Photograph of Postmaster General Burleson
Born in San Marcos, Texas, Albert S. Burleson served as President Woodrow Wilson's Postmaster General from 1913-1921. Burleson had previously served as a U.S. Representative from 1899-1913. During his tenure, the Post Office Department inaugurated the world's first regularly scheduled airmail service.
The development and creation of the airmail service was the highlight of Burleson's tenure as postmaster general. In one of the lowest points of his service, Burleson argued in an April 11, 1913 cabinet meeting for the segregation of the Department's Railway Mail Service. Clerks of this service worked in close quarters on moving trains, sorting and processing mail as the train moved. At the meeting, Burleson noted his discomfort at the idea of African Americans and whites sharing the same glasses, towels, and washrooms. Segregation of the federal government was one of Burleson's goals. President Wilson allowed Burleson to proceed to segregate African Americans from other workers in the postal system and to downgrade or even fire African Americans in the service where he could. Burleson was also criticized by fledgling postal labor unions and associations for working to hunt down and dismiss employees who supported union activities.
During the First World War, Burleson angered First Amendment supporters with his enthusiastic support and enforcement of the Espionage Act of 1917. The Act made it illegal to convey information that would interfere with US war efforts, including the conveyance of false reports or statements. Burleson used the power of the Department to try and shut down radical magazines, newspapers and pamphlets by refusing these items access to the mails.
Kathleen L. Wolgemuth, "Woodrow Wilson and Federal Segregation' Journal of Negro History 44 (1959): 159.