came to blows, and then occurred that 'little onpleasantness' known as the 'dipper fight.' On the 13th of August, 1870, I, being on guard, was sent to the tank for a pail of water. I had to go a distance of about one hundred and fifty yards, fill the pail by drawing water from the faucet in a dipper (the faucet was too low to permit the pail to stand under it), and return to the guard tent in ten minutes. When I reached the tank, one of my classmates, J. W. Wilson, was standing in front of the faucet drinking water from a dipper. He didn't seem inclined to move, so I asked him to stand aside as I wanted to get water for the guard. He said: 'I'd like to see any d—d nigger get water before I get through.' I said: 'I'm on duty, and I've got no time to fool with you,' and I pushed the pail toward the faucet. He kicked the pail over, and I set it up and stooped down to draw the water, and then he struck at me with his dipper, but hit the brass plate on the front of my hat and broke his dipper. I was stooping down at the time, but I stood up and struck him in the face with my left fist; but in getting up I did not think of a tent fly that was spread over the tank, and that pulled my hat down over my eyes. He then struck me in the face with the handle of his dipper (he broke his dipper at the first blow), and then I struck him two or three times with my dipper, battering it, and cutting him very severely on the left side of 'his head near the temple. He bled very profusely, and fell on the ground near the tank.
"The alarm soon spread through the camp, and all the cadets came running to the tank and swearing vengeance on the 'd—d nigger.'
"An officer who was in his tent near by came out and ordered me to be put under guard in one of the guard tents, where I was kept until next morning, when I was put 'in arrest.' Wilson was taken to the hospital, where he stayed two or three weeks, and as soon as he returned to duty he was also placed in arrest. This was made the subject for a court-martial, and that court-martial will form the subject of my next communication.
"Late Cadet U.S.M.A."
"SIR: In my last communication I related the circumstances of the 'dipper fight,' and now we come to the court-martial which resulted therefrom.
"But there was another charge upon which I was tried at the same time, the circumstances of which I will detail.
"On the 15th of August, 1870, just two days after the 'dipper fight,' Cadet Corporal Beacom made a report against me for 'replying in a disrespectful manner to a file-closer when spoken to at drill, P.M. For this alleged offence I wrote an explanation denying the charge; but Cadet Beacom found three cadets who swore that they heard me make a disrespectful reply in ranks when Cadet Beacom, as a file-closer on duty, spoke to me, and the Commandant of Cadets, Lieutenant Colonel Upton, preferred charges against me for making false statements.
"The court to try me sat in September, with General O. O. Howard as President. I plead 'not guilty' to the charge of assault on Cadet Wilson, and also to the charge of making false statements.
"The court found both Cadet Wilson and myself 'guilty' of assault, and sentenced us to be confined for two or three weeks, with some other light punishment in the form of 'extra duty.'
The finding of the court was approved by President Grant in the case of Cadet Wilson, but disapproved in my case, on the ground that the punishment was not severe enough. Therefore, Cadet W. served his punishment and I did not serve mine, as there was no authority vested in the President to increase it.
"On the second charge I was acquitted, for I proved, by means of the order book of the Academy that there was no company drill on that day—the 15th of August —that there was skirmish drill, and by the guard reports of the same date, that Cadet Beacom and two of his three witnesses were on guard that day, and could not have been at drill, even if there had been one. To some it might appear that the slight inconsistencies existing between the sworn testimony of those cadets and the official record of the Academy, savored somewhat of perjury, but they succeeded in explaining the matter by saying that 'Cadet Beacom only made a mistake in date.' Of course he did; how could it be otherwise? It was necessary to explain it in some way so that I might be proved a liar to the corps of cadets, even if they failed to accomplish that object to the satisfaction of the court.
"I was released in November, after the proceedings and findings of the court had been returned from Washington, where they had been sent for the approval of the President, having been in arrest for three months. But I was not destined to enjoy my liberty for any length of time, for on the 13th of December, same year, I was in the ranks of the guard, and was stepped on two or three times by Cadet Anderson, one of my classmates, who was marching beside me.
"As I had had some trouble with the same cadet some time before, on account of the same thing I believed that he was doing it intentionally, and as it was very annoying, I spoke to him about it, saying: "I wish you would not tread on my toes.' He answered: 'Keep your d—d toes out of the way.' Cadet Birney, who was standing near by, then made some invidious remarks about me, to which I did not condescend to reply. One of the Cadet Corporals, Bailey, reported me for 'inattention in ranks,' and in my written explanation of the offence, I detailed the circumstances, but both Birney and Anderson denied them, and the Commandant of Cadets took their statement in preference to mine, and preferred charges against me for falsehood.
"I was court martialled in January, 1871, Captain Piper, Third Artillery, being President of the court. By this court I was found I 'guilty,' as I had no witnesses, and had nothing to expect from the testimony of the witnesses for the prosecution. Cadet Corporal Bailey, who made the report, Cadets Birney and Anderson were the witnesses who convicted me; in fact they were the only witnesses summoned to testify in the case. The sentence of the court was that I should be dismissed, but it was changed to one year's suspension, or, since the year was almost gone before the finding of the court was returned from Washington, where it was sent for the approval of President Grant, I was put back one year.
"I had no counsel at this trial, as I knew it would be useless, considering the one-sided condition of affairs. I was allowed to make the following written statement of the affair to be placed among the records of the proceedings of the court:
"'May it please the court: I stand here to-day charged with a most disgraceful act—one which not only affects my character, but will, if I am found guilty, affect it during my whole life—and I shall attempt, in as few words as possible, to show that I am as innocent as any person in this room. I was reported on the 18th of December, 1870, for a very trivial offence. For this offence I submitted an explanation to the Commandant of Cadets. In explanation I stated the real cause of committing the offence for which I was reported. But this cause, as stated, involved another cadet, who, finding himself charged with an act for which he was liable to punishment, denies all knowledge of it. He tries to establish his denial by giving evidence which I shall attempt to prove absurd. On the morning of the 13th of December, 1870, at guard- mounting, after the new guard had marched past the old guard, and the command of "Twos left, halt!" had been given, the new guard was about two or three yards to the front and right of the old guard. Then the command of "Left backward, dress," was given to the new guard, "Order arms, in place rest." I then turned around to Cadet Anderson, and said to him, "I wish you would not tread on my toes." This was said in a moderate tone, quite loud enough for him to hear. He replied, as I understood, " Keep your d-d toes out of the way." I said nothing more, and he said nothing more. I then heard Cadet Birney say to another cadet—I don't know who it was—standing by his side, "It (or the thing) is speaking to Mr. Anderson. If he were to speak to me I would knock him down." I heard him distinctly, but as I knew that he was interfering in an affair that did not concern him, I took no further notice of him, but turned around to my original position in the ranks. What was said subsequently I do not know, for I paid no further attention to either party. I heard nothing said at any time about taking my eyes away, or of Cadet Anderson compromising his dignity. Having thus reviewed the circumstances which gave rise to the charge, may it please the court, I wish to say a word as to the witnesses. Each of these cadets testifies to the fact that they have discussed the case in every particular, both with each other and with other cadets. That is, they have found out each other's views and feelings in respect to it, compared the evidence which each should give, the probable result of the trial; and one has even testified that he has expressed a desire as to the result. Think you that Cadet Birney, with such a desire in his breast, influencing his every thought and word, with such an end in view, could give evidence unbiassed, unprejudiced, and free from that desire that "Cadet Smith might be sent away and proved a liar?" Think you that he could give evidence which should be "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God?" It seems impossible for me to have justice done me by the evidence of such witnesses, but I will leave that for the court to decide. There is another question here which must be answered by the finding of the court. It is this: "Shall Cadet Smith be allowed to complain to the Commandant of Cadets when he considers himself unjustly dealt with?" When the court takes notice of the fact that this charge and these specifications are the result of a complaint made by me, it will agree with me as to the importance its findings will have in answering that question. As to what the finding will be, I can say nothing; but if the court is convinced that I have lied, then I shall expect a finding and sentence in accordance with such conviction. A lie is as disgraceful to one man as another, be he white or black, and I say here, as I said to the Commandant of Cadets, "If I were guilty of falsehood, I should merit and expect the same punishment as any other cadet;" but, as I said before, I am as innocent of this charge as any person in this room. The verdict of an infallible judge—conscience— is, "Not guilty," and that is the finding I ask of this court.
"Late Cadet U.S.M.A."
"SIR: In relating the events of my first year at West Point, I omitted one little affair which took place, and I will now relate the circumstances. One Sunday, at dinner, I helped myself to some soup, and one cadet, Clark, of Kentucky, who sat opposite me at table, asked me what I meant by taking soup before he had done so. I told him that I took it because I wished it, and that there was a plenty left. He seemed to be insulted at that, and asked: 'Do you think I would eat after a d—d Nigger?' I replied: 'I have not thought at all on the subject, and, moreover, I don't quite understand you, as I can't find that last word in the dictionary.' He then took up a glass and said he would knock my head off. I told him to throw as soon as he pleased, and as soon as he got through I would throw mine. The commandant of the table here interfered and ordered us to stop creating a disturbance at the table, and gave me to understand that thereafter I should not touch any thing on that table until the white cadets were served.
"When we came back from dinner, as I was going into my room, Cadet Clark struck at me from behind. He hit me on the back of my neck, causing me to get into my room with a little more haste than I anticipated, but he did not knock me down. He came into my room, following up his advantage, and attempted to take me by the throat, but he only succeeded in scratching me a little with his nails, as I defended myself as well as possible until I succeeded in getting near my bayonet, which I snatched from the scabbard and then tried to put it through him. But being much larger and stronger than I, he kept me off until he got to the door, but then he couldn't get out, for some one was holding the door on the outside, for the purpose, I suppose, of preventing my escape, as no doubt they thought I would try to get out. There were a great many cadets outside on the stoop, looking through the window, and cheering their champion, with cries of 'That's right, Clark; kill the d—d nigger,' 'Choke him,' 'Put a head on him,' etc., but when they saw him giving way before the bayonet, they cried, 'Open the door, boys,' and the door was opened, and Mr. Clark went forth to rejoice in the bosom of his friends as the hero of the day. The cadet officer of the day 'happened around' just after Clark had left, and wanted to know what did I mean by making all that noise in and around my quarters. I told him what the trouble was about, and soon after I was sent for by the 'officer in charge,' and questioned in reference to the affair. Charges were preferred against Clark for entering my room and assaulting me, but before they were brought to trial he sent two of his friends tome asking if I would withdraw the charges providing he made a written apology. I told these cadets that I would think of the matter and give them a definite answer the next evening.
"I was perfectly well satisfied that he would be convicted by any court that tried him; but the cadets could easily prove (according to their way of giving evidence) that I provoked the assault, and I, besides, was utterly disgusted with so much wrangling, so when the cadets called that evening I told them that if his written apology was satisfactory I would sign it, submit it to the approval of the Commandant of Cadets, and have the charges withdrawn.
"They then showed me the written apology offered by Clark, in which he stated that his offence was caused by passion, because he thought that when I passed him on the steps in going to my room I tried to brush against him. He also expressed his regret for what he had done, and asked forgiveness. I was satisfied with his apology, and signed it, asking that the charges be withdrawn, which was done, of course, and Clark was released from arrest. I will, in justice to Cadet Clark, state that I never had any further trouble with him, for, while he kept aloof from me, as the other cadets did, he alway thereafter acted perfectly fair by me whenever I had any official relations with him.
"A few days after the settlement of our dispute I found, on my return from fencing one day, that some one had entered my room and had thrown all my clothes and other property around the floor, and had thrown the water out of my water-pail upon my bed. I immediately went to the guard-house and reported the affair to the officer of the day, who, with the 'officer in charge,' came to my room to see what had been done. The officer of the day said that he had inspected my quarters soon after I went to the Fencing Academy and found everything in order, and that it must have been done within a half hour. The Commandant of the Cadets made an investigation of the matter, but could not find out what young 'gentleman' did it, for every cadet stated that he knew nothing of it, although the corps of cadets has the reputation of being a truthful set of young men.
"'Upon my honor as a cadet and a gentleman,'" is a favorite expression with the West Point cadet; but what kind of honor is that by which a young man can quiet his conscience while telling a base falsehood for the purpose of shielding a fellow-student from punishment for a disgraceful act? They boast of the esprit de corps existing among the cadets; but it is merely a cloak for the purpose of covering up their iniquities and silencing those (for there are some) who would, if allowed to act according to the dictates of their own consciences, be above such disgraceful acts. Some persons might attribute to me the same motives that actuated the fox in crying 'sour grapes,' and to such I will say that I never asked for social equality at West Point. I never visited the quarters of any professor, official, or cadet except on duty, for I did not wish any one to think that I was in any way desirous of social recognition by those who felt themselves superior to me on account of color. As I was never recognized as 'a cadet and a gentleman,' I could not enjoy that blessed privilege of swearing 'upon my honor,' boasting of my share in the esprit de corps, nor of concealing my sins by taking advantage of them. Still, I hope that what I lost (?) by being deprived of these little benefits will be compensated for the 'still small voice,' which tells me that I have done my best.
"Late Cadet U.S.M.A."
"SIR: My communications, thus far, have brought me to the end of my first year at the Academy, and now we come to the events of the second. In June of 1871, the proverbial silver lining, which the darkest cloud is said to have, began to shine very faintly in the West Point firmament, and I thought that at last the darkness of my cadet life was to be dispelled by the appearance above the horizon of another colored cadet. And, indeed, I was not disappointed, for, one day, I was greeted by the familiar face and voice of Mr. H. A. Napier, a former fellow-student at Howard University. Soon after his arrival, and admittance, the corps of 'cadets, accompanied by the 'plebes,' took up quarters in camp— 'plebe camp' to the latter, and 'yearling camp' to us who had entered the previous year.
