The Postal Service, Philately, & African Americans

Blacks have been involved in the delivery of mail since the beginning of slavery. Trusted enslaved blacks had been delivering parcels and letters between plantations. It wasn't until a Congressional Act in 1802 that only free whites were allowed to deliver the mail. Concerns about communication and rebellion amongst enslaved (black) and indentured (white) people were the impetus behind this new law. According to the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, the ban was expanded in 1828 "to include the regulation that 'if negro labor was required to 'lift the mail from the stage into the postoffice', it must 'be performed in the presence and under the immediate direction of the white person who has it in custody.'" This particular regulation remained in effect until 1862.

William H. Carney 1840-1908
Postal records did not keep data on race in the 19th century. However, it is known that during Reconstruction nearly 500 blacks were employed in the postal service, including 116 postmasters. The earliest known black postmaster was James W. Mason, Sunny Side, Arkansas in 1867. He later served as a delegate to the Arkansas Constitutional Convention and became a state senator. Despite the fact that many African Americans "experienced hardships in their jobs, the Post Office Department continued to appoint African Americans to high level positions."  These people included Joshua E. Wilson, George B. Hamlet, and John P. Green. William H. Carney, the first African American to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, was a letter carrier in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and served there from 1869 to 1901.

Minnie M. Cox
The early 20th century saw both increased opportunities (that began with the Pendleton Act Civil Service Act of 1883) for blacks in the postal service as well as increased segregation (President Woodrow Wilson's segregation of employment in the federal government). Minnie Cox, (1869-1933) was the first black female postmaster in the United States in Indianola, Mississippi, appointed to this position by President Benjamin Harrison and reappointed by President William McKinley and again reappointed by President Theodore Roosevelt. Significant controversy erupted over her appointment and she resigned, but President Theodore Roosevelt asked her to remain on. However, the situation was so threatening that  President Roosevelt suspended all mail delivery to Indianola. Mrs. Cox chose to leave in 1903 before the end of her term. The post office reopened in 1904 but at a demoted rank of class 3 rather than class 4 (who knew post offices had class rankings!). In October 2008, the postal service facility in Washington, D.C. was named the Minnie Cox Post Office Building in honor of Mrs. Cox.

The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion was made up of 855 enlisted African American women and officers and managed the military's mail amongst other duties. They were lead by Major (later lieutenant colonel) Charity Adams Early (1912-2002), the highest ranking black woman by the end of the war. The battalion was first deployed to Birmingham, England and later to Rouen, France.

In spite of large employment numbers of blacks in the postal service and their long history of service, there is much evidence into the 1990's that African Americans were assigned to lower paying jobs and dismissed at a higher rate. Despite this, a number of individuals have made it into the upper ranks of the service. Among them was Henry W. McGee, the first African American postmaster of a major facility in Chicago, Illinois in 1966. And,  Emmett E. Cooper, who held the positions of "Chairman of the Board of Appeals and Review, Director of the Postal Management Branch, Bureau of Operations, Manager of the Postal Service’s Detroit District, and Postmaster of Chicago. Cooper held his position of Regional Postmaster General of the Eastern Region from 1977-1983."
first African American Postmaster of a major postal facility, - See more at:
first African American Postmaster of a major postal facility, - See more at:
first African American Postmaster of a major postal facility, - See more at:

The year 2016 marked the 70th year that African Americans have been featured on stamps of the United States Postal Service; a complete list through 2014 can be found here and here. And images here. For those interested in philately (stamp collecting), they should explore ESPER, Ebony Society of Philatelic Events and Reflections.
The United States Postal Service has been an integral part of African American history and lives.

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