Flipper was the sixth black to enter the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, but the first to graduate. He roomed with another black cadet when he began in 1873 at 17, but by his junior year he was the only black cadet at the school.
He made it through the military academy and graduated in 1877, despite being almost totally ostracized by his classmates.
A few years later, at Ft. Davis, Texas, Flipper was accused by his commander of embezzlement. He was court-martialed and dishonorably discharged from the Army.
The board found him innocent of embezzling money, but guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer. Historians believe he was framed.
"Here was the one, the only black officer in the entire army. That was at that time and day a no-no," explains Dr. William King, Flipper's grand nephew.
Flipper went on to a successful engineering career on the nation's western frontier, but he died in 1940 without ever having been able to clear his name. Still, the Flipper family didn't give up.
In 1976, the army granted Henry Flipper a retroactive honorable discharge, but it couldn't undo the conviction.
He became a symbol. West Point now gives a Henry Flipper award to the cadet who has overcome the greatest adversity.
Others have taken up his cause.
Former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Colin Powell, who kept a picture of Flipper in his office, said "the court martial of Henry O. Flipper was clearly a case of injustice, one that deserves to be rectified."
Jack Hadley, 62, a retired Air Force senior master sergeant who has been leading a campaign for a Flipper commemorative stamp, said the former slave can be a role model for today's youth.
"He worked hard. He struggled," Hadley said. "This should let people know that if he made it, they can make it today."