"During the cadet encampment there are certain dances given three times each week, known as 'Cadet Hops.' These 'hops' are attended by the members of the first and third classes, and their lady friends, and no 'plebe' ever has the assurance of dreaming of attending the 'hops' until he shall have risen to the dignity of a 'yearling'—third-classman. So long as I was a 'plebe,' no one anticipated any such dire calamity as that I would attend the 'hops,' but as soon as I became a 'yearling,' and had a perfect right to go, if I wished, there was a great hue and cry raised that the sanctity of the 'hop' room was to be violated by the colored cadet.
"Meetings were held by the different classes, and resolutions passed to the effect that as soon as the colored cadet entered the 'hop' room, the 'hop' managers were to declare the 'hop' ended, and dismiss the musicians. But the 'hops' went on undisturbed by the presence of the colored cadet for two or three weeks, and all began to get quiet again, when one day my brother and sister, with a couple of lady friends whom they had come to visit, came to camp to see me.
"This started afresh the old report about the 'hops,' and every one was on the qui vive to get a glimpse of 'nigger Jim and the nigger wenches who are going to the hops,' as was remarked by a cadet who went up from the guard tent to spread the alarm through camp.
"In a few minutes thereafter the 'gentlemen' had all taken position at the end of the 'company street,' and, with their opera-glasses, were taking observations upon those who, as they thought, had come to desecrate the 'hop' room. I was on guard that day, but not being on post at that time, I was sitting in rear of the guard tents with my friends—that place being provided with camp-stools for the accommodation of visitors— when a cadet corporal, Tyler, of Kentucky, came and ordered me to go and fasten down the corner of the first guard tent, which stood a few paces from where we were sitting.
"I went to do so, when he came there also, and immediately began to rail at me for being so slow, saying he wished me to know that when he ordered me to do anything, I must 'step out' about it, and not try to shirk it. I said nothing, but fastened down the corner of the tent, and went back to where my friends were.
"In a few minutes afterwards he came back, and wanted to know why I hadn't fastened down that tent wall. I told him that I had.
"He said it was not fastened then, and that he did not wish any prevarication on my part.
"I then told him that he had no authority to charge me with prevarication, and that if he believed that I had not fastened down the tent wall, the only thing he could do was to report me. I went back to the tent and found that either Cadet Tyler or some other cadet had unfastened the tent wall, so I fastened it down again. Nothing now was said to me by Cadet Tyler, and I went back to where my friends were: but we had been sitting there only about a half hour, when a private soldier came to us and said, 'It is near time for parade, and you will have to go away from here.' I never was more surprised in my life, and I asked the soldier what he meant, for I surely thought be was either drunk or crazy, but he said that the superintendent had given him orders to allow no colored persons near the visitors' seats during parade.
"I asked him if he recognized me as a cadet. He said he did. I then told him that those were my friends; that I had invited them there to see the parade, and that they were going to stay. He said he had nothing to do with me, of course, but that he had to obey the orders of the superintendent. I then went to the officer of the guard, who was standing near by, and stated the circumstances to him, requesting him to protect us from such insults. He spoke to the soldier, saying that he had best not try to enforce that order, as the order was intended to apply to servants, and then the soldier went off and left us.
"Soon after that the drum sounded for parade, and I was compelled to leave my friends for the purpose of falling in ranks, but promising to return as soon as the parade was over, little thinking that I should not be able to redeem that promise; but such was the case, as I shall now proceed to show.
"Just as the companies were marching off the parade ground, and before the guard was dismissed, the 'officer in charge,' Lieutenant Charles King, Fifth Cavalry, came to the guard tent and ordered me to step out of ranks three paces to the front, which I did.
"He then ordered me to take off my accoutrements and place them with my musket on the gun rack. That being done, he ordered me to take my place in the centre of the guard as a prisoner, and there I stood until the ranks were broken, when I was put in the guard tent. Of course my friends felt very bad about it, as they thought that they were the cause of it, while I could Not speak a word to them, as they went away; and even if I could have spoken to them, I could not have explained the matter, for I did not know myself why I had been put there—at least I did not know what charge had been trumped up against me, though I knew well enough that I had been put there for the purpose of keeping me from the 'hop,' as they expected I would go. The next morning I was put 'in arrest' for 'disobedience of orders in not fastening down tent wall when ordered,' and 'replying in a disrespectful manner to a cadet corporal,' etc.; and thus the simplest thing was magnified into a very serious offence, for the purpose of satisfying the desires of a few narrow-minded cadets. That an officer of the United States Army would allow his prejudices to carry him so far as to act in that way to a subordinate, without giving him a chance to speak a word in his defence—nay, without allowing him to know what charge had been made against him, and that he should be upheld in such action by the 'powers that be,' are sufficient proof to my mind of the feelings which the officers themselves maintained towards us. While I was in ranks, during parade, and my friends were quietly sitting down looking at the parade, another model 'officer and gentleman,' Captain Alexander Piper, Third Artillery—he was president of my second court- martial—came up, in company with a lady, and ordered my brother and sister to get up and let him have their camp-stools, and he actually took away the camp-stools and left them standing, while a different kind of a gentleman—an 'obscure citizen,' with no aristocratic West Point dignity to boast of—kindly tendered his camp-stool to my sister.
"I only wish I knew the name of that gentleman; but I could not see him then, or I should certainly have found it out, though in answer to my brother's question as to his name, he simply replied, 'I am an obscure citizen.' What a commentary on our 'obscure citizens,' who know what it is to be gentlemen in something else besides the name—gentlemen in practice, not only in theory—and who can say with Burns that 'a mans a man for a' that,' whether his face be as black as midnight or as white as the driven snow.
"There is something in such a man which elevates him above many others who, having nothing else to boast of, can only say, 'I am a white man, and am therefore your superior,' or 'I am a West Point graduate, and therefore an officer and a gentleman.'
"After the usual 'investigation' by the Commandant of Cadets, I was sentenced to be confined to the 'company street' until the 15th of August, about five weeks, so that I could not get out to see my brother and sister after that, except when I was at drill, and then I could not speak to them. I tried to get permission to see them in the 'Visitors' Tent' the day before they left the 'Point' on their return home, but my permit was not granted, and they left without having the privilege of saying 'Good-by.'
"I must say a word in reference to the commandant's method of making 'investigations.' After sending for Cadet Corporal Tyler and other white cadets, and hearing their side of the story in reference to the tent wall and the disrespectful reply, he sent for me to hear what I had to say, and after I had given my version of the affair, he told me that I must surely be mistaken, as my statement did not coincide with those of the other cadets, who were unanimous in saying that I used not only disrespectful, but also profane language while addressing the cadet corporal. I told him that new Cadet Napier and my brother were both there and heard the conversation, and they would substantiate my statement if allowed to testify. He said he was convinced that I was in the wrong, and he did not send for either of them. What sort of justice is that which can be meted out to one without allowing him to defend himself, and even denying him the privilege of calling his evidence? What a model Chief Justice the Commandant of Cadets would make, since he can decide upon the merits of the case as soon as he has heard one side. Surely he has missed his calling by entering the army, or else the American people cannot appreciate true ability, for that 'officer and gentleman' ought now to be wearing the judicial robe so lately laid down by the lamented Chase.
