African-American Postal Workers in the 20th Century
The 19th century was a time of enormous change in the postal workforce – from 1802, when Congress banned African Americans from carrying U.S. Mail, to the late 1860s, when newly-enfranchised African Americans began receiving appointments as postmasters, clerks, and city letter carriers. As the 20th century neared, the political pendulum began to swing backwards, and many gains of the immediate post-Civil War period were lost.
In the early 20th century many African Americans found steady, valuable jobs in urban Post Offices, but little room for advancement. Despite discriminatory employment practices, the Post Office Department was a rare avenue of opportunity for African Americans – postal jobs were coveted positions that helped lead to the emergence of a black middle class.
A new era
of opportunity for African-American workers began in the 1940s, when
Theodore Roosevelt’s “Square Deal”
Senator Hernando D. Money to the
September 1901, at age 42, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt became the
youngest President in
Roosevelt, who became famous for his belief that all Americans deserved a “square deal,” enunciated his policy on fairness in federal appointments in a letter of November 27, 1902:
it is and should be my consistent policy in every State, where their numbers warranted it, to recognize colored men of good repute and standing in making appointments to office. . . I can not consent to take the position that the door of hope – the door of opportunity – is to be shut upon any man, no matter how worthy, purely upon the grounds of race or color.
1903 Roosevelt tested the power of the federal government to “interfere in the
race problem” when he refused to allow the town of
Hernando Money of
The social equality which has been manifested here lately and exemplified here lately in high places has brought out this race prejudice to a point where, while in the South they had been tolerating negro postmasters, they have now got to the point where they do not want to do so any longer . . . 
account of the Roosevelt administration standing by an African-American
appointee arose in 1903 when Postmaster General Henry C. Payne suspended rural
mail delivery in a
It is not the business of the government to force mail service upon the people of any part of the country. . . when the people in the localities which object to the appointees of this department are willing to accept them and permit them to perform their duties unmolested these sections will be given the benefit of the mails.
In some parts of the South, African-American appointees were threatened into resigning or not taking office. In 1904 the Humphrey, Arkansas, Post Office was dynamited in the middle of the night and completely destroyed, reportedly because some of the town’s citizens objected to the appointment of a black postmaster.
Despite the hardships, many African Americans sought work in Post Offices. In 1907 one southern white editorialist complained that “there is scarcely a post office of a city in the south that is not overrun by negroes – just as is the case with the railway mail service.” Reportedly, most applicants for postal jobs in the South were black. An article in the June 7, 1908, issue of The Washington Post noted:
Comparatively well educated negroes are willing, indeed, glad, to take minor clerkships under the government, places which do not appeal to white men of ability for the simple reason that the white man can do better. The consequence is that the most capable of the negroes compete with whites of at best only mediocre ability.
Racial discrimination in the South steered many African Americans away from clerk positions in Post Offices and towards letter carrier positions. In 1905 the secretary of the Civil Service Commission’s Atlanta District stated that because African Americans in his district knew that accepting Post Office clerkships “means trouble for them” they “really prefer to act as carriers – a position in which their services are welcomed by white Southerners.” Booker T. Washington remarked in 1906:
In many parts of the South the white people would object seriously to colored people handing them a letter through the post office window, but would make no objection to a colored mail carrier handing them a letter at their door.
William Howard Taft,
the number of black postmasters fell, the number of black postal employees
continued to grow. According to the
African-American newspaper The Pittsburgh
Courier, in 1912 there were nearly 4,000 black postal employees nationwide,
including about 280 black postmasters, 505 employees in
For the first time in history, a President . . . pronounced his administration’s policy as one of racial discrimination. William Monroe Trotter, 1914
In the federal elections of 1912 Democrats retained control of the U.S. House of Representatives and took control of both the White House and the Senate. Democrat Woodrow Wilson won the Presidential election largely because two Republican candidates ran for office that year, splitting the Republican vote.
At the time, the Democratic Party was largely a party of Southern social conservatives. Even before the Democrats took office, a group calling itself the National Democratic Fair Play Association as well as some federal workers began calling for racial segregation in the workplace.
In April 1913, in one of Wilson’s first cabinet meetings, newly-appointed Postmaster General Albert Burleson, from Texas, reportedly complained about integrated working conditions in the Railway Mail Service, where black and white railway mail clerks worked elbow to elbow sorting mail in cramped rail cars. The Railway Mail Association, the mostly-white union of railway mail clerks, adopted the following resolution at its annual convention the next month:
Whereas, It has been demonstrated that it is to the advantage of all concerned that the negro clerks be given separate assignments from those of the Caucasian race . . . therefore be it Resolved, That this convention deems it advisable for the two races to be separated and the immediate steps be taken to that end.
Most black railway mail clerks worked in the South; some white clerks wanted to eliminate all black clerks, or at least to segregate work crews if it could be done in such a way that no white clerks would be inconvenienced. While debating the proposed racial segregation of clerks, including how it might, paradoxically, lead to the appointment and promotion of more black clerks, one white union representative attempted to calm his fellow conferees:
I think we can trust to that splendid gentleman from Texas who is the head of the Post Office Department to not in any way issue any order of reorganization that will be to the detriment of any white postal clerk.
Although no general segregation order is known to have been issued, some Railway Mail Service officials adopted the policy of segregating work crews, reassigning some clerks to create all-white crews on some lines and all-black crews on others, apparently with the Department’s blessing.
