John Hanks Alexander

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John Hanks Alexander
John Hanks Alexander (US Army Officer).jpg
From 1900's A New Negro for a New Century: An Accurate and Up-to-Date Record of the Upward Struggles of the Negro Race.[1]
Born(1864-01-06)January 6, 1864
Helena, Arkansas
DiedMarch 26, 1894(1894-03-26) (aged 30)
Wilberforce, Ohio
Cherry Grove Cemetery, Xenia, Ohio
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service1887–1894
RankSecond Lieutenant
Unit9th Cavalry Regiment
Battles/warsIndian Wars

John Hanks Alexander (January 6, 1864 – March 26, 1894) was the first African-American officer in the United States armed forces to hold a regular command position and the second African-American graduate of the United States Military Academy (after Henry Ossian Flipper).[2][3]

Early life[edit]

John Hanks Alexander was born on January 6, 1864 at Helena, Arkansas, the fourth of seven children born to former slaves James Milo Alexander and Fannie Miller Alexander. James Alexander was a barber and dry goods salesman in Helena and acquired property there. He later became the first black Justice of the Peace in Arkansas and represented Phillips County in the state legislature. He died in 1871.[3] All of the Alexander children graduated from high school and three attended Oberlin College in Ohio.

Alexander graduated number one in his high school class in Helena and soon moved to Carrollton, Mississippi to take a position as a teacher. In late 1880 he visited his uncle in Cincinnati, Ohio and ended up remaining in that city. The next year, he enrolled at Oberlin College and attended that institution until passing the entrance examination for West Point in 1883. Alexander was sponsored by Democratic U.S. Rep. George W. Geddes of Ohio.

Military career[edit]

During his term at West Point, Alexander was generally accepted by the other cadets and was not subjected to as much intolerance as previous black cadets. Alexander was known as an excellent student, especially in mathematics and languages and was a skilled boxer while at the academy. He graduated in the class of 1887 ranking 32nd in a class of 64.

Alexander was assigned to the 9th Cavalry Regiment at Fort Robinson, Nebraska which was an all-black regiment commanded by white officers and nicknamed Buffalo soldiers. In 1888, he was transferred to Fort Washakie, Wyoming where he performed the garrison duty typical of an officer with a western frontier posting. While assigned to Fort Duchesne, Utah in 1889, Alexander temporarily led the 9th Cavalry's B Troop, becoming the first black officer in the Army to hold a command position.[4]

In February 1894, Alexander was sent to Wilberforce University, an all-black institution, as a professor of military science and tactics. Shortly after arriving, he died unexpectedly of a ruptured aorta on March 26, 1894. John Hanks Alexander was buried with military honors in Xenia, Ohio[5]


A military installation at Newport News, Virginia was named Camp Alexander in honor of John Alexander.[6]


  1. ^ Washington, Booker T., N.B. Wood and Fannie Barrier Williams. A new Negro for a new century : an accurate and up-to-date record of the upward struggles of the Negro race. Chicago, IL: American Publishing House, 1900. Retrieved April 28, 2017.
  2. ^ Ayodale, Braimah. "Alexander, John Hanks (1864-1894)." Retrieved April, 28, 2017.
  3. ^ a b "Alexander, John Hanks (1864–1894) - Army officer, educator, Attends Oberlin and West Point, Chronology, Begins Teaching Career." Retrieved July 7, 2017.
  4. ^ Shellum, Brian G. (2010). Black Officer in a Buffalo Soldier Regiment: The Military Career of Charles Young. Lincoln, NE: University of Lincoln Press. pp. 38–39. ISBN 978-0-8032-1385-2.
  5. ^ Gatewood, Willard B. "John Hanks Alexander." Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture, September 18, 2009. Retrieved April, 2017.
  6. ^ "Camp Hill and Camp Alexander Marker, W-68." Retrieved April 1, 2015.

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