"In reply to my complaint about the actions of the soldier in ordering my friends away from the visitors' seats, he said that the soldier had misunderstood his orders, as the superintendent had told him to keep the colored servants on the 'Point' from coming in front of the battalion at parade, and that it was not meant to apply to my friends, who could come there whenever they wished.
"It seems, though, very strange to me that the soldier could misunderstand his orders, when he saw me sitting there in company with them, for it is one of the regulations of the Academy which forbids any cadet to associate with a servant, and if I had been seen doing such a thing I would have been court-martialled for 'conduct unbecoming a cadet and a gentleman."
"The cadets were, of course, very much rejoiced at my being 'in arrest,' and after my sentence had been published at parade, they had quite a jubilee over it, and boasted of 'the skill and tact which Cadet Tyler had shown in putting the nigger out of the temptation of taking those black wenches to the hops.' They thought, no doubt, that their getting me into trouble frightened me out of any thoughts I might have had of attending the 'hops;' but if I had any idea of going to the 'hops,' I should have been only more determined to go, and should have done so as soon as my term of confinement was ended. I have never thought of going to the 'hops,' for it would be very little pleasure to go by myself, and I should most assuredly not have asked a lady to subject herself to the insults consequent upon going there. Besides, as I said before, I did not go to West Point for the purpose of advocating social equality, for there are many cadets in the corps with whom I think it no honor for any one to associate, although they are among the high-toned aristocrats, and will, no doubt, soon be numbered among the 'officers and gentlemen' of the United States Army.
"Late Cadet U.S.M.A."
"SIR: The following article appeared in the Washington Chronicle of the 14th inst., and as I feel somewhat interested in the statements therein contained, I desire to say a few words in reference to them. The article referred to reads as follows:
"'The recent attack of the colored, ex-Cadet Smith upon the Board of Visitors at West Point has attracted the attention of the officers of the War Department. They say that the Secretary of War was extremely liberal in his interpretation of the regulations on behalf of Cadet Smith, and that he did for him what had never been done for a white boy in like circumstances. The officers also say that Smith was manifestly incompetent, that he had a fair examination, and that the Congressional Board of Visitors unanimously testified to his incompetency.'
"Now, sir, I am at a loss to know what are 'the recent attacks of the colored ex-Cadet Smith upon the Board of Visitors,' for I am not aware that I have said any thing, either directly or indirectly, concerning the Board of Visitors. My remarks thus far have been confined to the Academic Board and Secretary of War.
"As the members of the Board of Visitors were simply spectators, and as they were not present when I was examined, I had no reason to make any 'attack' upon them, and, therefore, as I said before, confined my remarks (or 'attacks,' if that word is more acceptable to the Chronicle) to those who acted so unjustly toward me.
"As to the extreme liberality of the Secretary of War, in his interpretation of the regulations on behalf of Cadet Smith, and that he did for him what he had never 'done for a white boy in like circumstances,' I hardly know what to say; for such absurd cant seems intended to excite the laughter of all who know the circumstances of the case. What devoted servants those officers of the War Department must be, that they can see in their chief so much liberality!
"But in what respect was the Secretary of War so 'liberal in his interpretation of the regulations?'
"Was it in dismissing me, and turning back to a lower class two white cadets who had been unable to complete successfully the first year of the course with everything in their favor, while I had completed three years of the same course in spite of all the opposition which the whole corps of cadets, backed by the 'powers that be,' could throw in my way? Or was it his decision that 'I can give Mr. Smith a re-examination, but I won't?' The Chronicle is perfectly correct in saying 'that he did for him what had never been done for a white boy in like circumstances,' for, in the first place, I don't think there ever was 'a white boy in like circumstances,' certainly not while I was at the Academy, and if there ever were a white boy so placed, we are pretty safe in concluding, from the general treatment of white boys, that the secretary was not so frank in his remarks nor so decided in his action.
"'I want another cadet to represent your district at West Point, and I have already sent to Mr. Elliott to appoint one,' means something more than fair dealing (or, as the Chronicle would imply, partiality) toward the colored cadet. It means that the gentleman was pleasing himself in the choice of a cadet from the Third Congressional District of South Carolina, and that he did not recognize the rights of the people of that district to choose for themselves. 'You are out of the service and will stay out,' for 'the Academic Board will not recommend you to come back under any circumstances,' shows that it is the Academic Board That must choose our representative, and not we ourselves, and that our wishes are only secondary in comparison with those of the service and the Academic Board. We are no longer free citizens of a sovereign State, and of the United States, with the right to choose for ourselves those who shall represent us; but we must be subordinate to the Secretary of War and the Academic Board, and must make our wishes subservient to those of the above-named powers, and unless we do that we are pronounced to be 'naturally bad'—as remarked the Adjutant of the Academy, Captain R. H. Hall, to a Sun reporter—and must have done for us 'what had never been done for a white boy in like circumstances.' Now, sir, let us see what has 'been done for a white boy in like circumstances.' In July, 1870, the President was in Hartford, Ct., and in a conversation with my friend the Hon. David Clark, in reference to my treatment at West Point, he said: 'Don't take him away now; the battle might just as well be fought now as at any other time,' and gave him to understand that he would see me protected in my rights; while his son Fred, who was then a cadet, said to the same gentleman, and in the presence of his father, that 'the time had not come to send colored boys to West Point.' Mr. Clark said if the time had come for them to be in the United States Senate, it had surely come for them to be at West Point, and that he would do all in his power to have me protected. Fred Grant then said: 'Well, no d—d nigger will ever graduate from West Point.' This same young gentleman, with other members of his class, entered the rooms of three cadets, members of the fourth class, on the night of January 3, 1871, took those cadets out, and drove them away from the 'Point,' with nothing on but the light summer suits that they wore when they reported there the previous summer. Here was a most outrageous example of Lynch law, disgraceful alike to the first class, who were the executors of it, the corps of cadets, who were the abettors of it, and the authorities of the Academy, who were afraid to punish the perpetrators because the President's son was implicated, or, at least, one of the prime movers of the affair. Congress took the matter in hand, and instructed the Secretary of War to dismiss all the members of the class who were implicated, but the latter gentleman 'was extremely liberal in his interpretation of the regulations,' and declined to be influenced by the action of Congress, and let the matter drop.
