Monday, May 23, 2016

To Pension Ex-Slaves.

         The Secretary of State yesterday granted letters of incorporation to “The National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief Bounty and Pension Association of the United States of America in North Carolina.” The incorporators are Elijah Dudley, Edmond Hicks, Cornelius W. Jones, Peter Bragg, Sophia Brown, Catherine Bellamy, Abraham Forrman, Edward W. Pritchard, A. W. Rogers and Horace Brown. 
            The principal office and place of business of this association is to be Washington, Beaufort county, and the first meeting at which officers are to be elected will be held on January 15th  [1900].
            The object of the association is to render assistance to its members in good standing, and to devise and provide ways and means for the care and nourishment of ex-slaves, their widows and orphans, and to unite the efforts of all friends in securing pension legislation in favor of ex-slaves.

[Taken from News and Observer (Raleigh, NC) 2 Jan 1900, Page 6]

This medal was worn by ex-slaves who joined this Association attempting to obtain reparations in the late 19th century. It is a two piece medal with a simple top bar below from which hangs a crescent moon and star on which are printed: "National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief Bounty & Pension Ass'n of the U.S.A.
National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief bounty and Pension Association
Of the United States of America

By the 1890s there was some movement to enact legislation to provide pensions for ex-slaves. The idea was modeled after the pensions provided for Civil War veterans. Walter R. Vaughan of Omaha worked for many years to get such legislation passed. He published a pamphlet, Freedmen’s Pension Bill: A Plea for American Freedmen which circulated in the black communities. According to Walter B. Hill, Jr. in an article published in Negro History Bulletin, Vol. 59, No. 4, 1996 Special Issue on Black Genealogy, 10,000 copies of the pamphlet were sold at $1 each, and other editions were published. One person who read the pamphlet was Callie Guy House.

An MRB&PA broadside features both Isaiah Dickerson, the general manager, and Callie House, a national promoter and assistant secretary of the association, with the emblem of the United States in the center.

        “Callie House is most famous for her efforts to gain reparations for former slaves and is regarded as the early leader of the reparations movement among African American political activists.  Callie Guy was born a slave in Rutherford Country near Nashville, Tennessee.  Her date of birth is usually assumed to be 1861 but due to the lack of birth records for slaves, this date is not certain.  She was raised in a household that included her widowed mother, sister, and her sister’s husband.  House received some primary school education.

“At the age of 22, she married William House and moved to Nashville, [TN] where she raised five children.  To support her family, House worked at home as a washerwoman and seamstress.  In 1891, a pamphlet entitled Freedmen’s Pension Bill: A Plea for American Freedmen began circulating around the black communities in central Tennessee.  This pamphlet, which espoused the idea of financial compensation as a means of rectifying past exploitation of slavery, persuaded House to become involved in the cause that would become her life’s work.  

“With the help of Isaiah Dickerson, House chartered the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association in 1898, and was named the secretary of this new organization.  Eventually House became the leader of the organization. In this position she traveled across the South, spreading the idea of reparations in every former slave state with relentless zeal.  During her 1897-1899 lecture tour the Association's membership by 34,000 mainly through her efforts.  By 1900 its nationwide membership was estimated to be around 300,000.  

“House's activism was not without controversy.  Newspapers of the time often ridiculed her efforts and the federal government attempted to arrest her and other leaders of the Association.  In 1916, U.S. Postmaster General A.S. Burleson sought indictments against leaders of the association claiming that they obtained money from ex-slaves by fraudulent circulars proclaiming that pensions and reparations were forthcoming. House was convicted and served time in the Jefferson City, Missouri penitentiary from November 1917 to August 1918.  Callie House died in Nashville at the age of 67 on June 6, 1928 from cancer.”

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