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MAY 20th, 1873! Auspicious day! From the deck of
the little ferry-boat that steamed its way across
from Garrison's on that eventful afternoon I viewed
the hills about West Point, her stone structures
perched thereon, thus rising still higher, as if
providing access to the very pinnacle of fame, and
shuddered. With my mind full of the horrors of the
treatment of all former cadets of color, and the
dread of inevitable ostracism, I approached
tremblingly yet confidently.
The little vessel having been moored, I stepped
ashore and inquired of a soldier there where
candidates should report. He very kindly gave me
all needed information, wished me much success,
for which I thanked him, and set out for the
designated place. I soon reached it, and walked
directly into the adjutant's office. He received
me kindly, asked for my certificate of appointment,
and receiving that—or assurance that I had it: I
do not now remember which—directed me to write in
a book there for the purpose the name and occupation
of my father, the State, Congressional district,
county and city of his residence, my own full name,
age, State, county, and place of my birth, and my
occupation when at home. This done I was sent in
charge of an orderly to cadet barracks, where my
"plebe quarters" were assigned me.
The impression made upon me by what I saw while
going from the adjutant's office to barracks was
certainly not very encouraging. The rear windows
were crowded with cadets watching my unpretending
passage of the area of barracks with apparently
as much astonishment and interest as they would,
perhaps, have watched Hannibal crossing the Alps.
Their words, jeers, etc., were most insulting.
Having reached another office, I was shown in by
the orderly. I walked in, hat in hand—nay, rather
started in— when three cadets, who were seated in
the room, simultaneously sprang to their feet, and
welcomed me somewhat after this fashion:
"Well, sir, what do you mean by coming into this
office in that manner, sir? Get out of here, sir."
I walked out, followed by one of them, who, in a
similar strain, ordered me to button my coat, get
my hands around—"fins" he said—heels together,
and head up.
"Now, sir," said he, leaving me, "when you are
ready to come in, knock at that door," emphasizing
the word "knock."
The door was open. I knocked. He replied, "Come in."
I went in. I took my position in front of and facing
him, my heels together, head up, the palms of my
hands to the front, and my little fingers on the
seams of my pantaloons, in which position we
habitually carried them. After correcting my
position and making it sufficiently military
to suit himself, one of them, in a much milder
tone, asked what I desired of them. I told him
I had been sent by the adjutant to report there.
He arose, and directing me to follow him, conducted
me to the bath-rooms. Having discharged the necessary
duty there, I returned and was again put in charge of
the orderly, who carried me to the hospital. There I
was subjected to a rigid physical examination, which
I "stood" with the greatest ease. I was given a
certificate of ability by the surgeon, and by him
sent again to the adjutant, who in turn sent me to
the treasurer. From him I returned alone to barracks.
The reception given to "plebes" upon reporting is
often very much more severe than that given me.
Even members of my own class can testify to this.
This reception has, however, I think, been best
described in an anonymous work, where it is thus
"How dare you come into the presence of your
superior officer in that grossly careless and
unmilitary manner? I'll have you imprisoned.
Stand, attention, sir!" (Even louder than before.)
"Heels-together-and-on- the-same-line, toes-equally
pantaloons, button-your-coat, draw-in-your-chin,
collars-again. Stand-steady, sir. You've evidently
mistaken your profession, sir. In any other service,
or at the seat of war, sir, you would have been shot,
sir, without trial, sir, for such conduct, sir."
The effect of such words can be easily imagined.
A "plebe" will at once recognize the necessity
for absolute obedience, even if he does know all
this is hazing, and that it is doubtless forbidden.
Still "plebes" almost invariably tremble while it
lasts, and when in their own quarters laugh over
it, and even practise it upon each other for mutual
On the way to barracks I met the squad of "beasts"
marching to dinner. I was ordered to fall in, did so,
marched to the mess hall, and ate my first dinner at
West Point. After dinner we were marched again to
barracks and dismissed. I hastened to my quarters,
and a short while after was turned out to take
possession of my baggage. I lugged it to my room,
was shown the directions on the back of the door
for arrangement of articles, and ordered to obey
them within half an hour. The parts of the regulations
referred to are the following:
SPECIAL REGULATIONS FOR BARRACKS.