"Again, when a Court of Inquiry, appointed by Congress to investigate complaints that I had made of my treatment, reported in favor of a trial by court-martial of General Gillmore's son, General Dyer's son, the nephew of the Secretary of War, and some other lesser lights of America's aristocracy, the secretary decided that a reprimand was sufficient for the offence; yet 'he did for me what had never been done for a white boy in like circumstances.' Now, sir, by consulting my Register of the Academy, issued in 1871, I find that three cadets of the fourth class were declared 'deficient ' in mathematics—Reid, Boyle, and Walker—and that the first named was turned back to join the next class, while the other two were dismissed. Now Reid is the Secretary's nephew, so that is the reason for his doing 'for him what had never been done for a white boy in like circumstances.'
"Mr. Editor, I have no objection whatever to any favoritism that may be shown 'any member of the Royal. Family, so long as it does not infringe upon any right of my race or myself; but when any paper tries to show that I have received such impartial treatment at the hands of 'the powers that be,' and even go so far, in their zealous endeavors to shield any one from charges founded upon facts, as to try to make it appear that I was a favorite, a pet lamb, or any other kind of a pet, at West Point, I think it my duty to point out any errors that may accidentally (?) creep into such statements.
"'The officers also say that Smith was manifestly incompetent, that he had a fair examination,' etc. What officers said that? Those of the War Department, whose attention was attracted by the 'recent attacks on the Board of Visitors,' or those who decided the case at West Point? In either case, it is not surprising that they should say so, for one party might feel jealous because 'the Secretary of War was extremely liberal in his interpretation of the regulations on behalf of Cadet Smith, and that he did for him what had never been done for a white boy in like circumstances,' while the other party might have been actuated by the desire to prove that 'no colored boy can ever graduate at West Point,' or, as the young gentleman previously referred to said, 'No d—d nigger shall ever graduate at West Point.' As for the unanimous testimony of the Board of Visitors, I can only say that I know not on what ground such testimony is based, for, as I said before, the members of that board were not in the library when I was examined in philosophy; but perhaps, this is only one of the 'they says' of the officers. There are some things in this case which are not so manifest as my alleged incompetency, and I would like to bring them to the attention of the Chronicle, and of any others who may feel interested in the matter. There has always been a system of re-examinations at the Military Academy for the purpose of giving a second chance to those cadets who failed at the regular examination. This year the re- examinations were abolished; but for what reason? It is true that I had never been re-examined, but does it not appear that the officers had concluded 'that Smith was manifestly incompetent,' and that this means was taken to deprive me of the benefit of a re-examination when they decided that I was 'deficient?' Or was it done so that the officers might have grounds for saying that 'he did for him what had never been done for a white boy in like circumstances?' Again, the examinations used to be public; but this year two sentinels were posted at the door of the library, where the examinations were held, and when a visitor came he sent in his card by one of the sentinels, while the other remained at the door, and was admitted or not at the discretion of the superintendent. It is said that this precaution was taken because the visitors disturbed the members of the Academic Board by walking across the floor. Very good excuse, for the floor was covered with a very thick carpet. We must surely give the Academic Board credit for so much good judgment and foresight, for it would have been a very sad affair, indeed, for those gentlemen to have been made so nervous (especially the Professor of Philosophy) as to be unable to see how 'manifestly incompetent' Cadet Smith was, and it would have deprived the Secretary of War of the blissful consciousness that 'he did for him what had never been done for a white boy in like circumstances,' besides losing the privilege of handing down to future generations the record of his extreme liberality 'in his interpretation of the regulations on behalf of Cadet Smith.'
"Oh, that this mighty deed might be inscribed on a lasting leather medal and adorn the walls of the War Department, that it might act as an incentive to some future occupant of that lofty station! I advise the use of leather, because if we used any metal it might convey to our minds the idea of 'a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.'
"Late Cadet U.S.M.A."
"We publish this morning an account of Cadet Smith's standing at West Point, which should be taken with a few grains of allowance. The embryo colored soldier and all his friends—black, white and tan—believe that the administrationists have used him shamefully, especially in view of their professions and of the chief source of their political strength. Grant went into the White House by means of colored votes, and his shabby treatment of the first member of the dusky army who reached the point of graduation in the country's military school, is a sore disappointment to them.
"Cadet Smith has been a thorn in the side of the Administration from the start. He could not be bullied out or persecuted out of the institution by the insults or menaces of those who, for consistency's sake, should have folded him to their bosoms. He stood his ground bravely, and much against the will of its rulers. West Point was forced to endure his unwelcome presence up to the time of graduation. At that point a crisis was reached. If the odious cadet were allowed to graduate, his commission would entitle him to assignment in our much-officered army, which contains Colonel Fred Grant and a host of other favorites whose only service has been of the Captain Jinks order. The army revolted at the idea. Theoretically they were and are sound on the nigger, but they respectfully and firmly objected to a practical illustration. The Radical General Belknap was easily convinced that the assignment of the unoffending Smith to duty would cause a lack of discipline in any regiment that would be fearful to contemplate.
"Something must be done, and that something was quickly accomplished. They saved the army and the dignity of the horse marines by sacrificing the cadet. To do so, some tangible cause must be alleged, and a deficiency in 'philosophy' was hit upon.
"In vain did Smith appeal to the Secretary of War for an opportunity to be re-examined; in vain did he ask permission to go back and join the class below—all appeals were in vain. 'Gentlemen,' says the secretary, 'I don't wish to be misquoted as saying that I can't give Mr. Smith a re-examination, for I say I won't do it.' The victim of the army has since published a three- column card in Fred Douglass's paper, in which he says he was dropped for politico-military reasons, and in the course of which he makes an almost unanswerable case for himself, but the Radicals have dropped him in his hour of necessity, and he must submit."
"James W. Smith, the first colored cadet appointed to the Military Academy of West Point, was dismissed after the June examination, having failed to pass an examination in some other studies. Recently the Sun received letters from South Carolina charging that the prejudices of the officers of the Academy led to the dismissal; and to ascertain the truth a Sun reporter went to West Point to investigate the matter. He accosted a soldier thus:
"'Well, I believe he didn't pass in philosophy and some other studies.'
"'The soldiers thought well of him, but the cadets didn't. They used to laugh and poke fun at him in Riding Hall, and in the artillery drill all of them refused to join hands with him when the cannoneers were ordered to mount. This is dangerous once in a while, for sometimes they mount when the horses are on a fast trot. But he used to run on as plucky as you please, and always got into his seat without help. Some of the officers used to try to make them carry out the drill, but it was no use. I never saw one of the young fellows give him a hand to make a mount. He was a proud negro, and had good pluck. I never heard him complain, but his black eyes used to flash when he was insulted, and you could see easy enough that he was in a killin' humor. But after the first year he kept his temper pretty well, though he fought hard to do it.'
'Young Smith was a bad boy.'
His temper was hot, and his disposition not honorable. I can assure you that the officers at this post did every thing in their power to help him along in his studies, as well as to improve his standing with his comrades. But his temper interfered with their efforts in the latter direction, while his dulness precluded his passing through the course of studies prescribed.
"REPORTER—'He was always spoken of as a very bright lad.'
