With the U.S. Army no longer suppressing the Klan and enforcing the political rights of freedmen, southern states introduced racial segregation and passed laws that made it difficult for black men to vote. Lynchings peaked between 1890 and 1910, and anti-lynching legislation became a perennial concern of new civil rights organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Throughout this period, the post office and the military were the nation’s largest employers, and they reflected the racial problems of the larger society.
Mrs. Frazer Baker and Children, c. 1899
Account of the Frazer B. Baker lynching trial, 1899
President William McKinley appointed hundreds of African American postmasters, including Frazer B. Baker of Lake City, South Carolina. Local whites burned the post office to force Baker to resign; when he did not, they burned his house and shot his family as they escaped. Because Baker was a U.S. government employee, his murder led to a federal trial. None of the accused were convicted, but the incident brought national attention to the lynching problem.
Postal Inspection Service investigation card, 1924
On July 8, 1924, Ku Klux Klan members burned a cross to terrorize a camp for black Boy Scouts outside Philadelphia. U.S. Postal Inspectors investigated reports that an assistant postmaster and a clerk from the Ardmore, Pennsylvania post office were involved.
Blackdom, New Mexico post office cash book, c. 1913
Faced with segregation and discrimination in the east, many African Americans chose to establish their own towns in the west. Some, like Blackdom, grew large enough to support post offices that offered money orders and postal savings accounts, functioning as de facto banks. Cash books from these post offices contain the community’s economic history.
Segregated Rural Free Delivery saddlebag, c. 1896
Palmyra, Virginia became a Rural Free Delivery post office on October 22, 1896, one of the first in the nation to deliver mail to farm families. This mailbag with separate compartments for “white” and “colored” mail was not required by federal policy but was procured by the carrier to satisfy either his own preferences or those of his customers.
Travelers’ Green Book International Edition, 1966-67 edition
Widespread discrimination and the prevalence of Jim Crow laws in the south made it difficult for African Americans to travel freely. Harlem, New York letter carrier Victor H. Green and his wife Alma published the Green Book from 1936 to 1966 to guide black travelers to hotels, restaurants, and other establishments that would serve them. Much of his information was supplied by fellow postal workers around the country.