|Strategic Alliances In The Fight Against Racism
Historical Notes On NAPFE
By Paul Nehru Tennassee
GuyanaJournal, September 2010
The National Alliance and Postal Employees (NAPFE) was formerly the National Alliance of Postal Employees (NAPE). The name was changed in 1965. This is an account how NAPFE during 1913-1945 developed external alliances to fight racism within and outside the then Post Office Department (POD). POD has been renamed United States Postal Services (USPS). At this point in time in 2010, the race issue has become very topical with the emergence of the Tea Party Movement, Glenn Beck's and Sarah Palin's rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on the anniversary of the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington. It was on that occasion that Martin Luther King Jr. made the “I Have A Dream” speech that is remembered in the U.S. and around the world.
The struggle waged by NAPE within the POD was linked to supportive external alliances inside and outside the African American communities. These alliances reinforced and strengthened the union's identity and mission as African Americans was not exclusively founded by African Americans. It became a prominent voice for reform in defense of African Americans. The NAACP is perceived as an African American organization of great importance. Like NAPE, the NAACP worked for reform of the system. However, NAPE was within the system. Throughout the life of NAPE, it supported the work of the NAACP. Many Branches of the NAPE, in most American cities, actively contributed to the organizational development of the NAACP. NAPE leaders never sought exclusive leadership of African Americans at the national level. They believed in the division of labor and a collective leadership. It was their style and culture. The POD was their territory and, beyond it, they gave full support to African American organizations and leaders within their means and circumstances. Reciprocally, they sought and obtained solidarity in promoting their cause and interests within the POD.
During the 1920's and 1930's, NAPE and many of its Branches were members of the NAACP. During the 1940's, NAPE Branches intensified their support. In 1920, NAPE supplied the NAACP with the facts regarding the lynching of James Spencer Foster. Since then, a relationship was developed with Walter White who was Assistant Executive Secretary of the NAACP. White's father, George White, was a letter carrier in Georgia.1 The NAACP opposed the use of photographs in Civil Service examinations since it was used as a means to discriminate against African Americans. When that battle was won, the NAACP sent a congratulatory note to NAPE. In May 1942, G. B. Current, Executive Secretary of the NAACP, wrote a letter at the prodding of a NAPE Branch, to the Michigan Senators and Congressmen calling upon them to remove discrimination and inequalities, which blocked African Americans from advancement in the POD.2
The NAPE Branch in Baltimore, under the leadership of R.A.C. Young, gave full support to the NAACP. In his bid for the Vice Presidency of NAPE in 1941, his supporters listed his contribution and role in the NAACP. They wrote, “...He increased by leaps and bounds the membership of any organization in which he holds office. We cite our local NAACP, the second largest Branch in the country. Its wonderful growth in the past three years can be attributed to his leadership of the Membership Committee. He won a trip to Los Angeles Convention of the NAACP because his winning division brought in over $3,000. His feat of reporting three life memberships ($500.00 each) on October 1, 1942, has never been accomplished in NAACP....”3
At the monthly meeting of NAPE's Jacksonville Branch in April 1942, Mr. N.W. Griffith, President of the Local Branch of the NAACP and Mrs. Ella Baker, the National Representative, made a plea to support the NAACP Membership Drive. The Branch supported the drive by appointing solicitors for the various divisions and stations of the office. “We are pleased to report a record contribution to the drive by the comrades.”4 At a NAPE's New York City Branch monthly meeting, it was reported that, “In continuing our policy of cooperating with other organizations, working for the welfare of Negroes, a policy long advocated by our President, Thomas C. Hall, the New York City Branch, at its December 1942 meeting, voted to secure a life membership in the NAACP for the sum of $500. Mr. James Kinlock, a window clerk at College Station in New York City, was appointed to represent us on the Board of Directors of the New York NAACP...”5