"CAPTAIN HALL—'He was not bright or ready. He lacked comprehension. In his first year he was very troublesome. First came his assault upon, or affray with, another young gentleman (Cadet Wilson), but the Court of Inquiry deemed it inadvisable to court-martial either of them. Then he was insolent to his superior on drill, and being called upon for an explanation he wrote a deliberate falsehood. For this he was court-martialled and sentenced to dismissal, but subsequently the findings of the committee were reversed, and Cadet Smith was put back one year. This fact accounts for his good standing on the examination next before the last. You see he went over the same studies twice.'
"CAPTAIN HALL—'HIS worst failure was in natural and experimental philosophy, which embraces the higher mathematics, dynamics, optics, mechanics, and other studies. He missed a very simple question in optics, and the examiners, who were extremely lenient with him, chiefly, I believe, because he was colored and not white, tried him with another, which was also missed.'
"REPORTER—'Is optical science deemed an absolutely essential branch of learning for an officer in the army?'
"CAPTAIN HALL—'It is useful to engineers, for instance. But that is not the question. In most educational institutions of the grade of West Point, the standing of a student in his studies is decided by a general average of all studies in which he is examined. Here each branch is considered separately, and if the cadet fails in any one he cannot pass. I will assure you once more that in my opinion Cadet Smith received as fair an examination as was ever given to any student. If anything, he was a little more favored.'
"REPORTER—'What was his conduct in the last year of his stay at the Academy?'
"CAPTAIN HALL—'Good. He ranked twenty in a class of forty in discipline. Discipline is decided by the number of marks a cadet receives in the term. If he goes beyond a certain number he is expelled.'
"REPORTER—'This record seems hardly consistent with his previous turbulent career.'
"CAPTAIN HALL—'Oh! in the last years of his service he learned to control his temper, but he never seemed happy unless in some trouble.'
"CAPTAIN HALL—'Only one—Henry O. Flipper, of Georgia. He is a well-built lad, a mulatto, and is bright, intelligent, and studious.'
"REPORTER—'Do the cadets dislike him as much as they did Smith?'
"CAPTAIN HALL—'No, Sir, I am told that he is more popular. I have heard of no doubt he will get through all right. And here I will say, that had Mr. Smith been white he would not have gone so far as he did.'
"Other officers of the post concur with Captain Hall, but the enlisted men seem to sympathize with Smith. One of them said, 'I don't believe the officers will ever let a negro get through. They don't want them in the army.'
"Cadet Smith's career for the three years of his service was indeed a most unhappy one, but whether that unhappiness arose from
or from the persistent persecutions of his comrades cannot be authoritatively said. One officer attributed much of the pugnacity which Smith exhibited early in his course to the injudicious letters sent him by his friends. In some of these he was advised to 'fight for the honor of his race,' and others urged him to brook no insult at the hands of the white cadets. The menial duties which the 'plebes' are called upon to do in their first summer encampment were looked upon by Smith as personal insults thrust upon him, althought his comrades made no complaint. Then the social ostracism to a lad of his sensitive nature was almost unbearable, and an occasional outbreak is not to be wondered at.
"Before he had been in the Academy a week he wrote to a friend complaining of the treatment he received from his fellows, and this letter being published intensified the hostility of the other cadets. Soon after this he had a fight with Cadet Wilson and cut his face with a dipper. Then followed the breach of discipline on drill, the court-martial and sentence, and finally the Congressional investigation, which did not effect any good. Smith says that frequently on squad drill he was detached from the squad by the cadet corporal, and told that he was not to stand side by side with white men.
HIS TRIALS AND PERSECUTIONS—THREE YEARS OF ABUSE— SETTLED AT LAST—"ELI PERKINS" TELLS THE STORY.
About the 20th of May, 1870, I saw the colored Cadet, James W. Smith land at the West Point Dock. He was appointed by a personal friend of mine, Judge Hoge, Member of Congress from Columbia, South Carolina. The mulatto boy was about five feet eight inches high, with olive complexion and freckles. Being hungry he tipped his hat to a cadet as he jumped from the ferry -boat and asked him the way to the hotel.
"'Over there, boy,' replied the cadet, pointing to the Rose Hotel owned by the government.
"On arriving there the colored boy laid down his carpet- bag, registered his name, and asked for something to eat.
"'Yes, Sir, I'm hungry and I should like to buy something to eat.'
"'Well, you'll have to be hungry a good while if you wait to get something to eat here,' and the clerk of the government hotel pushed the colored boy's carpet -bag off upon the floor.
"Jimmy Smith's father, who fought with General Sherman, and came back to become an alderman in Columbia, had told the boy that when he got to West Point among soldiers he would be treated justly, and you can imagine how the hungry boy felt when he trudged back over the hot campus to see Colonel Black and General Schriver, who was then Superintendent of the Academy.
"The black boy came and stood before the commandant and handed him his appointment papers and asked him to read them. Colonel Black, Colonel Boynton, and other officers looked around inquiringly. Then they got up to take a good look at, the first colored cadet. The colonel, red in the face, waved the boy away with his hand, and, one by one, the officers departed, speechless with amazement.
The white cadets seemed paralyzed.
"Several cadets threatened to resign, some advocated maiming him for life, and a Democratic 'pleb' from Illinois exclaimed, 'I'd rather die than drill with the black devil.' But wiser counsels prevailed, and the cadets consented to tolerate Jimmy Smith and not drown or kill him for four weeks, when it was thought the examiners would 'bilge' him.
"On the 16th of June, 1870, I saw Jimmy Smith again at West Point and wrote out my experiences. He was the victim of great annoyance.
"At these insults the colored cadet showed a suppressed emotion. He could not break the ranks to chastise his assaulter. Then if he had fought with every cadet who called him a '—black-hearted nigger,' he would have fought with the whole Academy. Not the professors, for they have been as truly gentlemen as they are good officers. If they had feelings against the colored cadet they suppressed them. I say now that the indignities heaped upon Jimmy Smith would have been unbearable to any white boy of spirit. Hundreds of times a day he was publicly called names so mean that I dare not write them.
"Once I met Jimmy Smith after drill. He bore the insulting remarks like a Christian.
Hartford High School. There I had the second honors
of my class.' Then he showed me a catalogue of the
Hartford High School, and there was the name of James
W. Smith as he graduated with the next highest honor.
Guignard, of Columbia.'
"'She is Catherine Smith, born free.' Here Jimmy showed his mother's photograph. She looked like a mulatto woman, with straight hair and regular features. She had a serious, Miss-Siddons-looking face.
"'Well, Mr. David Clark, of Hartford, promised to educate me, and he got Congressman Hoge to appoint me.'
"'Well, a very kind white lady—Miss Loomis—came to Columbia to teach the freedmen. I went to school to her and studied so hard and learned so fast that she told Mr. Clark about me. My father is able to support me, but Mr. Clark is a great philanthropist and he has taken a liking to me and he is going to stand by me.'
"'What does Mr. Clark say when you write about how the cadets treat you?'
"The colored boy handed me this letter from his benefactor:
"'DEAR JEMMY: Yours, 1st inst., is at hand and noted. I herewith inclose stamps.
