A century and a half after the end of the Civil War, the Smithsonian National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C., last week opened an exhibition of stamps and mail that tell the everyday story of slavery, abolition and civil rights.
Letters hand-carried by slaves and a mailbag with separate compartments for "white" and "colored" mail are a few of the more than 100 items on display in "Freedom Just Around the Corner: Black America From Civil War to Civil Rights."
The story starts in the mid-19th century when slaves were allowed to carry the mail to and from the post office (this was before home delivery), according to a museum statement about the exhibition.
One letter on display dated April 17, 1850, was carried to a post office by a slave named Susan. It contained details of her upcoming sale to a dealer in Richmond, Va.
From the 1830s to 1850s, postage rates decreased to "allow abolitionists to distribute literature cheaply via the post office," the statement says. It was an action that didn't sit well with Southerners, who felt they were being attacked by the mail campaigns.
Letters, stamps and cancellations — like the skull-and-crossbones cancel used by the Ku Klux Klan circa 1870 — as well as original artworks-turned-stamps of Martin Luther King, singer Marian Anderson and jazz man Duke Ellington also are on display.
The exhibition will continue through Feb. 16, 2016 at the museum, located at 2 Massachusetts Ave. NE, across from Union Station.