Every day, we use our mailbox, checking it for packages and letters and bills. You look at it every single day but did you know a black man invented it? Thanks to Phillip L. Downing (some sources and memes say Paul but so far I have only been able to verify that his name was Phillip), you don‘t have to travel to the post office every day. You can just walk a few steps from your home. But Downing didn’t call it a mailbox. He called it a Street Letter Box.
Downing was born in Providence, Rhode Island on March 22, 1857. His father, George T. Downing was an abolitionist and business owner. His grandfather, Thomas Downing, was born to emancipated parents in Virginia and also had a successful business in the financial district of Manhattan in 1825. Thomas Downing also helped to found the United Anti-Slavery Societies of New York City.
Coming from a family of business owners, it‘s no surprise that Phillip would become an inventor. During the late nineteenth and the early twentieth century, Downing successfully filed five patents with the United States Patent Office. Among his most significant inventions were a street letterbox (U.S. Patent numbers 462,092 and 462,093) and a mechanical device for operating a street railway switches (U.S. Patent number 430,118), which he invented before the predecessor of today‘s mailbox. On June 17, 1890, the U.S. Patent Office approved Downing’s application for “new and useful Improvements in Street-Railway Switches.” His invention allowed the switches to be opened or closed by using a brass arm next to the brake handle on the platform of the car. Then, on October 27, 1891, his two patents for a street letter box also gained approval.
Downing’s design resembled old school mailboxes (see image). A tall metal box with a secure, hinged door to drop letters. Until this point, people wanting to send mail had to travel to the nearest post office. This is how the enslaved “heard it through the grapevine,“ communication started on slave plantations where information passed from person-to-person, by word of mouth. The Black person who was sent to the post office to get the mail would linger long enough to get a drift of the conversation from the group of white people who congregated there. The mail carrier on his way back to the master‘s house would retell the news he heard so that the other slaves knew what was going on in the world. While many records accredit this to the news that came through the telegraph, it actually began before then. The “grape-vine telegraph” (Washington, p. 9) was unofficially invented first as mouth-to-mouth rumors, gossip, and worldly conversations and news of the war from Southern blacks on the plantation.
Knowing this, it is not surprising that a Black man would make these “conversations” easier by inventing a mailbox. To this day the term, “I heard it through the grapevine,” is still a common saying for someone who has heard gossip. The phrase has even been recorded as a song by Gladys Knight & the Pips in 1967 and by Marvin Gaye in 1968.
Before, those wishing to send mail usually had to travel to the post office but Downing’s invention changed that. Instead, the street letter box would allow for drop off near one’s home and easy pickup by a letter carrier. His idea for the hinged opening prevented rain or snow from entering the box and damaging the mail.
Misty Brown, “Ever Wonder,” Afro-American February 6, 1988; Eyvaine Walker, Keeping a Family Legacy Alive: Unforgotten African Americans (Atlanta, GA: Twins Pub, 2011), 316 – 317. “Philip Downing, Boston, Retires After 31 Years Service in Custom House,” The New York Age, April 9, 1927.
Writers! Got something good for you. A friend of mine, Oliver T. Reid and his publisher Mr. Kelly Cole, both Bestselling Authors, are hosting a FREE Masterclass for those of you in the Atlanta area. I met Reid last year at the 4th Quarterly Mixer event hosted by Tinzley Bradford. Guys, the man knows his stuff, just wait until you hear him speak. You don’t want to miss this. I hear new and aspiring authors talk about the high cost of publishing all the time. Truth is, there are tons of free opportunities out there. Reach out and take them! Take advantage of the free resources that are available. This is one of them. If you are in the area, come on out.
Details: *Don’t mind the price on the flyer. This event is FREE as of this moment. Act now.*
Today, I’d like to extend a warm welcome to David Davis. Let’s get started!
What is your name and where are you from?
My name is David R. Davis (My dad didn’t think I would learn to spell, so he basically made it easier for me to remember). I live in beautiful Tucson, Arizona. I do love the desert and do not miss the snowy Minnesota winters.
Ha! That’s funny about your dad. What job do you think you’d be really good at?
I loved my career as a social worker and therapist. I never made a lot of money, but I trust I added value to life. I know I added to mine and I hope that I added it to some others. I take a quote from Teilhard de Chardin – “Each of us must do one small thing in a great way. Each must weave one stitch in the magnificent tapestry of life.” I believe I added my one stitch.
Awesome. In your own words, what is humility?
