African Americans in the Postal Service

Postal Inspectors have a proud history of hiring talented individuals of all colors and creeds. During Black History Month, we want to focus attention on some of the influential Black figures from our agency’s history.

Isaac Myers (1870)

Isaac Myers was born in 1835 to free parents in a slave state (MD). During his early life he apprenticed under James Jackson as a ship caulker. During the Civil War, Myers enlisted and served in the Maryland Potomac Home Brigade as a clerk. Finding himself unemployed after the war, Myers began the Colored Caulkers Trade Union Society in 1866.

The union’s success quickly gained the attention of the National Labor Union. In 1869, Myers was elected the president of the Colored National Labor Union. Myers was extremely influential, assisting important abolitionist figures like Frederick Douglas.

Myers was heavily involved in the Baltimore community. In 1870, he was appointed a detective of the Baltimore Post Office, serving until 1879 as the first known African American Special Agent.

Robert James Harlan (1873)

Robert Harlan was born into slavery December 12, 1816. Harlan was the illegitimate son of Kentucky Politician and slave holder, James Harlan. Although a slave, he was raised in the household of his father, James. In 1848, James Harlan appeared in court to formally emancipate Robert. Now a free man, Robert Harlan was extremely ambitious. During the 1849 Gold Rush, he was very successful, giving him ample income to begin investing.

During Reconstruction, Harlan befriended Ulysses S. Grant and became part of the Northern Black elite and a major African-American activist. In 1873, President Grant appointed Harlan Special Agent of the Post Office and U.S. Treasury. Later, in 1878, Harlan commissioned a battalion of 400 African-American men that would later be absorbed into the 372nd Infantry Regiment in WWII.

George Hamlet (1897)

In 1897, George B. Hamlet became the first African American to take the Postal Inspection Service helm, with his appointment to Chief Post Office Inspector. Before that, Hamlet was also the first African American to be elected Mayor of Monroe, LA, in 1873, and he was nominated as the Republican candidate for state senate in 1876.

Gary Barksdale (Present)

Today, the Inspection Service “top spot” is held by Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale. In this role, Chief Barksdale oversees all Postal Inspection Service operations, including National Headquarters, 16 field divisions, two service centers, and a national forensics laboratory.


Explore the history of the United States Postal Inspection Service.

Learn More