ORDERLIES OF ROOMS.
The particular attention of Orderlies is directed
to those paragraphs of the Regulations for the
U. S. Military Academy specifying their duties.
The hours of Recitation of each Cadet will be
posted on the back of the door of his room. When
a room is being washed out by the policeman, on
reporting to the Officer of the Day, and stating
to him the number of some room in his own Division
he wishes to visit, a Cadet will be permitted to
visit that particular room until his own can be
occupied. The uniform coat will be worn from 8
till 10 A.M.; at Inspection before 10 A.M. the
coat will be buttoned throughout; at Sunday
Morning Inspection gloves and side-arms will
also be worn. After 10 A.M. any uniform garment
or dressing-gown may be worn in their own rooms,
but at no time will Cadets be in their shirt-
sleeves unnecessarily. During the "Call to
Quarters," between "Inspection Call" in the
morning and "Tattoo," the following Arrangement
of Furniture, etc., will be required:
Dress Cap—On gun-rack shelf.
Cartridge Boxes, Waist Belts, Sabres, Forage Caps
—Hung on pegs near gun-rack shelf.
Muskets—In gun—rack, Bayonets in the scabbards.
Spurs—Hung on peg with Sabres.
BEDSTEADS AND BEDDING.
Bedsteads—In alcove, against side wall of the room,
the head against the back wall.
Bedding—Mattress to be folded once; Blankets and
Comforters, each one to be neatly and separately
folded, so that the folds shall be of the width of
an ordinary pillow, and piled at the head of the
BEDSTEAD in the following order, viz.: MATTRESS,
SHEETS, PILLOWS, BLANKETS, and COMFORTERS, the
front edge of sheets, pillows, etc., to be vertical.
On Sunday afternoons the BEDS may be made down and
Books—On the top of the Press, against the wall,
and with the backs to the front. BRUSHES (tooth
and hair), COMBS, SHAVING IMPLEMENTS and MATERIALS,
such small boxes as may be allowed, vials, etc.,
to be neatly arranged on the upper shelf. BELTS,
COLLARS, GLOVES, HANDKERCHIEFS, SOCKS, etc., to be
neatly arranged on the second shelf from the top.
SHEETS, PILLOW-CASES, SHIRTS, DRAWERS, WHITE PANTS,
etc., to be neatly arranged on the other shelves,
the heaviest articles on the lower shelves.
Arrangement—All articles of the same kind are to
be carefully and neatly placed in separate piles.
The folded edges of these articles to be to the
front, and even with the front edge of the shelf.
Nothing will be allowed between these piles of
clothing and the back of the press, unless the
want of room on the front edge renders it necessary.
Dirty Clothes—To be kept in clothes-bag.
Shoes and Over-Shoes—To be kept clean, dusted,
and arranged in a line where they can be seen by
the Inspector, either at the foot of the bedstead
or at the side near the foot.
Woollen Clothing, Dressing-Gown, and Clothes-Bag—
To be hung on the pegs in alcove in the following
general order, from the front of the alcove to the
back: Over-Coat, Dressing-Gown, Uniform Coats,
Jackets, Pants, Clothes-Bag.
Broom—To be kept behind the door. TIN BOX for
CLEANING MATERIALS—To be kept clean and in the
fire-place. SPITTOON— To be kept on one side of
the hearth near mantel-piece. CHAIRS and TABLES—
On no occasion to be in alcoves, the chairs, when
not in use, to be against the owners' tables.
LOOKING-GLASS—At the centre of the mantel-piece.
WASH-STAND—To be kept clean, in front and against
alcove partition. WASH-BASIN—To be kept clean, and
inverted on the top of the Wash-stand. WATER-BUCKET
—To be kept on shelf of wash-stand. SLOP-BUCKET—
To be kept near to and on side of Wash-stand, opposite
door. Baskets, Pictures, Clocks, Statues, Trunks, and
large Boxes will NOT be allowed in quarters.
