We go into camp at West Point on the 17th of June, '76 for ten days. During all that time I enjoy all the privileges of first-classmen. Nothing is done to make it unpleasant or in any way to discourage or dishearten me. We go to Philadelphia. We visit the Centennial, and there not only is the same kindness shown me, but I find a number of cadets accost me whenever we meet, on the avenues and streets, on the grounds and in the city. They ask questions, converse, answer questions. This occurred several times at the Southern Restaurant, as well as elsewhere. After the parade on the 4th of July, every kindness was shown me. Those cadets near me bought lemons, lemonade, etc, and shared with me, and when, on another occasion, I was the purchaser, they freely partook of my "good cheer." What conclusion shall I draw from this? That they are unfriendly or prejudiced? I fain would drop my pen and burn my manuscript if for even an instant I thought it possible. And yet how shall I explain away this bit of braggadocio in the words italicized in this article from the Philadelphia Times?
"The Color Line.--One of the first-classmen is Mr. Flipper, of Georgia, a young colored man. 'We don't have any thing to do with him off duty,' said one of the cadets yesterday. 'We don't even speak to him. Of course we have to eat with him, and drill with him, and go on guard with him, but that ends it. Outside of duty, we don't know him.' 'Is he intelligent?' 'Yes; he stands high in his class, and I see no reason to doubt that he will graduate next June. He has the negro features strongly developed, but in color he is rather light.'"
Easily enough, I think. In the first place the statement is too broad, if made by a cadet, which I very much doubt. There are some of that "we" who do know me outside of duty. And if a cadet made the statement he must have been a plebe, one unacquainted with my status in the corps, or one who, strenuously avoiding me himself, supposed all others likewise did so. The cadet was not a first-classman. There is a want of information in his last answer which could not have been shown by a first-classman.
Again, he says we "go on guard with him." Now that is untrue, as I understand it. The word "with" would imply that we were on guard in the same capacity, viz., as privates. But first-classmen do no guard duty in that capacity, and hence not being himself a first- classman he could not have been on guard"with" me. If he had said "under him," his statement would have been nearer the truth.
After a stay of ten days in Philadelphia, we return to West Point, and still the same respect is shown me. There is but little more of open recognition, if any, than before, and yet that I am respected is shown in many ways. See, for example, the latter part of chapter on "Treatment."
Again, during my first year I many times overheard myself spoken of as "the nigger," "the moke," or "the thing." Now openly, and when my presence was not known, I always hear myself mentioned as Mr. Flipper. There are a few who use both forms of address as best suits their convenience or inclination at the time. But why is it? Why not "nigger," "moke," or "thing" as formerly? Is there, can there be any other reason than that they respect me more now than then? I am most unwilling to believe there could be.
We begin our regular routine of duties, etc. We have practical military engineering, ordnance, artillery, practical astronomy in field and permanent observatories, telegraphy, and guard. We are detailed for these duties. Not the least distinction is made. Not the slightest partiality is shown. Always the same regard for my feelings, the same respect for me! See the case of gabion in the chapter on "Treatment."
At length, in my proper order, I am detailed for officer of the guard. True, the cadets expressed some wonderment, but why? Simply, and reasonably enough too, because I was the first person of color that had ever commanded a guard at the Military Academy of the United States. It is but a natural curiosity. And how am I treated? Is my authority recognized? Indeed it is. My sergeant not only volunteered to make out the guard report for me, but also offered any assistance I might want, aside from the discharge of his own duty as sergeant of the guard. Again, a number of plebes were confined in the guard tents for grossness and carelessness. I took their names, the times of their imprisonment, and obtained permission to release them. I was thanked for my trouble. Again, a cadet's father wishes to see him. He is in arrest. I get permission for him to visit his father at the guard tents. I go to his tent and tell him, and start back to my post of duty. He calls me back and thanks me. Must I call that natural aversion for the negro, or even prejudice? Perhaps it is, but I cannot so comprehend it. It may have that construction, but as long as the other is possible it is generous to accept it. And again, I am ordered to report a cadet. I do it. I am stigmatized, of course, by some of the low ones (see that case under "Treatment"); but my conduct, both in obeying the order and subsequently, is approved by the better portion of the corps. The commandant said to me: "Your duty was a plain one, and you discharged it properly. You were entirely right in reporting Mr.--." What is the conduct of this cadet himself afterwards? If different at all from what it was before, it is, in my presence at least, more cordial, more friendly, more kind. Still there is no ill-treatment, assuming of course that my own conduct is proper, and not obtrusive or overbearing. And so in a multitude of ways this fact is proved. I have noticed many things, little things perhaps they were, but still proofs, in the conduct of all the cadets which remove all doubt from my mind. And yet with all my observation and careful study of those around me, I have many times been unable to decide what was the feeling of the cadets toward me. Some have been one thing everywhere and at all times, not unkind or ungenerous, nor even unwilling to hear me and be with me, or near me, or on duty with me, or alone with me. Some again, while not avoiding me in the presence of others have nevertheless manifested their uneasy dislike of my proximity. When alone with me they are kind, and all I could wish them to be. Others have not only strenuously avoided me when with their companions, but have even at times shown a low disposition, a desire to wound my feelings or to chill me with their coldness. But alone, behold they know how to mimic gentlemen. The kind of treatment which I was to receive, and have received at the hands of the cadets, has been a matter of little moment to me. True, it has at times been galling, but its severest effects have been but temporary and have caused me no considerable trouble or inconvenience. I have rigidly overlooked it all.