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Senate Passes Peters & Stabenow Bills to Name Post Offices After Distinguished Michiganders

Bills Honor Sojourner Truth, Robert Hayden and Alexander Jefferson

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Three bills authored by U.S. Senators Gary Peters (MI), Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Debbie Stabenow (MI) to name U.S. Postal Service facilities after distinguished Michiganders have passed the Senate. One bill would designate the post office located at 90 McCamly Street South in Battle Creek, Michigan as the “Sojourner Truth Post Office.” Sojourner Truth was an inspiring advocate for abolition and women’s suffrage in the nineteenth century. Another bill would designate the post office located at 2075 West Stadium Boulevard in Ann Arbor, Michigan as the “Robert Hayden Post Office.” Robert Hayden was the first African American national Poet Laureate, the first Black faculty member at the University of Michigan’s English department, and an Ann Arbor resident. The final bill would designate the post office located at 155 South Main Street in Mount Clemens, Michigan, as the “Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Jefferson Post Office.” Jefferson was a member of the famous Tuskegee Airmen of the U.S. Army Air Forces with the 332nd Fighter Group during World War II, a U.S. Postal Service letter carrier, and an educator with the Detroit Public Schools. The bills now move to the U.S. House of Representatives for consideration. 

“These three trailblazers left long-lasting legacies on Michigan. While each of these individuals forged a unique path in life, they will be remembered by future generations for their immeasurable contributions to our nation, said Senator Peters. “Naming these post offices after these distinguished Michiganders will help honor their legacies in the communities they made their homes.”  

“As our nation’s first African American Poet Laureate, Robert Hayden made an incredible impact on our country, providing extraordinary contributions to American history, culture, and education. Serving as a Tuskegee Airman in World War II and later as a Detroit-area educator, Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson was a role model and mentor who inspired others to serve and pursue their dreams. Sojourner Truth escaped slavery and went on to help African Americans transition into a free life after the Civil War, dedicating her life to women’s rights, racial equality and social justice. Naming these post offices after these three extraordinary Michiganders is a fitting tribute to their incredible lives,” said Senator Stabenow.      

Sojourner Truth was born into slavery as Isabella Baumfree in 1797 in Ulster County, New York. She escaped slavery in 1827 and took her new name – Sojourner Truth – in 1843 before embarking on a path to preach for emancipation. After meeting Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1850, Truth began to passionately advocate for women’s rights. Throughout her life, Truth fought bravely against racial injustices and spoke up for women’s suffrage. In 1851, Truth gave her famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech to criticize race and gender discrimination at a convention in Akron, Ohio. In 1857, Truth moved to Harmonia, a former utopian community that was later incorporated into Battle Creek, Michigan. She spent the rest of her life advocating in various spheres and died in 1883 at the age of 86.           

Robert Hayden was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1913. Hayden attended Detroit City College (now Wayne State University) and went on to earn a Master of Arts degree at the University of Michigan. Hayden married Erma Inez Morris in 1940 and they moved to Ann Arbor in 1941. Hayden published nine collections of poetry during his lifetime, as well as essays and other works of literature, with much of his work touching on the Black American experience as part of the greater human experience. Hayden also taught at Fisk University in Tennessee. He returned to teach at the University of Michigan in 1969, becoming the first Black faculty member in the university’s English department. Hayden achieved national and international recognition for his poetry. In 1976, he became the first African American to be appointed Consultant in Poetry by the Library of Congress – a role that is now known as Poet Laureate. Hayden passed away in Ann Arbor in 1980. 

Alexander Jefferson was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1921. Jefferson completed combat training at Selfridge Field in Mount Clemens and pilot training at the Tuskegee Army Airfield. He served in the military during World War II. During his time with the Tuskegee Airmen, Jefferson was shot down in France and captured by Nazi ground troops. He was a prisoner of war in German-occupied Poland before he was freed by General George Patton’s U.S. Third Army. Jefferson returned to Michigan, where he became a U.S. Postal Service letter carrier, earned a teaching certificate, and obtained a master’s degree in education from Wayne State University. He was discharged from active duty in 1947 and retired from the Reserves in 1969 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Jefferson taught elementary school science in Detroit, was appointed assistant principal, and retired in 1979 after 31 years of service to Detroit Public Schools. In 2016, Senator Peters helped present France’s Knight of the Legion of Honor Medal to Jefferson. This award is the highest honor France bestows on people who have carried out actions of great value to their nation. In 2016, Senator Stabenow also awarded Jefferson the Bronze Star Medal for his heroic service and meritorious achievements as a Tuskegee Airman and POW during World War II at the 61st Annual Detroit NAACP Freedom Fund Dinner.