Curtains—WINDOW-CURTAINS—Only uniform allowed, and
to be kept drawn back during the day. ALCOVE—
CURTAINS—Only uniform allowed, and to be kept drawn,
except between "Tattoo" and "Reveille" and when
dressing. CURTAINS OF CLOTHES-PRESS—To be kept drawn,
except when policing room.
To be kept clean, and free from grease-spots and
WALLS AND WOOD-WORK.
To be kept free from cobwebs, and not to be injured
by nails or otherwise.
HEATING APPARATUS, SCREEN AND TOP.
To be kept clean, and not to be scratched or defaced.
These Regulations will be strictly obeyed and
By order of LIEUT.-COLONEL UPTON,
GEORGE L. TURNER,
Cadet Lieut. and Adjutant.
HEADQUARTERS, CORPS OF CADETS,
West Point, N. Y., Sept. 4, 1873.
At the end of the time specified every
article was arranged and the cadet corporal
returned to inspect. He walked deliberately to
the clothes-press, and, informing me that every
thing was arranged wrong, threw every article
upon the floor, repeated his order, and withdrew.
And thus three times in less than two hours did
I arrange and he disarrange my effects. I was
not troubled again by him till after supper,
when he inspected again, merely opening the door,
however, and looking in. He told me I could not
go to sleep till "tattoo." Now tattoo, as he
evidently used it, referred in some manner to
time, and with such reference I had not the
remotest idea of what it meant. I had no knowledge
whatever of military terms or customs. However, as
I was also told that I could do any thing—writing,
etc.—I might wish to do, I found sufficient to
keep me awake until he again returned and told me
it was then tattoo, that I could retire then or at
any time within half an hour, and that at the end
of that time the light must be extinguished
and I must be in bed. I instantly extinguished it
Thus passed my first half day at West Point, and
thus began the military career of the fifth colored
cadet. The other four were Smith of South Carolina,
Napier of Tennessee, Howard of Mississippi, and
Gibbs of Florida.
What I had seen and experienced during the few hours
from my arrival till tattoo filled me with fear and
apprehension. I expected every moment to be insulted
or struck, and was not long in persuading myself that
the various reports which I had heard concerning Smith
were true—I had not seen him yet, or, if I had, had
not recognized him—and that my life there was to be
all torture and anguish. I was uneasy and miserable,
ever thinking of the regulations, verbal or written,
which had been given me. How they haunted me! I kept
repeating them over and over, fearful lest I might
forget and violate them, and be dismissed. If I wanted
any thing or wished to go anywhere, I must get permission
of the cadet officers on duty over us. To get such
permission I must enter their office cleanly and neatly
dressed, and, taking my place in the centre of the room,
must salute, report my entrance, make known my wants,
salute again, and report my departure.* At the instant
I heard the sound of a drum I must turn out at a run
and take my place in the ranks.
*Somewhat after this fashion:
"Candidate F——, United States Military Academy,
reports his entrance into this office, sir."
"Well, sir, what do you want in this office?"
"I desire permission, sir, to walk on public lands
"No, sir, you can't walk on public lands till
retreat. Get out of my sight."
"Candidate F——, United States Military Academy,
reports his departure from this office, sir."
At five o'clock the next morning two unusual sounds
greeted my ears—the reveille, and a voice in the
hall below calling out in a loud martial tone:
"Candidates, turn out promptly!" In an astonishingly
short time I had dressed, "turned out," and was in
ranks. We stood there as motionless as statues till
the fifers and drummers had marched up to barracks,
the rolls of the companies had been called, and
they themselves dismissed. We were then dismissed,
our roll having been also called. We withdrew at a
run to our quarters and got them ready for inspection,
which, we were informed, would take place at the
expiration of half an hour. At the end of this time
our quarters were inspected by a corporal. In my own
room he upset my bedding, kicked my shoes into the
middle of the room, and ordered me to arrange them
again and in better order. This order was obeyed
immediately. And this upsetting was done in every room,
as I learned afterward from the occupants, who, strange
to say, manifested no prejudice then. 'Twas not long
ere they learned that they were prejudiced, and that
they abhorred even the sight of a "d—d nigger."
Just before, or perhaps just after breakfast, our
quarters were again inspected. This time I was
somewhat surprised to hear the corporal say, "Very
well, Mr. Flipper, very well, sir."