"'Let them call "nigger" as much as they please; they will laugh out of the other corner of their mouth before the term is over.
"'Your only way is to maintain your dignity. Go straight ahead. If any personal insult is offered, resist it, and then inform me; I will then see what I can do. But I think you need have no fear on that score. Have been out to Windham a few days. All well, and send kind regards. Mary sails for Europe Saturday. President Grant is to be here the 2d. He will be my guest or Governor Jewell's.
"'Why, yes; he knows everybody—all the great men. He's a great man himself;' and this poor colored boy stood up, I thought, the proudest champion David Clark ever had.
"'Yes, David Clark is a good man,' I mused, as I saw the grateful tears standing in the colored cadet's eyes.
"When I got back to the hotel I heard a wishy-washy girl, who came up year after year with a party to flirt with the cadets say:
"'O dear! it is hawid to have this colod cadet—perfectly dre'fful. I should die to see my George standing next to him.'
"But Miss Schenck, the daughter of General Schenck, our Minister to the Court of St. James, told Jimmy Smith that she hoped he would graduate at the head of his class, and when the colored boy told me about it he said:
"'Oh, sir, a splendid lady called to see me to-day. I wish I knew her name. I want to tell David Clark.'
"Every white boy at West Point now agreed to cut the colored boy. No one was to say a single word to him, or even answer yes or no. At the same time they would abuse him and swear at him in their own conversation loud enough for him to hear. It is a lamentable fact that every white cadet at the Point swears and chews tobacco like the army in Flanders.
"Again I saw Jimmy Smith on the 9th of July. The officers of the Academy had been changed. Old General Schriver had given place to young General Upton. The young general is a man of feeling and a lover of justice. He sent for the colored boy, and taking his hand he said:
"'My boy, you say you want to resign, that you can stand this persecution no longer. You must not do it. You are here an officer of the army. You have stood a severe examination. You have passed honorably and you shall not be persecuted into resigning. I am your friend. Come to me and you shall have justice.'
"Then General Upton addressed the cadets on dress parade. He told them personal insults against their brother cadet, whose only crime was color, must cease.
"One day a cadet came to Jimmy and said he would befriend him if he dared to, 'but you know I would be ostracized if I should speak to you.'
"'Oh, I dare not tell?' replied the colored boy. 'He would be ruined, too.'
"'Did your father write to you when you thought of resigning?'
"'My DEAR SON: I take great pleasure in answering your kind letter received last night. I pray God that my letter may find you in a better state of consolation than when you wrote to me. I told you that you would have trials and difficulties to endure. Do not mind them, for they will go like chaff before the wind, and your enemies will soon be glad to gain your friendship. They do the same to all newcomers in every college. You are elevated to a high position, and you must stand it like a man. Do not let them run you away, for then they will say, the "nigger" won't do. Show your spunk, and let them see that you will fight. That is what you are sent to West Point for. When they find you are determined to stay, they will let you alone. You must not resign on any account, for it is just what the Democrats want. They are betting largely here that you won't get in. The rebels say if you are admitted, they will devil you so much that you can't stay. Be a man; don't think of leaving, and let me know all about your troubles. The papers say you have not been received. Do write me positively whether you are received or not.
"'Times are lively here, for everybody is preparing for the Fourth of July. There are five colored companies here, all in uniform, and they are trying to see who shall excel in drill.
"On the 11th of January I visited West Point again. I found all the cadets still against the colored boy. A system of terrorism reigned supreme. Every one who did not take sides against the colored boy was ostracized.
"At drill one morning Cadet Anderson trod on the colored boy's toes. When Smith expostulated Anderson replied, 'Keep your— toes away.' When Smith told about it Anderson got two other white cadets to say he never said so. This brought the colored boy in a fix.
"Last July I saw the colored cadet again. He was still ostracized. No cadet ever spoke to him. He lived a, hermit life, isolated and alone.
"When I asked him how he got on with his studies he said: 'As well as I am able, roaming all alone, with no one to help me and no one to clear up the knotty points. If there is an obscure point in my lesson I must go to the class with it. I cannot go to a brother cadet.'
"'They would call me a — nigger, and tell me to go back to the plantation.'
"Yesterday, after watching the colored cadet for three years, I saw him again. He has grown tall and slender. He talks slowly, as if he had lost the use of language. Indeed many days and weeks he has gone without saying twenty lines a day in a loud voice, and that in the recitation-room.
"When they were examining him the other day he spoke slowly, but his answers were correct. His answers in philosophy were correct. But they say he answered slowly, and they will find him deficient for that. Find him deficient for answering slowly when the boy almost lost the use of language! When he knew four hundred eyes were on him and two hundred malign arts all praying for his failure!
"The colored cadet is now in his third year. The great question at West Point is, Will he pass his examination? No one will know till the 30th of June. It is my impression that the young officers have marked him so low that he will be found deficient. The young officers hate him almost as bad as the cadets, and whenever they could make a bad mark against him they have done it.
"'No. I dare not address a cadet. I do not want to provoke them. I simply want to graduate. I am satisfied if they do not strike or harm me; though if I had a kind word now and then I should be happier, and I could study better,' Then the colored boy drew a long sigh.
"To-day I met General Howard, who was present at the colored cadet's court-martial. I asked him to tell me about it.
"'Well, Mr. Perkins,' said the General, 'they tried to make out that the colored boy lied.'
"'Yes,' I interrupted, 'and they all say he did lie at the Point now. How was it?'
"'It was this way: They accused him of talking on parade, and, while trying to convict him out of his own mouth, they asked him "If on a certain day he did not speak to a certain cadet while on drill?" "I did not speak to this cadet while on drill the day you mention," answered Cadet Smith, "for the cadet was not in the parade that day."'
"This answer startled the prosecutors, and, looking over the diary of parade days, they were astonished to find Cadet Smith correct.
"'Why they accuse him of telling a lie in spirit, though not in form, for he had talked on a previous day. Just as if he was obliged to say any thing to assist the prosecutors except to answer their questions.'
"General Howard believes Cadet Smith to be a good, honest boy. I believe the same.