In April 1943, NAPE's Houston Branch reported that, “Three guests from the NAACP...brought a message about the drive which was going on at that time and the program which the Alliance is asked to be part of. Mrs. Daisy Lampkins, Mr. Donald Jones and Mrs. Julius White were leaders in the drive, who were also the speakers. During their stay, the President had the Committee on the NAACP drive, headed by Comrade James Felton, make its report. More than 80% of the employees reported were taking membership through the Alliance.... In compliance with a suggestion by Mr. Donald Jones, the body voted that a representative will be sent to the various meetings of the NAACP and also voted to adopt a plan of action offered by Mr. Jones.”6
In May 1943, Henry Galbreath reported that the President of the NAPE, Cleveland Branch “Expressed his appreciation to the Branch for its civic spirit. He also mentioned the fact that the Annual Membership Campaign of the local NAACP was in progress, and we are doing our part as postal employees to put the job over. He was happy to relate the Alliance had given $500 in cash and turned in over 200 members for the local NAACP. Much credit is due Mrs. F. M. Galbreath and Mrs. Evelyn A. McWright from the ladies Auxiliary, who assisted us in the endeavor.”7
The NAPE Branches in Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Boston, Cincinnati, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Charleston, New Orleans, Los Angeles, and other cities, played a similar role in the organizational development of the NAACP from below. The Women's Auxiliary of NAPE also provided many activists and leaders at the community levels for the NAACP by assisting financially, organizationally, and ideologically. There were other areas of working relationships. President A.L. Ford of NAPE and Walter White of the NAACP spoke at the 1943 Annual Banquet of NAACP in Boston. At almost all NAPE monthly Branch Meetings across America, representatives of the NAACP attended in search of support and membership. Many NAPE District Conventions were addressed by the Executive Secretaries of the NAACP. A favorite speaker at the NAPE meetings was Dean Pickens.
The Postal Alliance gave full coverage to NAACP activities and views. In 1943, The Postal Alliance reprinted the NAACP February Bulletin, “The 1943 Line-Up vs. The Negro,” which extensively examined the agenda of the 78th Congress, predicting a number of legislative reversals directed against African Americans. Then in mid 1943, another full report was done of NAACP three-day emergency conference that focused on the “Problems of Minority Groups and Full Freedom For The Negro.” The strong and vibrant Branches of NAPE were important pillars in NAACP's early development.
The Urban League
The Urban League was another organization that fought on behalf of African Americans in the cities of America. In the dark days when African American tradesmen were excluded from White unions and automatically became unemployable, the Urban League lobbied the private sector and government on their behalf. Like the NAACP, that organization maintained close relations with NAPE Branches and national leadership. There are numerous examples of close relationships during 1913-1945. William Murdock reported in The Postal Alliance that at a regular monthly meeting of NAPE's Cleveland Branch in February 1942, Mr. Sydney Williams, Executive Secretary of the Cleveland Urban League spoke, “On the situation with regard to the Red Cross Blood Bank. He related developments since the local Red Cross refused to accept the blood of patriotic Negro donors. Now, the Red Cross is accepting the blood of Negro donors and segregating it. This he said, he is opposed to, and believed most Negroes were opposed to as well as a large number of progressive thinking white people. His counter proposal to the local Red Cross, made on a previous date, was that they establish an all-American Volunteer Blood Bank, where the blood plasma of all races be stored together. He said, he believed this was the correct approach to this problem... After the discussion following Mr. William's speech, we passed a motion in support of the proposed all-American Volunteer Blood Bank and instructed the Executive Committee to draw up a resolution and send it to the local Branch of the NAACP....”8 At another monthly meeting, “President Mitchell...raised the question of the membership campaign of the Cleveland Urban League and pointed out the splendid work done by that organization in placing large numbers of Negroes in jobs in defense plants, in directing others to training and preparation for jobs. He also reminded us of the support given the Alliance by the Urban League under Mr. Sydney Williams. President Mitchell then received pledges for membership in the Urban League.”9
At the regular monthly meetings of NAPE Branches, the Urban League visited and spoke on larger issues affecting African Americans and sought membership and assistance in membership drives. Vice President R.A.C. Young, on one of his missions to New York sought the support of the Urban League for NAPE, a five points program. Subsequently, the Executive Secretary of the Urban League took up the matter with the officials at the POD.
