Mailbag

Racially segregated mail in the Jim Crow South

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Segregation pervaded daily life in the Jim Crow South. On his own initiative, the white mailman who carried this mailbag in the 1890s used one side for mail from the Black residents on his route and the other side for white residents, ensuring the mail would remain segregated.

White mailman Frank W. Shepherd carried this mailbag when he delivered letters in rural Virginia, beginning in 1896. Like all mail carriers at the time, he supplied his own equipment. He wrote “Colored” on one of his mailbag’s inside flaps and “White” on the other. When he collected mail along his route, he could separate it by race.

The US Post Office was officially desegregated, so Shepherd acted for his own reasons. He may have thought letters from Black people would contaminate white mail. Or he may simply have been reflecting the thoroughly segregated world he lived in.

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Mailbag Artifact from Charlottesville, VA
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