#Callie House believed enslaved Black people needed reparations a long time ago. Callie House is known for being a leader of the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association. The organization was one of the first to campaign for reparations for slavery in the United States. Callie House was born in 1861 in Rutherford County in Nashville, Tennessee. She married and had six children, five which survived. After her husband died she became a washerwoman to support her family.
“A pamphlet entitled Freedmen’s Pension Bill: A Plea for American Freedmen began circulating around the black communities in central Tennessee. This pamphlet, which espoused the idea of financial compensation as a means of rectifying past exploitation of slavery, persuaded House to become involved in the cause that would become her life’s work.” (Blackpast.org)
House along with Isaiah H. Dickerson would often travel to ex-slave states to gather support for the National Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association (MRB&PA). They visited black churches-one of the few places Black people could organize without the interference of white people. The MRB&PA was chartered August 7, 1897 with the goal of providing compensation to ex-slaves, mutual aid, and burial costs. At its peak, it claimed membership in the hundreds of thousands. The federal Post Office accused slavery reparations organizations of fraudulent activities against their members.
The organization was forbidden to send mail or cash money orders. The Department of Justice opened an investigation of the MRB&PA. In 1901, Dickerson was found guilty of “swindling” but the conviction was later overturned. Upon Dickerson’s death in 1909, House became leader of the MRB&PA. The group continued to receive interference with mails, and the organization struggled under House’s leadership.
“House’s activism was not without controversy. Newspapers of the time often ridiculed her efforts and the federal government attempted to arrest her and other leaders of the Association. In 1916, U.S. Postmaster General A.S. Burleson sought indictments against leaders of the association claiming that they obtained money from ex-slaves by fraudulent circulars proclaiming that pensions and reparations were forthcoming. House was convicted and served time in the Jefferson City, Missouri penitentiary from November 1917 to August 1918. Callie House died in Nashville at the age of 67 on June 6, 1928 from cancer.” (BlackPast.org)
On 2015 Vanderbilt University’s African American and Diaspora Studies Program renamed its research arm the Callie House Research Center for the Study of Black Cultures and Politics.