Thomas P. Bomar, a former letter carrier and railway mail clerk in
Before 1912 both white and colored employees believed that the segregation provisions of the State laws did not apply to Federal property and they accepted it without friction or complaint. Negroes were given assignments and appointed on the basis of merit. Finally there came a clamor for segregation and discrimination. Numerous locker incidents were reported, as many white employees refused the same locker or locker rooms used with Negroes. Rules were suspended and the arbitrary transfer of Negro clerks to ‘colored lines’ became effective.
federal workers were also segregated, at Post Office Department headquarters
and at other federal agencies. On May
31, 1913, the seven African-American clerks at postal headquarters were screened
off from their white coworkers, although none of their coworkers had requested
it. Restrooms and some work rooms at
Post Office Department headquarters and in a few other agencies’ headquarters
were also segregated. The lunch room at
headquarters, meanwhile, had apparently already been whites-only, and remained
so. When asked why there was no lunch
room for black employees, the building superintendent bluntly explained that
“as no restaurants in
political leaders, many of whom had encouraged their followers to vote for
National newspapers, including The Chicago Daily Tribune, took note:
Mr. Wilson put the head of the government in the position of denying the principles of the government . . . We are not ready to concede that any body of citizenship has less standing under the law than any other. It is true, but to admit it officially is offensive.
On May 27, 1914, the Civil Service Commission issued a new order requiring applicants for federal jobs to submit a photograph. Although the commission claimed the requirement was to prevent fraud in the application process, it enabled appointing officials to screen out black applicants. The “rule of three,” which allowed appointing officials to select any one of the top three eligible candidates for office, was widely used to discriminate against African-American candidates.
Once they secured an appointment, employees still faced obstacles. Opportunities for advancement, and in some cases continued employment, were often hindered by local prejudice and biased supervisors, with some clerks being dismissed on fraudulent or questionable grounds. Historian A. L. Glenn described the no-win situation some railway mail clerks, in particular, found themselves in:
Negro clerks in white crews had special troubles at times. If he was an able clerk, he was often said to be ‘too smart’’ if mediocre, he was labelled indolent and indifferent. In a large crew he often had one or two friends but had to be alert as to the others.
experience of black postal employees varied, depending largely on local
prejudices. John Wesley Dobbs, a clerk
from 1903 to 1935 on the
Glenn noted examples of some white supervisors “going to bat” for black coworkers:
During the Burleson
administration . . . special attempts were made to segregate the personnel of
mail crews on some RPO runs. . . . In a few instances the white clerks involved
absolutely refused to give up their Negro clerk. Notably, Clerk-in Charge Gene Beckham of the
Segregation in the Railway Mail Service and black clerks’ exclusion from the railway mail clerks’ union led to the formation of the National Alliance of Postal Employees in 1913 (see "The National Alliance of Postal Employees" below). Segregation in general and the photograph requirement for federal job applicants also helped catalyze the civil rights movement. Membership in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) rose from less than 400 in 1912 to more than 4,000 in 1914; by 1920 the NAACP’s membership surpassed 88,000.
Segregated waiting rooms in
In 1911 the Railway Mail Association, the union of railway mail service clerks, amended its charter to exclude new membership to African Americans. Other employee unions, such as the National Association of Letter Carriers and the National Federation of Post Office Clerks, tolerated segregated local branches – marginalizing and effectively excluding black members in some cities.
In October 1913 a group of
African-American railway mail clerks convened in
In 1923 the National
On January 17, 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10988, prohibiting separate labor organizations based on race.
For more information on the history of the National Alliance of Postal Employees, see There’s Always Work at the Post Office: African American Postal Workers and the Fight for Jobs, Justice, and Equality, by Philip F. Rubio (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2010).
1920s: Relief for Railway Mail Clerks
Prior to 1923 the
Railway Mail Service was the most prejudiced of all branches of the service. .
. The Railway Mail Service is today a model in just dealings and promotions. Roy O. Wilhoit, President, National
after two terms in office, Democratic President Woodrow Wilson was replaced by
Republican Warren Harding. Under Harding
and successive Republican Presidents, general postal policy began to change. The working conditions and opportunities of
African-American postal employees – particularly in the Railway Mail Service –
improved. Part of the change might be
attributed to the philosophical differences between the two parties – in the
1920s Republicans were still typically more socially liberal than Democrats,
and more often advocated civil rights.
Part of the change can also be attributed to
1920s African-American politician Edward H. Wright headed a strong Republican
In 1921 the
Post Office Department and the Railway Mail Association agreed that the
promotions of railway mail clerks would be based on seniority, rather than the
old point system, which meant that senior clerks were promoted regardless of
race. A consequence of the new policy –
perhaps unanticipated by the union – was that veteran black clerks who for
years had been passed over began to receive promotions. When the union objected to the promotion of
an African American to clerk-in-charge in December 1922, Second Assistant
Postmaster General Paul Henderson defended the promotion, saying the employee
was both qualified and entitled to it and that if necessary he would “call upon
the U.S. Army to protect him in it.” In 1922
In 1923 African-American John D. Gainey was appointed Assistant Chief Clerk-at-Large of the Railway Mail Service, specifically to handle grievances of black employees. The National Alliance of Postal Employees saw Gainey’s appointment as a “turning point in the ‘cleaning out’ of foul practices.” Gainey toured the country, investigating complaints and issuing recommendations. He ended the removals of clerks on questionable charges – according to Historian A. L. Glenn, emancipating “hundreds of Negro railway postal clerks EVERYWHERE . . . even in the deep south.”  (In 1923 about 13 percent of railway mail clerks were African-American, serving mostly in the South.)
several examples of wrongs righted in the early 1920s through the intercession
of Gainey and
1920s through 1940s: Opportunities Vary by City
A city where a Negro
does not have to contend for his rights in America would be a miracle city and
I have as yet to hear of such a city. Letter Carrier
Raymond A.C. Young,
around 1916, in what has been termed the “Great Migration,” hundreds of
thousands of African Americans left the South in search of a better life in
cities swelled with new immigrants, both Southern-born blacks and foreign-born
whites. Between 1910 and 1920,
were an important source of employment for urban African Americans. By 1928 African Americans comprised nearly 20
percent of the postal workforce in
Harry S. New, Postmaster General from 1923 to 1929, promised that federal hiring would be color-blind, but it was not a promise he could keep. Although the Postmaster General stated the principles, principles were put into practice – or not – by local postmasters. Racial discrimination persisted in both the hiring and promoting of workers, even in the nation’s capital. Although the proportion of African Americans working at the Washington, D.C., Post Office in 1928 was on a par with their representation in the general population, they were over-represented in lower-level positions, with about 85 percent working as laborers and watchmen, and only about 15 percent in the higher-paying clerical force.