"Lieutenant Flipper seems to have gone back on his Atlanta friends. He came home from West Point with a good Academy record, behaved himself with becoming dignity. The officers at the barracks treated him— not socially, but as an officer of the army—with due respect, as did the citizens of Atlanta, who felt that he had won credit by his good conduct and success. But in an evil hour the colored friends (?) of Flipper gave him a reception, and in full uniform he made them a speech. Now speech-making is a dangerous thing, and this colored warrior seems to have been made a victim of it. He distorted the official courtesies of the officers at the barracks into social courtesies, and abused the white people of the South because they did not give him and his race social equality. Not only were sensible colored people displeased with his remarks, but many white citizens who went to the meeting friendly to Flipper left disgusted with his sentiments."*
*If a man walks on the streets with me, invites me to his quarters, introduces me to his comrades, and other like acts of courtesy, ought I to consider him treating me socially or officially? I went to the garrison in Atlanta to pay my respects to the commanding officer. I expected nothing. I met an officer, who, with four others, had introduced himself to me on the cars. My official call had been made. He took me around, introduced me to the officers, and showed me all possible attention. I met another officer in the city several days after this. He offered cigars. We walked up and down the streets together. Many times did we hear and comment upon the remarks we overheard: "Is he walking with that nigger?" and the like. He invited me into a druggist's to take some soda- water. I went in and got it, although it was never sold there before to a person of color. We rode out to the garrison together, and every attention was shown me by all. Another officer told me that before I came the officers of the garrison assembled to consider whether or not they should recognize me. The unanimous vote was "yes." Was all this official? No. It is the white people, the disappointed tyrants of Georgia, who try to distort social courtesies in official ones. The "many white" people were some half-dozen newspaper reporters, whose articles doubtless were partly written when they came. "Old Si" in his spectacles was prominently conspicuous among them.
"Lieutenant Flipper is his name. He is a living result of the policy of Radicalism which has declared from the first its determination that, under any circumstances, the American citizen of African descent shall enjoy all the privileges of his white brethren. Carrying out this determination, and not dismayed at the fate of colored cadet Smith, who figured so largely in West Point annals a few years ago, cadet Flipper was sent to that institution to try his hand. He has graduated, and now holds the commission of Second Lieutenant of Cavalry in the United States Army, the first of his race who has ever attained such a position.
"It will be curious to watch young Flipper's career as an officer. Time was when army officers were a very aristocratic and exclusive set of gentlemen, whether they still hold to their old ideas, or not, we do not know. There seems to be enough of the old feeling left, however, to justify the belief that until some other descendants of African parents graduate at the institution, Flipper will have a lonely time. During his cadetship, we learn from no less an authority than the New York Tribune, 'the paper founded by Horace Greeley,' that he was let severely alone by his fellow-students. According to that paper, one of the cadets said, 'We have no feeling against him, but we could not associate with him. It may have been prejudice but still we couldn't do it.' This shows very clearly the animus which will exist in the army against the colored officer. If at West Point, where he had to drill, recite, eat, and perhaps sleep with his white brothers, they couldn't associate with him (notwithstanding the fact that the majority of these whites were Northern men and ardent advocates of Radicalism, with its civil rights and social equality record), how can it be expected that they will overcome their prejudices any more readily after they become officers. The Tribune thinks they will, and that in time the army will not hesitate to receive young Flipper, and all of his race who may hereafter graduate at West Point, with open arms; but the chances are that the Tribune is wrong. Your model Yankee is very willing to use the negro as a hobby- horse upon which to ride into place and power, but when it comes to inviting him to his house and embracing him as a brother he is very apt to be found wanting. The only society Lieutenant of Cavalry Flipper can ever hope to enjoy is that which will exist when there are enough of his race in the army to form a corps d'Afrique, and by that time he will be too old to delight in social pleasures. Meanwhile he will be doomed to a life of solitude and self-communings, and be subjected to many such snubs as the venerable Frederick Douglass has but recently received at the hands of that champion mourner for the poor African— Rutherford B, Hayes."
The New York Tribune is right. The army is officered by men, not by West Point cadets, who are only students and boys.
"The miscegenationists and social equality advocates are making a great deal of noise over the facts, first, that a negro has graduated at West Point, and holds to-day a commission in the United States Army; and second, that when he went up to receive his diploma, he was, alone of all the members of his class, the recipient of a round of applause. Great things are augured from these two circumstances, especially the latter.
"It is reasoned that now, that a negro has at last been able to secure a commission in the military service of the country, the first step towards the recognition of his race on the basis of social equality is accomplished, by degrees prejudice will wear away, and, in course of time, black and white citizens of this republic will mingle freely and without reserve; and this, it is claimed, is shown by the applause with which the reception into the army of this African pioneer was greeted. For our part we don't see that these negro devotees and miscegenationists have any reason to rejoice. It is just as impossible to establish perfect social equality between the Anglo-Saxon and African races as it is to make oil and water unite. It is against nature, and nowhere in the world is the antipathy to such a mingling shown more than in the North, and by no people so strongly as by the very men who whine so incessantly and so pretentiously about 'men and brethren.' The negro in the South has always found the white man of the South to be his best and truest friend, and such will always be the case, notwithstanding that the Southern white will never consent to social equality with his fellow-citizen of African descent.
"As to the applause which greeted Flipper, that can easily be accounted for. Nothing is more likely than that at West Point there should have been gathered together a lot of old-time South-haters, who were ready to applaud, not so much to flatter Flipper as to show that they were happy over what they felt to be a still further humiliation of the South. That is all there is in that.
"We have no objections to such demonstrations of delight. As far as we are concerned they may be indulged in to the heart's content by those who so desire. But one piece of information we can give to the young colored Georgia lieutenant. If he thinks those who applauded him are going to invite him to their houses he will be greatly disappointed. And if he does not die of overeating until those invite him to dine with them, he will live to a good old age. Let him take the fate of the recognized leader of his race, Fred Douglass, as an example, and steer clear of his too demonstrative friends. Experience shows that so long as they can use him, they will be very profuse in their professions of friendship; but when that is done all is done, and he will find himself completely cast aside. If Flipper sees these words, let him mark our prediction."
"And many false prophets shall arise, and deceive many" (Matt. 24:11). Amen. That is all that article is worth.
"When Congress founded West Point, to be a training school for those who were to be paid as public servants and to wear the public livery, we do not think that it was intended that the institution should serve as a hotbed for the fostering of aristocratic prejudices and the assumption of aristocratic airs. Nor do we think that when Lincoln declared the negro a freeman, and entitled to a freeman's rights, either he or the nation designed that the dusky skin of the enfranchised slave should serve as an excuse for ignominy, torture, and disgrace. Yet here, this year, in the graduating class from West Point, steps a young man among his white- skinned fellows, fiftieth in a class of seventy-six members, whose four years of academic life have been one long martyrdom; who has stood utterly alone, ignored and forsaken among his fellows; who has had not one helping hand from professors or students to aid him in fighting his hard battle, and whom only his own talents and sturdy pluck have saved from entire oblivion. Yet in spite of all, he was graduated; he has left twenty-six white students behind him; he is a second lieutenant in the regular army, and the story of his struggles and his hard-won victory is known from Oregon to Florida. All honor to the first of his race who has stemmed the tide and won the prize.
"We do not think the faculty at West Point have done their duty in this matter. One word, one example from them, would have stopped the persecution, and it is to their disgrace that no such word was spoken and no such example set."
I have not a world to say against any of the professors or instructors who were at West Point during the period of my cadetship. I have every thing to say in their praise, and many things to be thankful for. I have felt perfectly free to go to any officer for assistance, whenever I have wanted it, because their conduct toward me made me feel that I would not be sent away without having received whatever help I may have wanted. All I could say of the professors and officers at the Academy would be unqualifiedly in their favor.