I subscribed to the Black Heritage Postal series sometime in December. Each month, I receive about six stamps featuring black Americans along with the stamps value at the time of its original circulation. In addition to the stamps, I also receive news and updates from the National Postal Museum. The exhibition currently featured at the museum, Freedom Just Around the Corner: Black America from Civil War to Civil Rights, presents a clear eyed examination of race, violence, power, and American history in very provocative ways. In case you can’t make it to D.C., the website provides an enriching virtual experience.
The photograph above of the Baker family sets in relief the dangers of “opportunity” for black folk by Reconstruction’s end. As you might notice, Mrs. Frazer Baker appears in the photograph above but Mr. Frazer Baker does not. Mr. Baker was one of the many black folk President William McKinley appointed as postmasters. Whites in Lake City, South Carolina were enraged that Baker occupied this post and demanded that he quit. When Baker refused, lynch mobs “burned his house and shot his family as they escaped.” According to the Postal Museum curators,
Because Baker was a U.S. government employee, his murder led to a federal trial. None of the accused was convicted, but the incident brought national attention to the lynching problem.
For more on this story, listen to the audio below.
Ms. Heidelbaugh can’t be faulted for trying to find the silver lining in this story, she’s merely complying with the nation’s quest for “the pursuit of happiness.” This story told without the silver lining comes from Dr. Fosetina Baker, a niece of Frazer Baker.
I have no idea what my son will learn in school today about Presidents Day, but I bet it won’t come close to this tragic tale. While I’m not suggesting that six-year-olds spend the day discussing lynching, they should be required to learn that U.S. history and the presidential past and present has not been laced with happiness. In fact, James Garfield and William McKinley, both from my home state of Ohio, were the second and third presidents to be assassinated after Abraham Lincoln. George Washington might be one of the few who doesn’t make the list of those presidents who were targeted for assassination–but he was the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolution so it’s not like his life had not been in danger. I’m not quite sure how to tell this story, but it’s not like other nations don’t have this problem. Great Britain and France alone beheaded Kings and Queens for any number of reasons, how does this fact inform the history lessons they teach? Whatever their model, it certainly won’t be anything like what my son learns from the Brain Pop episodes he watches in school today.