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Callie House was the leader of one of the earliest organizations to demand reparations. Her group began in the late 19th Century and carried over until it fell apart in 1918.

Callie Guy was born a slave in 1861 near Nashville, Tenn. At 22, she married William House and the couple had five children while living in Nashville. In 1891, House happened across a pamphlet, “The Freedmen’s Pension Bill,” which examined the idea of former slaves receiving payment for forced enslavement.

Alongside Isiah Dickerson, House charted the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty, and Pension Association in 1898. The pair toured  mostly Black churches in the South, as they were was the only places they could effectively organize without white meddling. The Federal Post Office claimed the association and others like it was “swindling” money out of people and making false promises of pensions and the like. Dickerson was convicted of fraud but the ruling was overturned.

After Dickerson’s death, House assumed the mantle of leadership in 1909 and faced harassment, ridicule in newspapers and skeptics fueled the paranoia over the demands of the association. At one point, the group boasted 300,000 members, although these numbers have never been officially confirmed.

In 1916, the Post Office went after the association claiming they received money using so-called fraudulent circulars that offered false homes and promises. House was jailed in Jefferson City and eventually the group lost momentum with her imprisonment, ending in 1918. A decade later, House died in Nashville at the age of 67.

In 2015, Vanderbilt University opened the Callie House Center for the Study of Global Black Cultures and Politics.

 

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