Saturday, February 16, 2008

My Face is Black is True: Callie House and the Struggle for Ex-Slave Reparations by Mary Frances Berry

Here is another book to recommend during Black History Month.

Callie House was washer woman in Nashville, Tennessee with five children when she was elected as assistant secretary of the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association in 1898. She and many ex-slaves were financially stricken and disenfranchised by recently enacted Jim Crow laws and violence led by the Ku Klux Klan. In the face of overwhelming odds, she led a call for the federal government to repay slaves for their unpaid labor.

According to Mary Frances Berry in her book My Face is Black is True, the campaign was at first ignored by federal authorities and discouraged actively by Booker T. Washington. Eventually fearing that her call could gain widespread support, the Justice Department declared that her organizing activities were fraud and persuaded the postmaster to ban her literature, with the result that she was arrested and imprisoned for one year for using the postal service.

After her release from prison in 1918, House again spent ten years as a poor washer woman in Nashville, which was then a magnet for black migration. Her movement was broken, but she was later an inspiration for Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.

Berry, Mary Frances. My Face is Black is True: Callie House and the Struggle for Ex-Slave Reparations. Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. ISBN 1400040035.

No comments: