Philip F. Rubio, author of “There’s Always Work at the Post Office: African American Postal Workers and the Fight for Jobs, Justice, and Equality”, spoke at the National Postal Museum on Saturday, November 6th. Below is an brief summary of his book and video of his speech.
On November 7, 1940, just two days after the election that President Franklin D. Roosevelt won for his third term, he signed Executive Order 8587 abolishing the civil service application photograph. This was no minor matter. The NAACP and the historically-black National Alliance of Postal Employees (NAPE, formed in 1913 after blacks were excluded from the Railway Mail Association) had been campaigning against the use of the application photograph since the Wilson administration began using it in 1914 to screen out as many African American applicants as it could. And the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), at the time still battling to keep Jim Crow branches out of its organization, had voted at its 1939 convention to support abolition of the discriminatory application photograph.
Roosevelt’s order produced no media coverage—except in the black press, which I relied on for much of my research into the history of black postal workers and their activism. The black press hailed it as a victory. Indeed, African American postal employment grew dramatically as a result of that order, the World War II labor shortage, and Executive Order 8802 banning government and defense industry discrimination in 1941. It seems fitting that I will be speaking and showing slides based on my book There’s Always Work at the Post Office: African American Postal Workers and the Fight for Jobs, Justice, and Equality at the National Postal Museum on the day before the 70th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 8587. But that order, the application photograph, Jim Crow postal unions, and black-led campaigns for equality at the post office and its unions—among many other things—were all unknown to me during my twenty years that I worked for the United States Postal Service.
I barely scratched the surface with my collection of stories like these spanning over a century. Unfortunately the story of African Americans at the post office has for the most part been neglected by scholars. But there have been notable exceptions, including the National Postal Museum, as well as historians working for the National Alliance of Postal and Federal Employees (NAPFE, formerly the NAPE) and the USPS.
** Rubio credited Raydell Moore, former APWU Western Region Coordinator, for providing background on the history of African Americans in the Postal Service cited in his book.
note: There seems to be an audio problem with this live stream so fastforward to about 3:50 minutes of the video.