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Making history

The list: 5 notable African-American postal workers

William H. Carney
William H. Carney, a Civil War veteran, was appointed a letter carrier in 1869. Image: Library of Congress

To help mark African-American History Month, “The list” looks at five notable African-American postal workers from the 19th century.

1. William Cooper Nell. Nell was a civil rights pioneer and the first published African-American historian. He’s also the earliest known African-American civilian employee of the federal government, having been appointed a clerk at the Boston Post Office in 1863.

2. James W. Mason. Mason, who was born a slave in Arkansas, was appointed Postmaster of the Sunny Side, AR, Post Office in 1867. He’s the nation’s earliest known African-American Postmaster.

3. William H. Carney. Carney, an African-American soldier during the Civil War, was appointed a letter carrier in 1869. He was the first African-American to earn the Congressional Medal of Honor. In 1863, Carney enlisted in the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the first regiment comprised entirely of African-American soldiers. Their story was told in the 1989 film “Glory.”

4. Isaac Myers. The first known African-American postal inspector, Myers served from 1870-79. He helped crack several notorious cases during his tenure, including an investigation that led to the arrest of a thieving clerk at the Baltimore Post Office.

5. Minnie M. Cox. Cox was Postmaster of Indianola, MS, from 1891-93, and again from 1897-1904. She made national news headlines when she tendered her resignation to President Theodore Roosevelt and he refused to accept it. When she was pressured to leave office by some of the town’s white citizens, Roosevelt ordered the suspension of service at the Post Office rather than appoint a white man in her place.

The Postal History page and the National Postal Museum site’s African-American history section have more information about these and other pioneers. Got ideas for future editions of “The list”? Email them to

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