And this with other things shows there was a friendly
feeling toward me from the first. After having thus
expressed himself, he directed me to print my name on
each of four pieces of paper, and to tack them up in
certain places in the room, which he indicated to me.
I did this several times before I could please him;
but at last succeeded. Another corporal visited me
during the day and declared everything out of order,
although I had not touched a single thing after once
satisfying the first corporal. Of course I had to
rearrange them to suit him, in which I also finally
At eleven o'clock the mail came. I received a letter,
and to my astonishment its postmark was "West Point,
N. Y., May 21st." Of course I was at a loss to know
who the writer was. I turned it over and over, looked
at it, studied the postmark, finally opened it and
*This letter by some means has been misplaced, and
all efforts to find it, or to discover what its
exact contents were, have failed. However, it was
from James Webster Smith, the first and then only
cadet of color at West Point. It reassured me very
much, telling me not to fear either blows or insults,
and advising me to avoid any forward conduct if I
wished also to avoid certain consequences, "which,"
said the writer, "I have learned from sad experience,"
would be otherwise inevitable. It was a sad letter.
I don't think any thing has so affected me or so
influenced my conduct at West Point as its melancholy
tone. That "sad experience" gave me a world of warning.
I looked upon it as implying the confession of some
great error made by him at some previous time, and of
its sadder consequences.
This was another surprise—a welcome surprise,
however. I read it over several times. It showed
me plainly that Smith had not been dismissed, as
had been reported to me at home. I at once formed
a better opinion of West Point than I before had,
and from that day my fears gradually wore away.
The candidates now reported rapidly, and we, who
had reported the day previous, were comparatively
undisturbed. At four o'clock I visited Smith at
his quarters by permission. My visit was necessarily
a short one, as he was then preparing for drill. It
sufficed, however, for us to become acquainted, and
for me to receive some valuable advice. An hour and
place were designated for us to meet next day, and I
took my leave of him. The "plebes" turned out en
masse, walked around the grounds and witnessed the
drilling of the battalion. We enjoyed it immensely.
They were that day skirmishing and using blank
cartridges. We thought the drill superb. I was asked
by a fellow-"plebe," "Think you'll like that?"
"Oh yes," said I, "when I can do it as easily as
We had quite a lengthy conversation about the fine
appearance of the cadets, their forms, so straight
and manly, evoking our greatest admiration. This,
alas! was our only conversation on any subject. The
gentleman discovered ere long that he too was
prejudiced, and thus one by one they "cut" me,
whether for prudential reasons or not I can not
presume to say.
I went into the office one day, and standing
uncovered at about the middle of the room, in
the position of the soldier, saluted and thus
addressed a cadet officer present:
"Candidate Flipper, United States Military Academy,
reports his entrance into this office, sir."
"Well, what do you want?" was the rather gruff
"I desire permission to visit Smith, sir," answered
I, thoughtlessly saying "Smith," instead of "Mr" or
He instantly sprang from his seat into rather close
proximity to my person and angrily yelled:
"Well, sir, I want to hear you say 'Mr. Smith.' I
want you to understand, sir, he is a cadet and
you're a 'plebe,' and I don't want to see such
familiarity on your part again, sir," putting
particular emphasis on "Mr."
Having thus delivered himself he resumed his seat,
leaving me, I imagine, more scared than otherwise.
"What do you want?" asked he again, after a pause
of a moment or so.
"Permission to visit Mr. Smith."
Without condescending to notice for the time my
request he gave the interview a rather ludicrous
turn, I thought, by questioning me somewhat after
"Can you dance, Mr. Flipper?"
Having answered this to his entire satisfaction,
he further asked:
"Expect to attend the hops this summer?"
"Oh no, sir," replied I, smiling, as he also was,
for I had just discovered the drift of his questions.
After mischievously studying my countenance for a
moment, he returned to the original subject and
queried, "Where do you want to go?"
I told him.
"Well, get out of my sight."
I considered the permission granted, and hastily
withdrew to take advantage of it.
