Black History: Special Delivery!!
Following the end of slavery in the U.S., many formerly enslaved people felt betrayed by the government because they received no financial or material assistance as they exited slavery. The National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty, and Pension of the United States was chartered in 1898 to advocate for the payment of pensions to the formerly enslaved. The pensions were to serve as reparations for the economic robbery of slavery and, would also help with burial costs. Formerly enslaved woman, Callie House became a nationally recognized leader of the organization. The group claimed to have a membership in the hundreds of thousands who made financial donations to fund the organization. It unsuccessfully sued the government for access to money gained through a tax on cotton confiscated during the civil war.
Heavily scrutinized by the U.S. government, there were multiple attempts to shut down the organization. The group also received criticism from some members of the black community; particularly middle-class blacks; who thought the organization’s demands were not likely to be met. They also felt that it was a distraction from gaining voting rights. The federal pension bureau reported the movement to gain reparations through pensions, “is setting the Negroes wild….and making anarchists of them.” If the movement continued, the pension bureau suggested that the government, “will have some very serious questions to settle in connection with control of the race.”
The federal Post Office brought fraud charges against the organization. As a result, the group was prohibited from sending mail or money orders via U.S. Mail. An investigation was also opened by the Department of Justice in 1901. One leader, I.H. Dickerson was found guilty of “swindling”. The conviction was later overturned. Callie House assumed leadership of the organization in 1909. Continued government scrutiny significantly weakened the organization. Accused of fraud, House was imprisoned from 1917-1918. Her imprisonment brought about a further decline in the organization’s activity. House died of cancer at the age of 67 in 1928.
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