The YMCAs in the USA were also segregated. Young people were trained fundamentally in the Christian doctrine. These bodies were partially financed by the donations of White philanthropists. Very often African Americans raised 50% of the cost of a building and the philanthropists provided the other 50%. The YMCAs played a very important role in the African American communities particularly among the youth. For many years NAPE National Executive Committees and Branches held their meetings in homes. For many years, The National Headquarters of NAPE was virtually housed at homes of national secretaries. Eventually, NAPE Branches began holding their monthly meetings in the buildings of the YMCAs. During the 1940's more than 50% of NAPE Branches held their monthly meetings in the YMCAs in cities across America.
Robert C. Alexander reported that the Monclair Branch of NAPE at its November 1941 regular monthly meeting, had a guest speaker, H. Spencer Bell, a Director of the YMCA who “...invited us as a Branch to align ourselves in the YMCA work.”10 At the June 1942 monthly meeting of the Pittsburgh Branch, Alfred E. Turner reported that “...We are very sorry to learn the Pittsburgh YMCA is losing its congenial and industrious Executive Secretary, Mr. Henry C. Parker, Jr.; President Thomas had him come in at our last meeting. And as we bid him good-bye there was a note of sadness because there has been a close association between the Alliance and the YMCA since R. Parker's been Secretary....”11
Cameron C. Early, in October 1942, reported the NAPE's Columbus, Ohio Branch, “...voted to solicit one-dollar from each member of the Alliance to purchase a piece of furniture for the lobby of the YMCA...this is the place where we always hold our Alliance meetings and we have never been asked to contribute anything to defray some of the expense of heat and light....”12 When J. E. Armstead contested the election for the position of President for District 8, he listed among his experience that he was “...A member of the Committee of Management of the Colored Branch YMCA for the past five years.”13 The Women Auxiliary of NAPE also used the facilities of the YMCA as venues for meetings, tea parties and other events to raise finance. NAPE benefited enormously from the YMCAs as virtually permanent meeting places and from the moral and religious training that many of its members received in the YMCAs' programs.
Churches and Lodges
African American Churches and African American Lodges were an integral part of the community. NAPE and its leaders gave and received solidarity in many instances. Between 1913 and 1945, just prior to the commencement of each Convention, a public meeting was held in order to invite the communities to participate. All those events were held in churches. In Detroit, the AME Church was the venue for the launching of a mass educational program in September 1942. At the Fourth African Methodist District Convocation held in Chicago from the 9th to the 12th of July 1942, President Ford was invited as a special guest and addressed a presentation entitled, “Problems Facing Negroes in The Postal Service.”14
In the same year, at the Detroit AME Church, the Minister called upon the Congregation to purchase The Postal Alliance. NAPE supported in August 1943 the AME Church resolution which was passed at its Detroit Conference, “...demanding a Federal Grand Jury investigation of the June race riots...the resolution termed the report of Gov. Kelly's fact-finding Committee “false and riot-inciting,” and asserted the least citizens of Detroit, both Negro and white will never be satisfied until efforts have been made to get at the root cause of the riot.”15
Many NAPE leaders throughout the country served in the management of the Churches. The Chicago Branch of NAPE demonstrated another example of the relationship between NAPE and the Churches. On March 8, 1943, “Bishop John A. Gregg of the AME Church was a guest of honor at a banquet sponsored by the Executive Committee of the Chicago Branch. NAPE and a Citizens' Committee...as an expression of appreciation to the noted prelate for his efforts on behalf of Negro Postal Workers in the middle west in line with action of the Fair Employment Practice Committee....”16
The Lodges were important organizations in the African American community. In the early twenties, when President Glenn made his journey to the North in order to expand the union, he received solidarity from J. Finley Wilson, Elks Grand Exalted Leader and Editor of The Washington Eagle. When a railway mail clerk was hours away from being lynched, Finley and Johnson urgently intervened by going to the Maryland Country Club to plea for Governor Bartlett's intervention to save clerk's life. The Lodges were also venues for important NAPE events. James Ross, exalted leader of Columbia Lodge No. 65, opened the doors of the Elks home to facilitate the District 2 Convention of NAPE on June 6, 1942.17 Many leaders of NAPE also held high positions in various Lodges around the country. Ashby Carter was a Grand Master of a Lodge.