In 1930 in
Letter Carriers, 1926
In the first half of the 20th century some postmasters hired African Americans as letter carriers but refused to hire them as clerks.
One commentator noted the tendency of local prejudices to crystallize into policy:
If a policy of a particular post office is to bar Negroes from clerkships and make them carriers, then that policy is adhered to religiously. If it applies to Money Order, Stamp, and General Delivery windows, it likewise becomes a rule.
were sometimes not only assigned to different types of work depending on their
race, but also to different rooms, or different sections of the same room. As late as 1949 the
In the 1940s a string of executive orders battled racial discrimination in the federal workplace:
-- In November 1940 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order # 8587, eliminating the photograph requirement for civil service applicants.
-- In 1941 Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802,
reaffirming “the policy of the
-- In 1943 Executive Order 9346 again reaffirmed “the policy
-- In 1946, with Executive Order 9808, President Harry S. Truman created the President’s Committee on Civil Rights, to investigate the protection of civil rights by federal, state, and local governments, and to issue a written report with recommendations on how to strengthen the civil rights of all Americans. The committee issued its report, “To Secure These Rights,” on October 29, 1947.
-- In 1948, in Executive Order # 9980, Truman reiterated that “all personnel actions taken by Federal appointing officials . . . be based solely on merit and fitness,” and ordered that the head of each government department was “personally responsible for an effective program to insure that fair employment policies are fully observed,” directing each to appoint a Fair Employment Officer to help carry out such policies, under the “immediate supervision of the department head.” Decisions of the Fair Employment Officer could be appealed to the department head, whose decisions, in turn, could be appealed to a newly-created Fair Employment Board in the Civil Service Commission.
propaganda during World War II called for all Americans to unite to fight at
home and abroad for the American ideals of freedom and democracy, but
domestically, African Americans were often treated like second-class
citizens. Some Post Office break rooms
and restrooms in the South were still whites-only, and nationwide, white postal
employees were often given preferred work assignments. In
Government poster promoting national unity, 1942
World War II caused
Postmaster General Frank C. Walker published “A Message to All Postal
Personnel” in the Postal Bulletin,
which was issued to Post Offices nationwide.
every postal worker should have full opportunity of aspiring to and reaching positions to which is talents, his energy, and his integrity entitle him. . . It is the duty of each postmaster and each superintendent to see to it that his office is so conducted that it cannot be charged justly than any person whomsoever under his jurisdiction has not received the promotions, the assignments, or other benefits that are due him.
postmasters took their duty seriously.
Just 24 hours after he was confirmed as postmaster of
I state unequivocally
that I don’t know of a post office in the
In 1947 Senator William Langer, chairman of the Post Office and Civil Service Committee, ordered an investigation of allegations of racial discrimination in the hiring and promotion of employees at seven southern Post Offices. His special investigator found that African Americans – including honorably discharged veterans – were systematically denied appointments, promotions, and preferred assignments in Post Offices due solely to their race.
African Americans also suffered disproportionately during the employee loyalty investigations that followed Truman’s Executive Order 9835 of March 22, 1947. Ashby Carter, president of the National Alliance of Postal Employees, noted that “the majority of dismissals under the loyalty act were aimed at getting rid of Negro postal employees who spoke out for democracy within the post office system”.
hardships faced by applicants and employees, postal jobs were coveted
positions. Although African Americans
did not find equal opportunity in postal work – they were rarely promoted to
supervisory positions, for example – they at least found opportunity, in an era
when little was available in the private sector. In a 1939 survey of African-American
adolescent boys in
In the [
Wright, award-winning author of Native
Son and Black Boy, worked as a
clerk at the Chicago Post Office sporadically from 1928 through the mid-1930s,
before leaving to pursue a writing career in
1950s: A New Era
Any man who seeks to deny equality among all his brothers betrays the spirit of the free and invites the mockery of the tyrant. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, First Inaugural Address, 1953
In the 1950s some of the seeds planted in the late 1940s began to bear fruit. African-American postal employees, meanwhile, did not wait passively for their rights to be handed to them. Many employees fought hard for their right to fair and equal treatment – not only in the workplace, but in communities at large. Several postal employees became prominent civil rights leaders, working with groups like the NAACP and the National Alliance of Postal Employees (see “Civil Rights Pioneers,” below).
receiving complaints from a committee of the National Alliance of Postal
Employees in the early 1950s, the new postmaster of
John LeFlore, a longtime letter carrier in
White and Negro letter carriers have work desks indiscriminately placed and go about their duties in the post office as members of one big family . . . The men are congenial, they joke with one another, salute each other with a "hello, Frank," or a similar expression . . . and get along as human beings should . . .
All employees drink from the same water fountain. There are segregated restrooms and toilets not because the men asked for them, but because the officials, perhaps behind time with antiquated ideas about the place of race in a progressive atmosphere of democracy, don't have sufficient vision to see the folly of segregation.
