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There's Always Work at the Post Office

African American Postal Workers and the Fight for Jobs, Justice, and Equality

Philip F. Rubio

Publication Year: 2010

This manuscript is a labor history of postal workers, focusing especially on the the postwar period and running through the wildcat strike of March 1970, which became the largest strike against the federal government. Rubio argues that militant African Americans in the post office fought for livable wages, full collective bargaining rights for their union, and other labor and civil rights. Rubio portrays black postal workers in the United States as leaders in the community of workers fighting for labor and racial equality, pushing their way into post office unions, as well as leaders within the black community, assisting with communication between the black middle and working classes.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. xi-xiii

From 1980 to 2000 I worked for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). I enjoyed most of the experience, especially working as a letter carrier, meeting and serving the public every day. I began my career in Colorado as a PTF (part-time flexible) clerk at the Denver Bulk Mail Center (BMC), making eight dollars an hour— more than twice what the post office was paying starting workers a decade before. ...

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pp. xv-xvi

In researching and writing this book I owe debts of gratitude to many people, starting with the most profound debts I owe my mentors Charles Payne, Thavolia Glymph, Barry Gaspar, Raymond Gavins, John French, Peter Wood, Edward Balleisen, Robert Korstad, Lawrence Goodwyn, Paula Giddings, Karin Shapiro, Jocelyn Olcott, and the late Jack Cell, all at Duke ...


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pp. xvii-xviii


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pp. xix-xxiii

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pp. 1-15

In February 2003 I gave a lecture on black postal worker history to an audience of about eighty mostly young, black undergraduates at North Carolina Central University in Durham. Few of them had seen or even heard of Robert Townsend’s 1987 film satire of Hollywood racial stereotypes called Hollywood Shuffle. ...

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ONE: Who Worked at the Post Office (before 1940)?

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pp. 16-50

William Harvey Carney ran away from slavery in Norfolk, Virginia, while still a teenager. Using the Underground Railroad in the early 1850s, he made his way to New Bedford, Massachusetts, less than twenty years after the famous black abolitionist Frederick Douglass arrived there in 1838 following his own escape from captivity in Maryland. (Carney’s father had also escaped, then ...

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TWO: Fighting Jim Crow at Home during World War II (1940–1946)

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pp. 51-73

It was July 1943, and James B. Cobb, president of the Washington, D.C., branch of the historically black nape was not satisfied with the gains he and his organization had made for black postal workers since 1940 in breaking down barriers to employment and promotion. Discrimination in the post office and its unions was still the norm. Meanwhile, the Durham, North Carolina, ...

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THREE: Black-Led Movement in the Early Cold War (1946–1950)

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pp. 74-98

‘‘I recall before I went away to World War II, before ’45, I joined the NAACP in Times Square station because I believed that this is a good organization. . . . I never joined a political organization, let’s say I was almost, almost many times. But I could not accept the dogma that said ‘This is it’ and you may not question it. You know if you were in the Communist Party, at that time I know, ...

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FOUR: Fighting Jim Crow and McCarthyism (1947–1954)

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pp. 99-120

A March 19, 1949, letter from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, NAACP branch officer Charles A. McLean to NAACP labor secretary Clarence Mitchell included this observation concerning the recent hiring of two black ‘‘sub-carriers’’ (substitute letter carriers) in that city thanks to efforts of the NAACP national office: ...

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FIVE: Collapsing Jim Crow Postal Unionism in the 1950s (1954–1960)

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pp. 121-147

They had finally done it. Two hundred delegates had walked out of the August 1958 convention of the NFPOC in Boston protesting the lack of union democracy and the Jim Crow locals still in the South. Over the next three months, Local 231 in Staten Island, New York; and Local 65 in St. Paul, Minnesota, seceded, followed by the NFPOC National Executive Board suspension of eight ...

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SIX: Interesting Convergences in the Early Sixties Post Office (1960–1963)

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pp. 148-170

‘‘We have no more separate Charter Branches.’’ That simple yet dramatic statement, greeted by applause, was announced at the NALC’s 1962 national convention in Denver by its retiring president, William Doherty. Doherty’s tenure had begun in 1941—the same year that the NALC voted to allow separate (or ‘‘dual’’) black and white branches throughout the South, over the objections ...

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SEVEN: Black Women in the 1960s Post Office and Postal Unions (1960–1969)

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pp. 171-190

‘‘It is important to note that most of the women coming into the PO [Post Office] are Negroes. Reflecting the conditions in the American economy and the unfair treatment that they have received on the ‘outside’ down through the years, these women come into the Federal government hoping that they will get a ‘fair shake.’ ’’1 ...

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EIGHT: Civil Rights Postal Unionism (1963–1966)

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pp. 191-206

There is no doubt that 1963 was a pivotal year for civil rights activism, and that the NAPE especially was deeply involved, fusing black labor and civic protest traditions. At their 1963 convention in New York City, President Ashby Smith called for convention delegates, including the women’s auxiliary, to mobilize in order to secure passage of the Civil Rights Bill. ...

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NINE: Prelude to a Strike (1966–1970)

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pp. 207-232

Asked what it was like to work at the GPO in midtown Manhattan in 1968, mail handler and military service veteran Richard Thomas was blunt: ‘‘Actually GPO was an embarrassment to the postal service because of the filth. On the outside, it’s recognized as the leading post office in the world. The columns there look all romantic and everything. But the inside—the working conditions ...

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TEN: The Great Postal Wildcat Strike of 1970

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pp. 233-261

Cleveland Morgan, a black member of New York Branch 36 of the NALC, was among the first to set up picket lines in New York City to kick off the nationwide March 1970 postal wildcat strike (a strike not authorized by one’s union). It was a strike that was also illegal because federal employees were still denied that right. Morgan, originally from rural Georgia, came to the post office in ...

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ELEVEN: Post-Strike (1970–1971)

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pp. 262-274

The nationwide postal wildcat strike was over by March 25, 1970. Now what? ‘‘Euphoria’’ is how William H. Burrus Jr., then vice president of the Cleveland NPU local of the NPU, described the feeling of having taken on the federal government and won.1 Richard Thomas, a mail handler strike participant then with the ...

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pp. 275-285

‘‘We were working six, seven days a week—ten, twelve hours [a day]. . . . Conditions were very rough. The place was a powderkeg. The day after the contract expiration, it actually didn’t take much to pull people out, it was so hot and oppressive.’’1 Jeff Perry, a retired NPMHU activist and official, was describing the July 21, 1978, wildcat strike at the New York Bulk & Foreign ...

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pp. 286

A. L. Glenn made this observation in his 1956 history of the NAPE: ‘‘The line of demarcation is so finely drawn between civil rights affecting the entire race and those directly concerned with postal workers, that it becomes difficult at times to separate them.’’1 Without the historical movement for equality in the post office that was led by black postal ...


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pp. 287-407


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pp. 409-432


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pp. 433-446

E-ISBN-13: 9781469604053
E-ISBN-10: 1469604051
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807833421
Print-ISBN-10: 0807833428

Page Count: 472
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • African American postal service employees -- History.
  • African Americans -- Employment -- History.
  • Postal service -- Employees -- Labor unions -- United States -- History.
  • National Alliance of Postal and Federal Employees (U.S.).
  • Discrimination in employment -- United States -- History.
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