Callie House (1861-1928)

Callie House was born in slaveholding Rutherford County Tenessee in1861. She was a political activist who campaigned for slave reparations in the Jim Crow south, establishing the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association in 1894. She traveled the southern states, gathering support and funds to assist freed men and women in starting and bettering their new lives after bondage, in hopes of making the program a national initiative. Because of her success, House became a target. In 1899, the U.S. Post Office, emboldened by theComstock Act of 1873, issued a fraud order against House and the Ex-Slave Pension Association. Continued federal intimidation forced House to step down as assistant secretary of the Ex-Slave Pension Association in 1902 but did not stop her from organizing more local chapters throughout the South. The wind left her sail, however, when Alabama Congressman Edmund Petus’s reparations legislation failed in 1903. In 1915, Mrs House worked with attorney Cornelius Jones and sued the Treasury Department for just over $68 million in cotton taxes tied to slave labor in Texas, but the case they filed was ultimately dismissed. In 1916, House and other Ex-Slave Pension Association officers were indicted for allegedly using the postal service to defraud ex-slaves by promising that pensions and reparations were forthcoming. Convicted by an all-white, all-male jury, House was sentenced to a year and one day which she served in a Missouri penitentiary from November 1917 to August 1918, obtaining an early release for good behavior. Returning to Nashville as a laundress, House died ten years later.

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