By TOM GODFREY
Efforts are underway to have this country’s first Black mailman, Albert Jackson, a former U.S. child slave, commemorated on a Canadian postage stamp almost 100 years after his death.
The Jackson family has also launched a fundraising drive to obtain a plaque to highlight his role in history in that he fought racism and bigotry while working as a letter carrier in downtown Toronto from 1882 until his retirement. He died in 1918.
The hard-working Jackson was made a postman but given an inside job with a “mop and pail”. It took complaints from the community and an order from then Prime Minister John A. Macdonald to place him on a route.
Jackson was the youngest of seven children. His mother, Ann Maria Jackson, fled to Canada from Delaware through the Underground Railroad, a system that smuggled slaves up north from the U.S. to escape slavery.
It was the sale of Jackson’s two older siblings into slavery that forced the family to flee to Canada in 1859.
Jay Jackson, the great-grandson of Albert, said his great-grandfather stood up for what he believed in and experienced a lot in his life.
“Him being commemorated on a stamp is something that needs to be done,” Jay told Share. “This man has been through so much that this is long overdue.”
Jackson was appointed by the federal government to be a mail carrier in May 1882. It was at the time an important job for a member of the Black community.
He was instead reassigned to a menial job of hall porter at the post office, which touched off a controversy in the fledgling Black community.
At the post office, the all-White workers insulted him and refused to give him a uniform, train or show him his mail route.
“He showed up to work on the first day and they gave him a mop and pail,” said Jay. “They wouldn’t give him a uniform because they didn’t think he represented the Canadian government.”
Jackson’s plight was picked up by the Toronto newspapers and many sided with the quiet postman, who served the south Annex area.
“What resulted was a furor, with the Black community insisting that Jackson be given his appointment,” wrote Colin McFarquhar, in an essay of Blacks in 1880s Toronto. “Many in the White community were arguing that other letter carriers should not be forced to work with him.”
So contentious was the Jackson issue at the time that a number of Blacks were assaulted on the streets by Whites.
“The question of whether Jackson should be a mailman became a highly charged issue in Toronto,” McFarquhar wrote. “The matter was discussed prominently in the newspapers for the next couple of weeks.”
Jackson suggested that “if North American Whites gave Blacks equal opportunity they would eventually see Blacks possessing all the attributes Whites said they did not have”.
“One point that was debated was whether Blacks were inherently inferior to Whites,” read one publication. “The question of whether Blacks were inferior or had a smaller brain was debated in letters to the Toronto World.”
A committee of business and social leaders was set up to study the issue, but Macdonald was forced to intervene and ensure Jackson was assigned a delivery route.
Mark Brown, of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) and Toronto and York Region Labour Council, said a package is being prepared for a Canada Post selection committee seeking that Jackson be immortalized for his contribution to Toronto’s history.
“This worker was wronged and the community is coming together to give him his rightful place in history,” Brown told Share. “He is truly deserving to be on a Canadian stamp.”
Brown said Jackson was the first Black postman in all of Canada.
The Jackson family’s plight was first exposed by historian and author Karolyn Smardz Frost in her book, I’ve Got a Home in Glory Land: A Lost Tale of the Underground Railroad.
Her book was the first volume on African Canadian history to win a Governor General’s Award.
Jackson’s plight was turned into a play called The Postman that debuted in 2015. A downtown laneway was also named after him.