News Release

How Racists Have Manipulated the Post Office

Commondreams reported recently: “Postmaster General Urged to ‘Immediately Step Aside’ as North Carolina AG Backs Probe Into Campaign Finance Fraud Allegations.”

CLARENCE LUSANE, clusane@igc.org
Lusane is author of $20 and Change: Harriet Tubman, Andrew Jackson, and the Struggle for a Radical Democracy (forthcoming from City Lights Books) and The Black History of the White House.

He said today regarding Trump’s repeated attacks and statements about the Postal Service and mail-in balloting: “Regrettably, the Post Office has been used politically before by past administrations to disrupt efforts at racial justice or black progress. In the 1830s, President Andrew Jackson, Trump’s favorite predecessor, sided with local officials in South Carolina who stopped the mail distribution of abolitionist materials. … Jackson, who had been a slave trader and a slaveowner … proposed federal legislation that would ‘prohibit, under severe penalties, the circulation in the Southern States, through the mail, of incendiary publications intended to instigate the slaves to insurrection.’ …

“In the early 20th century, the postal service went after Nashville black activist Callie House. In 1894, she founded and led the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty, and Pension Association that sought to win pensions for African Americans who had survived slavery. The movement grew to over 800,000 according to researcher Mary Francis Berry. Like other organizations of the period, she used the mail to solicit and receive donations for her movement. Unhappy with the effort by this black group, Postmaster General A. S. Burleson charged her and other Association leaders with using the mail to commit fraud in 1915. The U.S. government argued that since black survivors of slavery would never receive a pension, her campaign was criminally misleading. After her arrest and nearly year-long imprisonment in 1917-1918, the organization faded.

“Perhaps, most famously, the same law used to go after House was used against Pan-Africanist leader Marcus Garvey. Long under scrutiny by U.S. law enforcement for his strong advocacy of black repatriation to Africa, the newly formed Bureau of Investigation searched for a means to destroy him politically. Garvey’s Black Star Steamship Line, funded in part by mail solicitations, was in financial trouble, and this became an opening for his enemies. Using informants and perjured witnesses, Garvey was charged with mail fraud and convicted. He was sent to prison in 1925, although he was released and deported two years later.”