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Callie House

Callie House was born into slavery in Rutherford County Tennessee in 1861 and following the Civil War and ratification of the 13th Amendment, worked as a washerwoman. At 35, in 1896, House and Isaiah H. Dickerson, who was also formerly enslaved, founded the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty, and Pension Association. They organized thousands of people and demanded the federal government pay reparations to formerly enslaved people for their unpaid labor. In 1915 House and her organization filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court against the U.S. Treasury Department for $68 million – the amount of cotton tax collected between 1862 and 1868. They argued that the amount was due to former enslaved people as they and their ancestors produced cotton while being forced into slavery. House’s effort is the first documented Black reparations effort. To stop House and her organization, the U.S. Postal Service accused House of mail fraud and the U.S. Department of Justice arrested and following a trial with an all-male, all-white jury sentenced her to one year in prison. Once released House continued to fight.


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