Sunday, August 4, 2013

Female Clerks Balk at Prospect of Working for Black Presidential Appointment

Rev. James M. Townsend
On May 11, 1889, President Benjamin Harrison appointed Rev. James M. Townsend to the position of recorder of the General Land Office in Washington, D.C. 

Harrison was impressed with Townsend's Civil War record in the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers, the first black regiment to enter military service and, later, his civil rights advocacy as a Republican state legislator from Indiana.

In an article, "Their Chief is a Negro," published in The Washington Post on May 15, 1889, the staff of 24 women clerks appeared to be unmoved.

"The only thing that they think or care about is that the Rev. James Townsend is a colored man," The Post reported. "Since his appointment was made nearly half of the ladies in his division have applied for a transfer to some other division." 

The women were reluctant to talk about the matter to the reporter, fearing for their jobs.

"We naturally have to pay a certain amount of court and deference to our chief," said one of the ladies on condition of anonymity, "and it will be very disagreeable for me to treat a negro as my superior. I shall get into some other division if I can; if not I suppose I shall have to stand it, as my bread and butter depend upon it."

Another woman added that she had no idea what kind of man Townsend was -- but it made no difference "as long as he was black."

"Mr. Townsend is expected at the Department to-morrow," the reporter wrote. "At his office his appearance is undoubtedly dreaded."