Cabinet card vignette half-portrait of John Alexander. Kennedy: Wilberforce, Ohio, n.d., ca 1894? Imprint on recto. Inscription on verso: “Lt. Jno. H. Alexander / 9th Cav. - the second / negro graduate from West Pt. - / Class ‘87 / Died Feb. ‘94.” Alexander is pictured in his full military uniform with draped aiguillettes.
John Hanks Alexander (1864-1894) was the second African American graduate of West Point preceded only by Henry Ossian Flipper. He was also the first African American officer of the United States armed forces to hold a regular command position. After attending Oberlin College, he entered West Point in 1883 and graduated, despite heavy racial abuse, in the class of 1887. Upon graduation, he was assigned to the 9th Cavalry Regiment Buffalo Soldiers at Fort Robinson, Nebraska as a second lieutenant. While stationed at Fort Duchesne, Utah in 1889, he temporarily led the 9th’s B Troop, becoming the first black officer to hold a command position in the US Army. In February 1894, he began teaching military science and tactics at the all-black Wilberforce University in Ohio, though he died tragically young of a ruptured aorta just a month later on March 26. The Wilberforce imprint suggests that this image may have been taken near the end of his life during his brief professorship. The image is reproduced in A New Negro for a New Century, but original copies are very scarce and seldom seen. There are only two known photographs of Alexander.
Slightly faded, but a very clear example of this rare image.
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