This Day in History: 1913-04-11

Recently inaugurated President Woodrow Wilson receives Postmaster General Albert Burleson’s plan to segregate the Railway Mail Service. Burleson reported that he found it “intolerable” that white and Black employees had to work together and share drinking glasses and washrooms. This sentiment was shared by others in Wilson’s administration; William McAdoo, Secretary of the Treasury, argued that segregation was necessary “to remove the causes of complaint and irritation where white women have been forced unnecessarily to sit at desks with colored men.”By the end of 1913, Black employees in several federal departments had been relegated to separate or screened-off work areas and segregated lavatories and lunchrooms. In addition to physical separation from white workers, Black employees were appointed to menial positions or reassigned to divisions slated for elimination. The government also began requiring photographs on civil service applications, to better enable racial screening. Meanwhile, segregation in federal employment was seen as a significant blow to Black Americans’ rights and seemed to signify official Presidential approval of Jim Crow policies in the South. Wilson’s aggressive segregation of the federal government was an extreme betrayal of African Americans, many of whom had split from the Republican Party to back Democratic Party-candidate Wilson in the 1912 election based on his repeated campaign assurances to Black leaders. Learn more here, here, and here.