Letter Carriers in
In 1952 African-American Letter
Carrier John LeFlore called
LeFlore wrote to Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield, appealing to him to
order an end to the practice of segregating restrooms and toilets in Post
Offices, which was “widespread in the South with few exceptions.” While Summerfield apparently issued no such
order, he helped level the playing field for black workers in other ways. In 1953 he introduced qualifying examinations
for promotions to supervisory positions in Post Offices, which the National
Alliance of Postal Employees had long advocated. Henry W. McGee, who became
1949: A. L.
Glenn, Sr, History of the National
1959: Henry W. McGee, “The Negro in the Chicago Post Office” (MA dissertation, University of Chicago, 1961), 91.
Percentage of African-American Supervisors and Employees at Four Post Offices, 1949 and 1959
In 1959 about 15 percent of the
supervisors at the
Americans began serving as window clerks at the
In the north, merit, fitness and seniority have actually become color blind in a number of the larger post offices. Bigoted officials who said the public would not stand for a Negro window clerk have learned better.
1954 African American Joseph A. Clarke was appointed as a staff assistant to
First Assistant Postmaster General Norman Abrams, to help promote equal
employment opportunity in the Post Office Department. Clarke, a former newspaper publisher, had
previously worked for the State of
At present all postmasters—especially the larger offices where many Negroes are employed—are PERSONALLY informed, when necessary, of the NEW attitude towards ALL employees regardless of race.
In January 1955 President Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10590, creating the President's Committee on Government Employment Policy, to help ensure that equal employment opportunity was available to all regardless of race, color, religion, or national origin. The new committee superseded the Fair Employment Board created by executive order in 1948. On February 24, 1955, Postmaster General Summerfield published in the Postal Bulletin procedures to be followed by complainants (both applicants and employees), supervisors, and officers in handling complaints of discrimination. If complainants were dissatisfied with the results of the investigation at the Department level they could appeal their case to the President’s Committee on Government Employment Policy. Groups, as well as individuals, could file complaints. The National Alliance of Postal Employees called the policy a “crowning masterpiece” and considered that “the postal service—the humane part of it—has just about reached its zenith.”
1955 Mr. Leslie Liburd, president of the
1956 anti-job discrimination posters were carried on the sides of more than
25,000 mail trucks. When a racist
In 1958 Herbert Hill, the labor secretary of the NAACP, simultaneously praised the Post Office Department and chastised other federal agencies when he noted that the Post Office Department was the only federal agency in the South that employed African Americans “above the level of janitor and other menial classifications.”
November, 19, 1960,
Because of the pay and security, the P.O. is the basic foundation for the Negro community . . . P.O. workers have bought more homes and sent more offspring to college than any other segment of our group.
Civil Rights Pioneers
Many African-American postal workers were civil rights activists; some were also prominent leaders. Herbert Hill, national labor director of the NAACP from 1951 to 1977, recalled that whenever he visited towns looking for volunteers to lead civil rights activities, “there would be the minister, the undertaker, the lawyer and the post office worker.” (Washington Post, March 14, 1974)
John L. LeFlore, a letter carrier in Mobile, Alabama, from 1922 to 1965, reorganized
the Mobile branch of the NAACP in 1926 and served as its executive secretary
until the NAACP was banned in
Westley W. Law, a letter carrier in Savannah, Georgia, from about 1948 to the early
1990s, was president of that city’s branch of the NAACP from 1950 to 1976. Like LeFlore, Law spearheaded the civil
rights movement in his city. He worked
for the desegregation of public schools, worked for voting rights, and helped
lead a 15-month boycott of segregated stores which ended in July 1961 when the
stores desegregated their lunch counters.
In September 1961 Law was fired from his letter carrier position
following the election of a local U.S. Congressman who had made his firing a
campaign promise. Law was reinstated the
next month at the direction of President John F. Kennedy; he continued
delivering mail in
Heman Marion Sweatt, a letter carrier in Houston, Texas, from about 1938 to 1947,
participated in voter-registration drives in
More activist postal workers are described in There’s Always Work at the Post Office: African American Postal Workers and the Fight for Jobs, Justice, and Equality, by Philip F. Rubio.
William L. Dawson, Kennedy’s First Pick for Postmaster General (photo courtesy Library of Congress)
President-elect John F. Kennedy named J. Edward Day as Postmaster General on December 17, 1960, but Day was not Kennedy’s first choice for the job.
Soon after his election, Kennedy
offered the job of Postmaster General to Democratic Congressman William L.
Dawson, a powerful African-American political leader from
To the consternation of many in the
Corneal A. Davis, a long-time member of the Illinois House of Representatives and associate of Dawson, recalled asking his friend at the time “What the devil is wrong with you?” and Dawson telling him:
I got my own power. Don’t you know when I take that job Kennedy’d be my boss. I’ll be the postmaster general, but I’ll also sign my resignation when I take the job. And when he tells me I’m through, I’m through. And hell, I ain’t going to be through until the people tell me I’m through.*
* Corneal A. Davis Memoir, Volume II, Interview by Horace Q. Waggoner,
1982, Archives/Special Collections,
I’d say we’ve got some catching up to be done and should do it. Postmaster General J. Edward Day, 1961
Although in 1960 the Post Office Department was the largest single employer of African Americans in the country, most African-American employees toiled in lower-level positions with little hope for advancement.
In 1961 newly-elected President John F. Kennedy and J. Edward Day, Kennedy’s choice for Postmaster General, embarked on an ambitious program to create equal opportunity in the workplace. On March 6, 1961, Kennedy issued Executive Order 10925, establishing the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, stating that:
It is the plain and positive obligation of the
and acknowledging that the government had often failed to do this in the past. That same month Deputy Postmaster General William Brawley, meeting with the directors of the 15 postal regions, cited the underrepresentation of African Americans in the supervisory ranks as evidence of past discrimination.