Between breakfast and supper those of us
who had been there at least a day had quite a
pleasant time. We were not troubled with incessant
inspections or otherwise. We either studied for
examination or walked around the grounds. At or near
seven o'clock, the time of retreat parade, we were
formed near our barracks and inspected. Our ranks
were opened and the cadet lieutenant inspected our
clothing and appearance generally. A not infrequent
occurrence on these occasions was:
"Well, mister, what did you shave with—a shoehorn?"
At this we would smile, when the lieutenant,
sergeant, or corporal would jump at us and yell:
"Wipe that smile off your face, sir! What do you
mean, sir, by laughing in ranks?"
If any one attempted to reply he was instantly
"Well, sir, don't reply to me in ranks."
The inspection would be continued. Some one, unable
to restrain himself—the whole affair was so ridiculous—
would laugh right out in ranks. He was a doomed man.
"What do you mean, sir, by laughing in ranks, sir?"
Having been once directed not to reply in ranks, the
poor "plebe" would stand mute.
"Well, sir, don't you intend to answer me?"
"Well, sir, step it out. What were you grinning at?"
"Nothing! Well, sir, you're a pretty thing to be
grinning at nothing. Get in ranks."
The inspection would, after many such interruptions,
be continued. Ranks would at length be closed and the
command, "In place, rest!" given. The battalion would
march in from parade at double time and form in the
area to our rear. The delinquencies of the day previous
would then be published by the cadet adjutant.
What most strikes a "plebe" is this same publication.
He hasn't the remotest idea of what it is. Not a word
uttered by the adjutant is understood by him. He stands
and wonders what it is. A perfect jargon of words,
unintelligible and meaningless to him! I remember
distinctly how I used to wonder, and how I was laughed
at when I asked for information concerning it. We
"plebes" used to speak of it often, and wonder if it
was not French. When we were better acquainted with
the rules and customs of the Academy we learned what
it was. It was something of this nature, read from the
DELINQUENCIES, TUESDAY, OCT. 12.
ADAMS.—Late at reveille roll-call.
BEJAY.—Sentinel not coming to "Arms, Port," when
addressed by the officer of the day.
SAME.—Not conversant with orders at same.
BARNES.—Same at same.
SAME.—Sentinel, neglect of duty, not requiring
cadet leaving his post to report his departure and
SAME.—Hanging head, 4 P.M.
BULOW.—Dust on mantel at inspection, 9.30 A.M.
SAME.—Executing manual of arms with pointer in
section-room, 9 A.M.
SAME.—Using profane expression, 1 P.M.
CULLEN.—Out of bed at taps.
DOUNS.—Light in quarters, 11 p.m.
SAME.—Not prepared on 47 Velasquez.*
*For these delinquencies the cadets are allowed to
write explanations. If the offence is absence from
quarters or any duty without authority, or is one
committed in the Academical Department, called an
Academical Delinquency, such as not being prepared
on some lesson, an explanation is required and must
be written. For all other offences the cadet can
write an explanation or not as he chooses. If the
explanation is satisfactory, the offence is removed
and he gets no demerits, otherwise he does. For form
of explanation see Chapter X., latter part.
On the 26th of May, another colored candidate
reported. It is said he made the best show at the
preliminary examination. Unfortunately, however,
he was "found" at the following semi-annual
examination. He was brought up to my quarters by
a corporal, and I was ordered to give him all
instruction which had previously been given me.
This I did, and his first days at West Point were
much more pleasant than mine had been.
The candidates had now all reported, and Monday
afternoon, May 28th, we were each given by the
Adjutant in person a slip of paper upon which was
written the number of each man's name in an
alphabetically arranged roll. This we had special
directions to preserve. The next day we were
marched up to the Drawing Academy, and examined
in grammar, history, and geography; the following
day in orthography and reading. On the same day,
also, we were required to write out a list of all
the textbooks we had used in our previous school-
days. The day following we were divided into
sections and marched to the library, where the
Academic Board was in readiness to examine us in
mathematics. It took quite a while to examine our
class of more than one hundred members thus orally.
I am not positive about the dates of the examination.
I know it occurred in the immediate vicinity of
Not many days after this the result of the examination
was made known to us. The familiar cry, "Candidates,
turn out promptly," made at about noon, informed us
that something unusual was about to occur. It was a
fearful moment, and yet I was sure I had "passed."
