Equal Employment Opportunity: A Chance to Advance

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African American employees, both men and women sort the mail, 1970’s. Courtesy of United States Postal Service

In November 1971 the Board of Governors of the United States Postal Service adopted a new Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) policy with the goal of making equal opportunity “a way of life in the Postal Service.”(1) The director of the Office of Social Priorities at the United States Postal Service Headquarters, Alvin Prejean, spoke with Postal Life magazine about the details and implications of the new policy. He stated that the purpose of the EEO policy is to assure that equal opportunities are available for all postal employees in “employment, training, promotion, assignment, and job security.”(2) Prejean spoke about the process for recruiting talented minority and female employees. He explained that postmasters are expected to recruit applicants from all African American high schools and colleges.(3) These efforts, he added, have been taking place for a number of years, but would be continued with new fervor under the new policy.

Prejean noted that such recruiting methods had been successful. At the time of the 1972 interview, 70 African Americans were employed at the Postal Service headquarters in the top grades.(4) This number represented a large increase from the 46 African Americans employed in the top grades during the previous year.

Prejean concluded by saying that the program “benefits all employees- at all levels and in all segments.”(5) He then recognized that the policy will help the Postal Service take the kind of continuous action that will lead to “just, proper and correct…business stance, and…public and social responsibility.”(6)

In the years following implementation of the 1971 EEO, the Postal Services' EEO policies continued to develop. In 1981 that policy was expanded to include the position of advocate and representative for those employees bringing Equal Employment Opportunity complaints. Napoleon Bonaparte Chisholm, a retired African American Postal Service employee, discussed the significance of the Equal Employment Opportunity policy and this new position during his time with the USPS. Chisholm was interviewed as part of the Southern Oral History Program on May 10, 2006 by Elizabeth Gritter at his home in Charlotte, North Carolina.(7)

Chisholm began his career with the Postal Service as a letter carrier in 1957. He worked as a letter carrier until 1974 when he was named postal examiner. He held that post until 1977. During the next few years Chisholm was involved in the court case, Chisholm v. United States Postal Service (4th Cir. 1981).(8) The Title VII case resulted in the promotion of a number of African American postal employees, increased salaries, and the creation of an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Employees Complaints Representative.(9 This position would be a paid USPS employee whose principal responsibility would be to represent other Postal Employees in EEO matters. Chisholm recognized that the EEO Complaints Representative position was important because postal service employees needed their own advocates. He began the position in 1981, after the court ruling.(10)

1) “What Our EEO Policy Does,” Postal Life, July/Aug 1972, 16.

2) Ibid, 16.

3) Ibid, 17.

4) Ibid, 17.

5) Ibid, 18.

6) Ibid, 18.

7) Chisholm, Napoleon B. Transcript-Napoleon Bonaparte Chisholm. Southern Oral History Program, Wilson Library, 2006, 1.

8) Ibid, 4.

9) “Cases” Ferguson Stein Law Firm, fergusonstein.com/cases/htm (July 30, 2007).

10) Chishom, 6.