That summer the Department selected 15 Special Assistants for Employee Relations, one for each regional office, to assure full-time attention to civil rights and employee-management relations. It published a “no discrimination policy” in the May 25, 1961, issue of the Postal Bulletin and issued a new “Code of Ethics for Postal Employees” on August 10, 1961. On December 12, 1961, Equal Employment Opportunity posters were issued for display in all Post Offices, and on January 12, 1962, posters were placed on all bulletin boards outlining how to file complaints of discrimination.
Meanwhile, several African Americans were appointed to high-profile positions:
-- In 1961 Christopher C. Scott, a 38-year postal veteran
-- In 1961 Day appointed Henry McGee as regional personnel director for the Chicago Region, the highest position ever held by an African American in the Postal Field Service.
-- In 1961 Day appointed Mrs. Nancy C. Avery as acting
postmaster of the Pacoima,
-- In 1962 Charles A. Preston, a postal clerk and college
lockers and swing rooms in the
In December 1962 Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson lauded the Post Office Department’s handling of job discrimination complaints, noting that “very few agencies have a record that matches the Post Office” and that the Department exceeded the government-wide average for taking corrective action on discrimination complaints by 15 percent. One hundred and twenty-nine postal employees nationwide, from clerks and carriers to regional officials, were trained to conduct investigations and hold hearings in response to complaints of discrimination, in addition to their regular duties.
There were many challenges to be met. As late as 1961 the Mail Equipment Shops, near Post Office Department headquarters, maintained segregated employee lockers and exclusionary promotion practices. In January 1961 a complaint of racial discrimination in the Mail Equipment Shops by the NAACP sparked an investigation by the Postal Inspection Service. During the investigation, the Shops’ manager, Lloyd Sydnor, explained that job applicants were evaluated “without consideration to race,” but that African Americans “seldom file applications for higher rated positions which they themselves recognize they are not capable of filling.” The majority of the Shops’ employees were African-American, and they were disproportionately stuck in lower-level positions (see the table “Mail Equipment Shops: Employees by Race and Job Level, April 1, 1961,” below).
Mail Equipment Shops: Employees by Race and Job Level, April 1, 1961
Postal Field Service
Source: Exhibit No. 1, Post Office Department Office of Inspector, Case No. 120435-C, “Complaint of possible discriminatory practices in personnel matters involving Negroes employed at the Mail Equipment Shops,” files of USPS Historian.
Postal inspectors found that the supervisors working under Sydnor favored white employees for “details” (on-the-job training) in the Shops, thus ensuring that white employees would be the most qualified when positions opened up. The inspectors reported:
White employees in the Mail Equipment Shops were placed in positions in anticipation of vacancies so that when they actually occurred they were the only employees qualified by experience for the jobs, thereby discouraging the Negroes from making applications.
Following the investigation, the Shops’ manager initiated a series of corrective actions.
In 1963 the
Department initiated the year-long “Postmasters Program for Progress,” which required
that postmasters of offices with more than 125 employees develop and maintain
an affirmative equal employment opportunity program and that they submit
monthly written progress reports. At a
series of conferences held at the
The desegregation of postal facilities was extended to privately-owned buildings in 1963, when the Post Office Department demanded of all contractors who operated contract Post Office stations that “any services provided within those premises must be available to the general public on an equal basis.”
President Lyndon B. Johnson, meanwhile, met with Postmaster General Day and 40
Between 1962 and 1964, the percentage of supervisor jobs held by African Americans rose from 5 to 10. Between 1961 and 1968, the percentage of top-earners in the Post Office Department who were African-American rose from less than one to roughly four percent. In the same period, the overall representation of African Americans in the postal workforce increased from about 15 to about 20 percent.
Charges of reverse discrimination in
the Post Office Department arose in 1963 after three African Americans were
promoted to supervisor positions at the
An official of the United Federation
of Postal Clerks noted that the
In August 1963 ten of the white employees filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming they had been discriminated against because of their race. Two months later the Post Office Department revoked the promotions, citing a procedural error, but kept the three African-American employees on at the same pay in a temporary status, with a promise that they would be first in line for future promotions.
In 1966 African-American
postmasters headed the nation’s three-largest Post Offices –
“In my 38 years of postal service I have seen conditions change from almost complete segregation to the present time where opportunities for minority advancement is limited only to ability and drive.”
On April 29, 1969, Ronald B. Lee – formerly the head of the Post Office Department’s planning and systems analysis office – became the first African-American Assistant Postmaster General when he was appointed Assistant Postmaster General of Planning and Marketing by President Richard M. Nixon.
As the 1960s progressed, African Americans benefited from increased job opportunities, both in the private and public sectors. The 1964 Civil Rights Act banned job discrimination by private employers; postal salaries, meanwhile, stagnated. As the Department began to face stiff competition for educated workers, the demographics of new employees shifted – less highly educated workers, and more women, began entering the postal workforce.
Henry McGee, then personnel director of the Chicago Region, said “postal jobs
go begging because the post office can’t compete with pay scales in private
industry,” citing a starting wage of $3.13 an hour for city transportation
workers, versus $2.64 at the Post Office. Seventy percent of newly-hired employees in
In 1967 an
Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Division was created within the Bureau of
Personnel, and Postmaster General O’Brien boasted that the Post Office
Department was “the leading employer of Negroes in 12 major cities.” In some cities, like
the tight manpower market and the undesirable working conditions . . . have forced the employment of large numbers of Negroes. The facts indicate there just is not anyone else available for the Post Office Department to hire.
As the decade came to a close, Congress voted for steep pay increases for postal workers – 6 percent in 1967, 5 percent in 1968, 4.7 percent in 1969, and a total of 14 percent in 1970. Meanwhile, logjams of mail at outdated postal facilities, as well as deepening postal deficits, convinced Congress to reorganize the nation’s postal system. In 1970, Congress passed the Postal Reorganization Act, transforming the United States Post Office Department into the self-funding, quasi-independent United States Postal Service.