The only questions I failed on were in geography. I
stood motionless while the order was being read until
I heard my name among the accepted ones. I felt as if
a great burden had been removed from my mind. It was
a beginning, and if not a good one, certainly not a
bad one. What has been the ending? Let the sequel
Now that the examination was over and the deficient
ones gone, we were turned out for drill every morning
at half—past five o'clock and at four in the afternoon.
We were divided into squads of one each, and drilled
twice a day in the "settings up" until about June
20th. After a few drills, however, the squads were
consolidated into others of four, six, and eight each.
The surplus drill-masters were "turned in." Their
hopes were withered, for it was almost a certainty
that those who were "turned in" would not be "made."
They expected to be "made" on their proficiency in
drilling, and when it was shown by being "turned in"
that others had been thought better drill-masters,
they were not a little disappointed. How they "boned"
tactics! What proficiency they manifested! How they
yelled out their commands! What eagerness they showed
to correct errors, etc. And yet some could not overcome
their propensity for hazing, and these were of course
turned in. Not always thus, however. Those who were
not "turned in" were not always "made" corporals.
Often those who were so treated "got the chevrons"
"Plebe drill," or, more familiarly, "squad drill,"
has always been a source of great amusement to
citizens, but what a horror to plebes. Those
torturous twistings and twirlings, stretching
every nerve, straining every sinew, almost
twisting the joints out of place and making
life one long agonizing effort. Was there ever
a "plebe," or recruit, who did not hate, did not
shudder at the mere mention of squad drill? I did.
Others did. I remember distinctly my first experience
of it. I formed an opinion, a morbid dislike of it
then, and have not changed it. The benefit, however,
of "squad drill" can not be overestimated. It makes
the most crooked, distorted creature an erect, noble,
and manly being, provided, of course, this distortion
be a result of habit and not a natural deformity, the
result of laziness in one's walking, such as hanging
the head, dropping the shoulders, not straightening
the legs, and crossing them when walking.
Squad drill is one of the painful necessities of
military discipline, and no one regrets his
experience of it, however displeasing it may
have been at the time. It is squad drill and
hazing that so successfully mould the coarser
characters who come to West Point into officers
and gentlemen. They teach him how to govern and
be governed. They are more effectual in polishing
his asperities of disposition and forming his
character than any amount of regulations could be.
They tame him, so to speak.
Squad drill was at once a punishment, a mode of
hazing, and a drill. For the least show of
grossness one was sure to be punished with
"settings up, second time!" "settings up,
fourth time! "Continue the motion, settings
up second (or fourth) time!" We would be kept
at these motions until we could scarcely move.
Of course all this was contrary to orders. The
drill-master would be careful not to be "hived."
If he saw an officer even looking at him, he
would add the command "three," which caused a
discontinuance of the motion. He would change,
however, to one of the other exercises immediately,
and thus keep the plebes continually in motion.
When he thought the punishment sufficient he would
discontinue it by the command, "three," and give
"place, rest." When the "place, rest" had been just
about sufficient to allow the plebe to get cool and
in a measure rested, the drill would be resumed by
the command "'tion, squad" (abbreviated from
"attention" and pronounced "shun"). If the plebe
was slow, "place, rest" was again given, and
"When I give the command ''tion, squad,' I want to
see you spring up with life."
Plebe is slow again.
"Well, mister, wake up. This is no trifling matter.
"Well, sir, don't reply to me in ranks."
And many times and terms even more severe than these.
Now that Williams and myself were admitted, the
newspapers made their usual comments on such
occurrences. I shall quote a single one from The
New National Era and Citizen, published in Washington,
D.C., and the political organ of the colored people.
The article, however, as I present it, is taken from
another paper, having been by it taken from the Era
"COLORED CADETS AT WEST POINT.