African American press
The White press was generally unsympathetic to the cause of African Americans with the exception of some liberal reporters and columnists. African Americans had no choice but to found the “Black Press.” NAPE understood that the press was important in their fight to win public opinion and that visibility would expand membership. In the early twenties, President Glenn in his report on his mission to the North emphasized the role of media and the need to court them. He had highlighted how the Washington Eagle had given the union thousands of dollars of free publicity. NAPE had founded its own magazine, The Postal Alliance. It was published throughout 1914 to 1945. Its readership, however, was limited and its contents focused principally on issues related to the POD. However, by 1945, The Postal Alliance was firmly established with a correspondent in each of its Branches, reporting on NAPE's activities and issues in the community. Following the Memphis Convention in 1927, Editor Brown established the NAPE news service. Subsequently, he was appointed a freelance writer of the Associated Negro Press.
The relationship with the “Black Press” was not always smooth. In July 1945, the St. Louis Branch of NAPE felt betrayed that an African American reporter of the St. Louis edition of the Pittsburgh Courier accepted the promise of a personal benefit. The matter was brought to the attention of the National Executive Committee meeting in August 1945 for action against that publication. A strong letter of protest was sent to the Pittsburg Courier. It read: “The Executive Committee shall advise its ten District Presidents and its eighty Branches of this grave injustice done by a mighty arm of the Negro Press which has always been considered to be in the vanguard of the fight for the destruction of second-class citizenship.... That every effort of the Alliance be directed to convince the Pittsburgh Courier of the gravity of the injustice by other strong measures on confirmation that the attitude of Mr. George B. Stafford has become the accepted policy of the Pittsburgh Courier....18
That experience contrasted with that of other papers like the New Orleans Sentinel and the Chicago Defender. The owner of the Chicago Defender was very concerned about the injustices meted out against African Americans in the Chicago Post Office. He volunteered to lead a national delegation of NAPE Branch Presidents on a “Pilgrimage For Justice” to the Postmaster General in Washington D.C. In 1945, the NAPE Chicago Branch made a donation of $25 to the paper. Over the years, the Chicago Defender published hundreds of articles sympathetic to the cause of African American postal workers. One of its outstanding articles was the report on March 19, 1945 of a meeting between the Postmaster of Chicago and a delegation of 12 organizations that met him to discuss conditions of discrimination in the Post Office.
The article entitled “Kruetger Stands Pat On Jim Crow In Post Office,” exposed the racism of the Postmaster. The opening paragraph read: “I like colored people and I like to hear them sing.” On this statement by Chicago Postmaster Ernest J. Kruetgen, reminiscent of plantation days in Dixie, hung all the satisfaction a group of Negro and White Civic Leaders were able to obtain at a conference arranged by the NAACP on Monday to discuss discriminatory procedure in the upgrading of Negroes in the Chicago Post Office....19
The “Black Press” made an extremely important contribution to the development of NAPE as an African American union and the promotion of its interests and cause. NAPE Branches knew the power of the press and its Branches cultivated relationships with publications in the cities of America. NAPE hailed the accomplishments of the Negro Press when they commemorated their 118th anniversary in Detroit in January 1945. Some of the outstanding publishers in attendance included John Sengstacker of the Chicago Defender, and forty-five others.20
Congressmen and Senators
The POD was tied to Congress and the Presidency. The letter determined wages and general conditions of work. NAPE by the 1940's began to establish formal Legislative Committees to engage in systematic lobbying on the Hill. NAPE was one of the first organizations to set up office in Washington D.C. in order to advance its cause. In the early days of the union, there was reliance on Attorney at Law and Republican Committeeman Johnson to assist in D.C. with behind the scenes political lobbying. Johnson was successful in various representations on behalf of the union. During the 1940's, contacts were made with members of Congress. Several White Congressmen spoke on behalf of postal workers. NAPE also lobbied for causes that affected the race as a whole. Bills that dealt with lynching, poll tax, FEPC and other issues received its attention. Several White members of Congress were considered allies of NAPE and African Americans in general.