From Left to Right: Postmaster Leslie Shaw, Postmaster General Lawrence O’Brien, and Postmasters Henry McGee and John Strachan, 1967
Leslie N. Shaw, a successful banking executive, took a 25 percent pay cut to accept the job of acting postmaster of Los Angeles in April 1963. He was appointed postmaster in 1964, and served until 1969.
Henry W. McGee, a 37-year postal veteran who had risen through the ranks from
substitute clerk to personnel director for the
John R. Strachan, a 22-year postal veteran who had risen through the ranks from
substitute clerk to assistant to the director of the
Women as well as minorities benefited from increased job opportunities in the 1960s. Mrs. Evelyn Brown started delivering mail in Washington, D.C., in 1963; she was the first woman to deliver mail in the city since the World War II era.
In 1969, women comprised 30 percent
of postal employees in
From Postal Reorganization to the End of the Century
United States Postal Service was created from the Post Office Department,
African Americans were increasingly promoted to managerial positions. On July 23, 1971, just 22 days after the
United States Postal Service officially began operations, Ronald B. Lee was
promoted to Assistant Postmaster General for Customer Development. In October 1971 Alvin J. Prejean, former
deputy executive director of the Chicago Urban League, was named director of
the Office of Social Priorities, in charge of administering equal job
opportunity programs. At the same time,
Joseph N. Cooper was promoted to advertising manager in Communications and Public
Affairs. Cooper had worked in advertising
even while African Americans were making inroads into postal management, racial
discrimination persisted in some postal facilities. In 1973 Napoleon Chisholm, a black employee
Chisholm v. United States Postal
the unequal treatment received by black employees at the Charlotte Post Office:
not only was the promotional system discriminatory, from skewed written tests,
to all-white promotion advisory boards that favored white applicants, and
uneven application of procedures to benefit whites, but blacks were disciplined
for offenses for which whites were not punished. Although blacks comprised only 30 percent of
the workforce in
A series of studies in the 1980s highlighted both the Postal Service’s strengths and weaknesses as an employer. A 1984 study found that the Postal Service was a leader in equal pay for equal work, that:
the Postal Service paid its employees internally comparable wages, regardless of their gender or race, whereas in most other industries wages differed significantly by gender or by race, or by both.
A study by
1980s African-American postal employees formed two national networking and
mentoring organizations to foster the career development of black
employees. Network, an organization
focused on mentoring African-American women managers and supervisors, first met
final decades of the 20th century saw more African-American postal
“firsts.” In January 1981 Mary A. Brown
was appointed as the first black woman MSC Manager/Postmaster – at
The first African-American employee to attain the position of Regional Postmaster General was Emmett E. Cooper Jr., who was named the Eastern Regional Postmaster General in 1977. Johnnie F. Thomas was appointed Eastern Regional Postmaster General in March 1986, and in March 1989 Samuel Green Jr. became the third African-American to hold the position of Eastern Regional Postmaster General.
In 1992 the title “Vice President” replaced “Assistant Postmaster General.” In the 1990s the following African Americans served as Vice Presidents of the United States Postal Service (listed with their most recent title):
Sylvester Black Vice President, Western Area Operations
Samuel Green Jr. Senior Vice President, Customer Sales and Services
Robert F. Harris Vice President, Diversity Development
Clarence E. Lewis Jr. Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President
Henry A. Pankey Vice President, Mid-Atlantic Area Operations
E. Lewis Jr. was named Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President in
June 2, 1998 – the highest-ranking African-American postal employee to that
date. Lewis started his postal career as
a substitute city letter carrier in
Building upon its affirmative action and EEO programs, in 1992 the Postal Service created a Diversity Development department to “serve as the Postal Service’s social conscience.” The goals of the department were to “increase employees’ awareness of and appreciation for ethnic and cultural diversity” and to:
ensure that all career and succession planning takes advancement for women and minorities into consideration, and that the cultural makeup of local communities is represented in the postal work force.
In February 1997 an African-American manager at Postal Service headquarters remarked that although progress had been made in equal employment opportunity, the Postal Service still had “pockets of discrimination and a lack of commitment to equal promotional opportunities.” That May, the chairman of the Postal Service’s Board of Governors, Tirso del Junco, announced that Aguirre International had been awarded a contract to conduct an independent study of the Postal Service’s diversity policies and practices as they related to hiring, promotion, training and contracting. The Aguirre team found that minorities were well represented in the postal workforce at large, although they were underrepresented at the higher levels. Aguirre’s report, issued in January 1998, concluded that the United States Postal Service stood out as a leader in meeting affirmative action goals and striving for a diverse workforce.
At the end of the 20th century African Americans constituted roughly 21 percent of the postal workforce, versus 11 percent of the civilian labor force. At the same time, they filled about 14 percent of top postal management positions.
In 2000, Fortune magazine ranked the United
States Postal Service 9th on its list of “
African-American Postal Governors, 1971 - 2000
The Postal Service’s Board of Governors was established by the Postal Reorganization Act of August 12, 1970. The Board, which is comparable to a board of directors of a private corporation, includes nine Governors who are appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. From Reorganization through the end of the century, the following African Americans served as Presidentially-appointed Governors of the Postal Service:
<George E. Johnson, 1971-1974
Johnson was a businessman and the founder of hair care products company Johnson Products Co., the first black-owned firm to be traded on the American Stock Exchange.
<Timothy L. Jenkins, 1980-1982
Jenkins was a lawyer and the chairman of an international management consultant firm.
<Ira D. Hall, 1987- 1990
Hall was an IBM executive.