"The New National Era and Citizen, which is the
national organ of the colored people, contains
a sensible article this week on the status of
colored cadets at West Point. After referring
to the colored young men, 'Plebes' Flipper of
Georgia, and Williams of Virginia, who have
passed the examination requisite for entering
the Academy, the Era and Citizen says: 'Now that
they are in, the stiff and starched protègès of
the Government make haste to tell the reporters
that "none of the fellows would hurt them, but
every fellow would let them alone." Our reporter
seems to think that "to be let alone" a terrible
doom. So it is, if one is sent to Coventry by
gentlemen. So it is, if one is neglected by those
who, in point of education, thrift, and morality
are our equals or superiors. So it is not, if done
by the low-minded, the ignorant, and the snobbish.
If it be possible, among the four hundred young
charity students of the Government, that Cadet
Smith, for instance, finds no warm friends, and
has won no respect after the gallant fight he has
made for four years—a harder contest than he will
ever have in the sterner field—then we despair of
the material which West Point is turning out. If
this be true, it is training selfish, snobbish
martinets—not knightly soldiers, not Havelocks,
Hardinges, and Kearneys—but the lowest type of
disciplined and educated force and brutality—the
Bluchers and Marlboroughs. We scarcely believe
this, however, and we know that any young man,
whether he be poor or black, or both, may enter
any first-class college in America and find warm
sympathetic friends, both among students and
faculty, if he but prove himself to be possessed
of some good qualities . . . . If the Smiths,
Flippers, and Williamses in their honorable school
-boy careers can not meet social as well as
intellectual recognition while at West Point, let
them study on and acquit themselves like men, for
they will meet, out in the world, a worthy reception
among men of worth, who have put by the prejudices
of race and the shackles of ignorance. Emerson says
somewhere that "Solitude, the nurse of Genius, is the
foe of mediocrity." If our young men of ability have
the stuff in them to make men out of, they need not
fear "to be let alone" for a while; they will
ultimately come to the surface and attain worthy
"That is plain, practical talk. We like it. It
has the ring of the true metal. It shows that
the writer has faith in the ultimate triumph of
manhood. It is another form for expressing a firm
belief that real worth will find a reward. Never
has any bond people emerged from slavery into a
condition full of such grand opportunities and
splendid possibilities as those which are within
the reach of the colored people of the United
States; but if those opportunities are to be made
available, if those possibilities are to be
realized, the colored people must move into the
fore-front of action and study and work in their
own behalf. The colored cadets at West Point, the
colored students in the public schools, the colored
men in the professions, the trades, and on the
plantations, can not be idlers if they are to
compete with the white race in the acquisition of
knowledge and property. But they have examples of
notable achievements in their own ranks which
should convince them that they have not the
slightest reason to despair of success. The doors
stand wide open, from the plantation to the National
Capitol, and every American citizen can, if he will,
attain worthy recognition."
And thus, ere we had entered upon our new duties,
were we forewarned of the kind of treatment we
should expect. To be "sent to Coventry," "to be
let severely alone," are indeed terrible dooms,
but we cared naught for them. "To be let alone"
was what we wished. To be left to our own
resources for study and improvement, for enjoyment
in whatever way we chose to seek it, was what we
desired. We cared not for social recognition. We
did not expect it, nor were we disappointed in not
getting it. We would not seek it. We would not
obtrude ourselves upon them. We would not accept
recognition unless it was made willingly. We would
be of them at least independent. We would mark out
for ourselves a uniform course of conduct and follow
it rigidly. These were our resolutions. So long as
we were in the right we knew we should be recognized
by those whose views were not limited or bound by
such narrow confines as prejudice and caste, whether
they were at West Point or elsewhere. Confident that
right on our own part would secure us just treatment
from others, that "if we but prove ourselves possessed
of some good qualities" we could find friends among
both faculty and students.
I came to West Point, notwithstanding I had heard
so much about the Academy well fit to dishearten
and keep one away. And then, too, at the time I
had no object in seeking the appointment other
than to gratify an ordinary ambition. Several
friends were opposed to my accepting it, and even
persuaded me, or rather attempted to persuade me,
to give up the idea altogether. I was inexorable.
I had set my mind upon West Point, and no amount
of persuasion, and no number of harrowing narratives
of bad treatment, could have induced me to relinquish
the object I had in view. But I was right. The work I
chose, and from which I could not flinch without
dishonor, proved far more important than either my
friends or myself at first thought it would be.
Let me not, however, anticipate. Of this importance
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