Democratic and Republican parties
Until the rise to office of President Roosevelt, African Americans were guided by the pronouncement of Frederick Douglas that the Republican Party was “…the Deck All Else The Sea.” NAPE like most African Americans, particularly in the South, was wary of the Democratic Party. However, in the late thirties and forties, President Roosevelt changed the perception of the Democratic Party. Many African Americans loved the President. NAPE leaders during Roosevelt's era cultivated relations both Democrats and Republicans alike. H.L. Mims, the first President of NAPE, sustained the position that good relations should be established with both parties. R.A.C. Young and Ashby B. Carter, prominent NAPE leaders, were thought to be Republicans. It would be accurate to state that by the 1940's, NAPE and African Americans in general begun to shift their party political loyalties towards the Democratic Party.
Trade union movement
One would have thought that the natural ally of NAPE were the trade unions. This was not so. NAPE was founded mainly because African Americans were denied membership in the Railway Mail Association (RMA) that was affiliated to the AFL. It was not until 1943, in the state of New York, the Courts ruled that the White clause in the RMA's Constitution was illegal. NAPE members did not stand still and wait for 32 years on the court ruling in New York against RMA. Instead they moved forward and founded NAPE. Then when the Congress of Industrial Orgnaizations (CIO) emerged independent of the AFL, several NAPE leaders raised the issue of possible affiliation. There was never, however, any groundswell for such an initiative.
The real world had taught NAPE membership and leadership some very important and unforgettable lessons about racism in the POD and America as a whole. In spite of this, in various Branches, particularly the Chicago Branch, there was a working relationship with the CIO on various issues. NAPE also attended the various conferences organized by those interested in African American working class interest. NAPE supported all independent initiatives to establish African American labor bodies. NAPE's national office in D.C. was at the disposal of A. Philip Randolph. NAPE's Chicago Branch had an ongoing relationship with Milton Price Webster, Randolph's close comrade who was best known as one of the founders and long-time Vice President of the International Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and Maids (BSCP). He helped organize the BSCP's local in Chicago, one of the largest in the nation with over 15,000 Pullman porters in the 1930s.
NAPE for thirty-two years stood on its own and survived with alliances fundamentally in the African American community. The membership and leadership had reached the conclusion that the North was as bad as the South and in a nation-state ruled by 'white supremacists,' there was very little meaningful and consistent solidarity to be obtained from the White trade unions. Race consciousness and not class-consciousness prevailed in the minds of most White Americans and that defined their practice. NAPE sought to clear the path ahead with or without the solidarity of the established trade unions. This did not mean that NAPE did not seek to work as an equal on issues. A good example of this was in 1945, when the Chicago Branch was engaged in the struggle against the racist Postmaster Kruetgen. It joined hands with a Committee consisting of Ira Latimer, Executive Secretary of the Chicago Civil Liberties Committee, Fred Duke Slater, Assistant Chicago Corporation Counsel, William Widman, International Representative of the CIO, Irene McCoy Gaines, President of the Chicago Council of the Negro Organizations, Homer Jack, Director of the Chicago Council Against Racial Discrimination, Henry McGee, President Chicago Branch of NAPE, Ashby B. Carter, District President of NAPE, Thomas Wright and Harry Walker, Director and Associate Director of the Mayor's Race Relations Committe.21
NAPE made strategic alliances during its thirty-two years that benefited the union in successfully advancing its cause. At the same time, its leaders and members throughout America strengthened African American organizations like the YMCA, the Urban League and the NAACP. It was always a two-way street. The beneficiaries were not only NAPE, but also African Americans in general and the United States of America as a whole.
1 The Postal Alliance, July 1945
2 The Postal Alliance, May 1942
3 The Postal Alliance, January 1943
4 The Postal Alliance, May 1943
5 The Postal Alliance, May 1943
6 The Postal Alliance, March 1942
7 The Postal Alliance, November 1942
8 The Postal Alliance, December 1941
9 The Postal Alliance, July 1942
10 The Postal Alliance, October 1942
11 The Postal Alliance, September 1941
12 The Postal Alliance, August 1942
13 The Postal Alliance, September 1943
14 The Postal Alliance, April 1943
15 The Postal Alliance, July 1942
16 Minutes of NAPE NEC Meeting, August 1945
17 The Postal Alliance, April 1945
18 The Postal Alliance, February 1945
19 The Postal Alliance, April 1945
20 The Postal Alliance, July 1942
21 The Postal Alliance, January 1943
Paul Nehru Tennassee is a Historian and Political Scientist.