<LeGree S. Daniels, 1990-2005
Daniels was a lifelong
public servant and the first African American appointed in
UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE
 Congressional Record -- Senate, 58th Congress, 1st Session, 128 (March 18, 1903).
 Quoted by Senator Ben Tillman of
 The “Indianola affair,” as it became known, dragged on for a year until finally, in January 1904, Cox’s term expired and a white man was appointed in her place. For more on Cox’s story, see “African-American Postal Workers in the 19th Century,” at http://about.usps.com/who-we-are/postal-history/postalpeople.htm.
 Congressional Record -- Senate, 58th Congress, 1st Session, 129-132 (March 18, 1903). Money stated his own beliefs on the Senate floor unequivocally: “This is a white man’s country and a white man’s government. It was established by white men for white men . . . The clause in the Constitution that made the negro a voter was a tremendous mistake.”
 Postmaster General Henry C. Payne quoted in Chicago Tribune, May 8, 1903, 1.
 Editorial in The
 Ibid., September 10, 1905.
 Booker T. Washington to Charles
William Eliot, March 7, 1906, The Booker
T. Washington Papers, Volume 13, 513, at http://www.historycooperative.org/btw/Vol.13/html/513.html
(accessed November 30, 2009). According
 In a letter of December 14, 1904, to Henry Smith Pritchett, Roosevelt stated “not a law has been passed or threatened affecting the negro or affecting the southern white in his relation to the negro during the three years that the South has been indulging in hysterics over me,” and that the number of African Americans appointed to office, “which was insignificant even under McKinley, has been still further reduced.” Cited in Seth M. Scheiner, “President Theodore Roosevelt and the Negro, 1901-1908,” The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 47, No. 3 (July 1962), 177.
 See “President Theodore Roosevelt and the Negro, 1901-1908,” The Journal of Negro History, July 1962, 169-182.
 In 1972 the records of all 167 troops were cleared and their discharges were changed to honorable.
 William Howard Taft, Inaugural Address,
March 4, 1909. From
http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=25830&st=&st1= (accessed August 5, 2010).
 See Louis R. Harlan, Booker T. Washington: The Wizard of
 The Republican Party was the party of Abraham Lincoln. After the Civil War it espoused a strong federal government and civil rights for blacks. Socially-conservative Southern Democrats, meanwhile, wanted a return to the old social order. Democrats remained affiliated with social conservatism until the 1948 National Democratic Convention, when they voted for a strong civil rights platform. In the 1912 Presidential election Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic candidate, won more than 50 percent of the popular votes in all the Southern states; he won the popular vote in many Northern states only because Republican votes were split between two candidates.
 In a letter printed in the December 1912 issue of The Railway Post Office, the journal of the railway mail clerks’ union, Clerk Charles Ellis of the Kansas City and LaJunta line wrote: “There is one thing that can be asked of a democratic Congress that would be impossible from a republican one and that is segregation on the color line . . . as a party they should feel free to act on this question of a separate crew or line for the colored clerk. The colored clerk himself should welcome such a law. I am sure that each would rather mix with people of his own race than to be an alien in a white crew.”
 The Railway Post Office, June 1913, 54. The Railway Mail Association, established in 1891, was originally open to all railway mail clerks. In 1911 it amended its constitution so as to admit new members of only “the Caucasian race,” although existing black members were grandfathered in. In 1915, African Americans comprised 16 percent of the voting members of the union’s Fourth Division (comprising Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida), or 101 out of 651 (The Railway Post Office, June 1915).
 See discussion in June 1913 issue of The Railway Post Office, 50-51.
 The Railway Post Office, June 1913, 50.
 A. L. Glenn, Sr, History of the National
 Glenn, 44. In 1939 Bomar was named national secretary of the National Alliance of Postal Employees, the union of black postal workers. In 1952 he was promoted to Assistant General Superintendent of the Postal Transportation Service, a top job at postal headquarters.
 Mary Childs Nerney, “Segregation in
the Government Departments at
 Nicholas Patler, Jim Crow and the
 Christian Science Monitor, November 13, 1914, 6.
 In 1914, the year the photograph requirement was put in place, only 14 cases of impersonation or attempted impersonation in Civil Service examinations were discovered (Glenn, 91, citing December 1937 issue of The Postal Alliance).
 Glenn, 56.
 American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940: John Wesley Dobbs, December 2, 1939, [http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/wpa:@field(DOCID+@lit(wpa113070415)), accessed 5/31/2006].
 Glenn, 56-57.
 Glenn, 150
 According to Henry W. McGee, the
first African-American postmaster of
 Glenn, 80; see also 130.
 Ibid., 150.
 Glenn, 82 and 115.
 According to Glenn (8), there were 2,500
black railway mail clerks in 1923; there were 18,784 clerks total according to
the 1923 Annual Report of the Postmaster
General (39). In 1927 most
African-American railway mail clerks worked in the Fourth Division of the Railway
Mail Service, in
 Glenn, 169, citing March 1944 issue of the The Postal Alliance.
 See The Negro in Chicago: A Study of Race Relations and a Race Riot, by the Chicago Commission on Race Relations (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1922), pages 79-105, for a discussion of some of the causes of migration.
 Between 1910 and 1920, the black
population as a percentage of the total increased as follows: in
 Figures reported in the Philadelphia Tribune, June 21, 1928, and
the Afro-American, September 29,
1928. In 1930, African Americans
represented 11 percent of the population of
 Statistics reported in The Washington Post on November 15,
1925, and July 16, 1931. In 1930 blacks
represented about 27 percent of the population of
 Edward LaSalle, an official of the National Alliance of Postal Employees, quoted in Glenn, 98, citing January 1936 issue of The Postal Alliance. In February 1948 the same phenomenon was reported: ”recognition of the civil rights for Negro postal workers is directly proportional to those accorded Negro citizens in communities in which they reside and are employed” (Glenn, 312).
 Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Executive
Order 8802,” June 25, 1941. From
 Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Executive
Order 9346,” May 27, 1943. From
 See “To Secure These Rights” at http://www.trumanlibrary.org/civilrights/srights1.htm (accessed December 29, 2010).
 Harry S. Truman, “Executive Order
9980,” July 26, 1948. From
 Glenn cites several examples of the Board finding discrimination in Post Offices, where the Postmaster General had not (Glenn, 291).
 In 1943 Postmaster General Frank C. Walker issued an order banning segregation in cafeterias in government-owned buildings. Despite the order, segregation continued as late as 1953 in some cafeterias due to social pressures – including, reportedly, at Post Office Department headquarters.
 Glenn, 170.
 The Postal Bulletin, June 2, 1943, 1.
 See Senate Report 1777, Part 2, 80th Congress, 2d Session (1948), and also Glenn, 180-181, 183-184, 222-229.
 Glenn, 244.
 Elizabeth McDougald, “Negro Youth Plans Its Future,” The Journal of Negro Education, April 1941, 224-225.
 Coleman Alexander Young, quoted in the Detroit News, March 9, 1987.
 St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton, Black Metropolis : A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993 reprint of 1945 edition), 509-510.
 It was while working at the Post
Office that Wright first met like-minded intellectuals – both black and
white. One of Wright’s white coworkers
encouraged him to join a local political organization that became, in the words
of biographer Hazel Rowley, “Wright’s university,” introducing him to new ideas
and people who inspired and encouraged him to take himself seriously as a
writer. See Hazel Rowley, Richard Wright: The Life and Times (
 Dwight D. Eisenhower, "Inaugural
Address," January 20, 1953. From
 Glenn, 202-203.
 McGee, 89.
 Glenn, 201.
 Ibid., 115.
 Ibid., 206.
 Glenn, 204.
 Ibid., 281.
 The New York Times, July 11, 1958, 46.
 McGee, 83.
 The Afro-American, December 2, 1961, 2.
 John F. Kennedy, “Executive Order
10925,” March 6, 1961, and “Statement by the President Upon Signing Order
Establishing the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity,” March
7, 1961. From
 Post Offices were divided into classes based on their revenue from 1864 to 1975; first-class offices were the highest-grossing. In 1961, 11.6 percent of Post Offices nationwide were designated as first-class.
 The Afro-American, December 15, 1962, 18.
 Statement of Lloyd B. Sydnor, April 10, 1961, taken by Postal Inspectors F. A. Mervis and K. S. Maynard in conjunction with Postal Inspection Service Case No. 120435-C, “Complaint of possible discriminatory practices in personnel matters involving Negroes employed at the Mail Equipment Shops,” in the files of the USPS Historian.
 Post Office Department Office of Inspector, Postal Inspectors F. A. Mervis and K. S. Maynard to Inspector-in-Charge, Washington, D.C., April 20, 1961, Case No. 120435-C, “Complaint of possible discriminatory practices in personnel matters involving Negroes employed at the Mail Equipment Shops,” files of USPS Historian.
 Monthly meetings were held between management, the National Alliance of Postal Employees and other labor unions; seniority lists of the Shops’ employees were posted and training programs were established to enable senior employees to qualify for higher-level jobs; and opportunities for details were posted, in addition to the required postings for higher-level vacancies.
 The Wall Street Journal, June 6, 1963, 8.
 Figures for top-earners in 1961 refer to Postal Field Service (PFS) levels 12-20, and in 1968, to PFS levels 12-21.
 Ebony, December 1966, 50.
 McGee noted that although women made excellent clerks, because they lacked seniority they ended up working as mailhandlers, where they had a harder time lifting heavy sacks of mail. To compensate, employees placed less mail in sacks to make them lighter, which cost the Post Office Department more to transport, since railroads charged by the sack, not by weight (Ibid.).
 Post Office Department press release, October 13, 1967.
 Lee left the Postal Service in 1972 to become director of marketing analysis for Xerox Corporation.
 See Chisholm v. United States Postal
 Ibid, Note 24.
 Martin Asher and Joel Popkin, “The Effect of Gender and Race Differentials on Public-Private Wage Comparisons: A Study of Postal Workers,” Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Vol. 38, No. 1 (October 1984), 22. Asher and Popkin’s study was triggered by a 1981 study that found that postal workers’ wages were higher than those in similar private sector industries. Looking at the same data, Asher and Popkin found that this was true only because private sector industries on average paid nonwhites and/or women less pay for comparable work, while white men in the Postal Service and the private sector were paid similar wages.
 See Craig Zwerling and Hilary Silver, “Race and Job Dismissals in a Federal Bureaucracy,” American Sociological Review, October 1992.
 EAS, or “Executive and Administrative Schedule,” employees, consist of employees in most administrative and managerial positions; PCES, or “Postal Career Executive Service,” employees, consist of employees in key management positions.
 From September 1975 until August 1992, when the Postal Service’s field structure was reorganized, Management Sectional Centers (MSCs) were responsible for all postal activities within a specific ZIP Code range. In 1981 there were 278 MSCs nationwide; the Shreveport MSC was responsible for about 125 Post Offices.
 Ibid., 1-3.
 Federal Times, February 17, 1997.
 The study was prompted by del Junco’s claim that African Americans were overrepresented in the postal workforce; he believed that some postal managers were guilty of reverse discrimination, to the detriment of Hispanic citizens (see Los Angeles Times, August 3, 1994).
 United States General Accounting Office, Report # GAO/GGD-00-76, March 2000, “Diversity in the Postal Career Executive Service.”
 http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2000/07/10/283788/index.htm (accessed August 29, 2007).