Johnson Chesnutt Whittaker, the only Black person at West Point that year, was assaulted, then unfavorably found guilty in military court.
1880 (Apr 6)
Twenty-one-year-old Johnson Chesnutt Whittaker, the only Black American at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1880, was found unconscious in his room by a guard. Whittaker's hands were bound, his legs were tied to the bedposts, and his earlobes and hair were cut. Upon investigation, Whittaker said he had been assaulted by three masked attackers. However, he was found guilty of self-mutilation by a military court of inquiry. When another military court of inquiry sustained that decision, an unfavorable public reaction led President Rutherford B. Hayes to appoint a new superintendent to West Point. Whittaker was then granted a leave of absence and a court martial. According to news accounts in Harper's weekly at the time, the facts demonstrated the Administration was not satisfied that Whittaker had received a fair opportunity at West Point. In 1881 a court martial found him guilty of self-mutilation. March 22, 1882, President Chester Arthur invalidated the trial on the recommendations of the judge-advocate of the army and the secretary of war. Later that day, Whittaker was dismissed from the academy for failing an exam in June of 1880. Whittaker was born enslaved August 23, 1858, to James Whitaker, a free Black and Maria Whitaker, who was enslaved. Later he added the second "t" to his name. He attended the University of South Carolina and received a congressman's appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. After leaving the academy he taught at Avery Institute, in Charleston, South Carolina. He later practiced law in Sumpter. Page E. Harrison married him in 1890 and they had two sons. Whittaker died January 14, 1931, of a gastric ulcer. October 1995 Whittaker was honored with a commission as second lieutenant by President Bill Clinton, who made the presentation to the cadet's granddaughter and great-grandson.