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Henry Flipper


Read: "Henry O. Flipper in the Court of Private Land Claims: The Arizona Career of West Point's First Black Graduate ," by Jane Eppinga, The Journal of Arizona History, volume 36, Spring 1995, p. 33-54.

Henry Flipper
[ AHS, #50896 ]

Overcoming Prejudice: Limitations Against Blacks in Nogales Did Not Stop Them from Accomplishments, by Francisco Castro

Following is a typescript of an article which appeared in the January 20, 1998, Nogales International, Section B, Page 1. Permission to present this article was given by Mr. Don Henson, of the Nogales International newspaper.

There was a time when racism and segregation were as American as apple pie. People of color were not allowed to go into restaurants, attended separate schools and had to wait until salons were closed to the general public to get their hair done.

Prejudice in Nogales was little different.

However, the challenges and limitations placed against blacks did not stop them from accomplishing deed that were just short of remarkable.

Because of the historical interaction with Mexico, it was the blacks in town who got the worst part of this racism.

The first large contingent of blacks came to Nogales as part of the U. S. 10th Cavalry, otherwise known as the Buffalo Soldiers.

This unit, comprised of black soldiers, was established at Fort Leavenworth, Texas, in 1866. The soldiers got their name from the Comanches who thought the soldiers' hair resembled that of buffalo. The name stuck through a 50-year series of Indian campaigns in which the Buffalo Soldiers battled Sioux, Apaches and Comanches, helping to capture both Geronimo and Billy the Kid.

The troops were first called to Nogales in vast numbers towards the end of 1910, following the outbreak of the Mexican revolution.

Their numbers steadily increased during the years, establishing Camp Stephen D. Little, named after a private in the 12th U. S. Infantry Division killed while on guard duty at the top of the hill on Crawford Street in Nogales, Arizona, on November 26, 1915. The camp was located along what is now Western Avenue from Grand Avenue to Interstate 19.

At one point, there were 12,000 troops stationed in Nogales.

As the years went by, the number decreased until the camp was closed on May 13, 1933.

One of the most famous of these army men especially well-known in Nogales was Henry Ossian Flipper.

Born in Georgia as a slave in 1861, Flipper joined the Army after becoming the first black graduate of West Point. He was assigned to the American frontier in West Texas and spent seven years serving there. It was while he was stationed at Fort Davis four years later, in 1879, that he was court-martialed for embezzling money under his care.

Although the verdict was not guilty on the charge, Flipper was found guilty of conduct not becoming an officer and a gentleman. He was discharged from the Army.

It was after this incident that Flipper came to Nogales in 1885, preceded by his fame as engineer and Spanish translator, skills that would make him one of the most famous one-time Nogales residents.

Because of his previous work as surveyor in Mexico for U. S. companies, Flipper was hired as a special agent to the court of Private Land Claims. It was in this position that he saved Nogales' residents from losing their parcels to land titles.

In the 1880s, the people of Nogales, Arizona, were not allowed to own property because their lands were claimed by members of the Camou and Elias families.

In the one-year battle that ensued, Flipper used his knowledge of Spanish and Mexican laws, as well as his Spanish translating skills, to win the case for Nogalians.

This win made Flipper one of the most respected residents in town, where he lived until 1901, visiting as late as 1907.

In 1895, Flipper also became the first black man to be an editor of an all-white newspaper when he served as editor of the Nogales Sunday Herald.

But all of his fame and respect, did not prevent Flipper from the racism of the time.

When he decided to marry a Mexican woman by the name of Luisa Montoya they were not allowed to legally marry because the laws of the time prohibited people of different races from marrying. The union lasted less than a year.

Flipper died in 1963 in Atlanta, Georgia. Throughout his life, he had fought to clear his name, but he died before that happened. One hundred years after his court-martial, in 1976, his case was revised. His name was cleared by the Army Board for Corrections of Military Records, denying criminality and indicating that Flipper's punishment had been too severe and pointing out the mitigating circumstances of his court-martial. The records were changed to reflect an honorable discharge.

But not all Buffalo Soldiers who came to town left without leaving descendants. On the contrary, many of them did marry Mexican women and started families. The descendants of these unions would in some cases become important town figures.

Frank Reed

Such is the case of Frank Reed, the first serviceman from Nogales to be killed in action in World War II.

Reed was the son of Maria Molina, a woman from Hermosillo, and Chester Reed, who was a sergeant in the 10th Cavalry also known as the Buffalo Soldiers.

Born in Nogales on June 21, 1920, Reed's short life was filled with all kinds of successes.

He attended Grand Avenue School, more commonly referred to as the "colored school" and later named after him, and at Nogales High School excelled both in athletics and academics.

Reed was part of the football, track, basketball and baseball teams. He was also editor of the school newspaper for a short time.

He graduated from Nogales High School in 1941.

Reed joined the Army and was killed in 1943. He was 22 years old.

Reed's memory lives on in Nogales, with Frank Reed Drive, the street along Nogales High School, named after him.

He was inducted into the Nogales High School Hall of Fame in 1992.