Humility is the older Hispanic man that nods gratefully when he’s told he has grown beautiful flowers. Humility is the coyote on the desert trail that stops to look at me and then confidently trots away. Humility is the Vietnam vet standing on the corner asking that I might give him a dollar.
Okaayy David. I like that. Who are your favorite authors?
My favorite author(s) Without doubt, are Cormac McCarthy and John Steinbeck. McCarthy has written very brutal books in a beautiful way. The Road creates almost perfect imagery. One can read his words and shiver with the desolation created. His sparse dialogue is magical. John Steinbeck wrote incredible characters. Even his lesser known books like Sweet Thursday bring to life a wonderful cast of ordinary people. I try to write and love character driven stories. Steinbeck is the gold standard for this type of writing.
What kind of music do you like?
I was raised on rock and was a rock drummer when I was fifteen. Now I listen almost exclusively to Jazz and Blues. Coltrane’s Dear Lord and Miles Davis’ So What, take me to new places no matter how many times I hear them. Hound Dog Taylor once said “When I die, they’ll say I couldn’t play shit, but I sure made it sound good.” Truer words were never spoken. No matter how good or how bad I feel, The Dog’s music makes me feel better. That’s the magic of Blues.
Let’s talk about writing a bit. When did you publish your first book? What was that like?
I published Running In, Walking Out in 2017. I draw upon what one reviewer said to answer how it made me feel. They said , “The character Sara made me want her to be my friend.” As I said previously, I love character driven stories. If one of my characters made a reader want her as a real life friend, maybe I accomplished a bit of my ultimate goal.
Excellent. What do you wish you knew more about?
Things I’m learning right now. I volunteer at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. I play with stingrays and snakes. I love it and I’m fascinated about all things desert (Animals, Plants & Desert Ecology). Also I must learn more about climate change. If we do nothing more than we’re doing, there will be no more of anything. It is my responsibility to do what I can, “To weave my one stitch.”
Stingrays and snakes! David no! Lol. What do you think of the world we live in?
It’s difficult to be an optimist and yet I must be. My dad was a marine in WWII, I was a combat medic in Vietnam. No one alive today has ever seen one day of life where there is no war raging somewhere on our planet. I will not quietly accept the hatred and division I see in our country today. There is nothing to be gained and everything to be lost if we take the position that “If you’re different, I don’t trust you.” We need every human.
What is the most thought provoking book you’ve ever read?
I list two. A book some would say is a children’s book. I say it teaches every lesson we need to know in life. The Little Prince By Antoine De Saint-Exupery. Also On Happiness by Teilhard De Chardin. It says we all need to find something in life greater than ourselves. I have to agree.
In your own words, what is truth?
A difficult question for sure. Truth is what is, not what we want it to be. I once read that belief is what we want something to be, faith is trust that what is, is what should be. I would add, I read an interview with a professor of ethics once and he said something like this, “We don’t need to teach ethics, we need to practice ethics.” I borrow that to say we know what truth is, we just need to practice it.
What city or country would you choose to represent you?
Edinburgh, Scotland for sure. The country of Scotland has been one of great historic turmoil, yet I’ve never seen a people with a more friendly and accepting nature. Everyone I met in the beautiful city was friendly, funny and helpful. How could anyone want to be more than that?
Are you a spiritual person David?
When I need to think, to relax, to create, I hike the Sonoran Desert. I trust that when I do, I will get what I need. When I see a Harris’ hawk flying, a tiny pincushion cactus blooming in bone dry rock or a 200 year old saguaro cactus standing majestically, I know there is something working that’s greater than me. I have no name for it, but I know it’s there.
You have a way with words David! Readers, are you getting this? What advice would you give your younger self?
Always be kinder than is necessary. Money and possessions don’t make you happier, no matter what the seller tells you. Only you can make yourself happier, it’s already something you have.
Thank you David for spending this time with us. We enjoyed you!
Davis was born in Texas and raised as a military brat. He served as a medic with the 101st. Airborne Division in Vietnam. After graduate school, David worked as a social worker and therapist for thirty-five years. He’s never had any regrets regarding his career choice. He now lives in wonderful Tucson, AZ, having moved from cold St. Paul, MN.
David spends his days writing, volunteering at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum where he gets to play with snakes, turtles, and stingrays. He weekly hikes the desert where he finds beauty, peace, and inspiration. He also belongs to the Oro Valley Writers Forum, a wonderful group of writers. He has indie published two novels, Running In, Walking Out and The Unusual Man.
Introduce Yourself continues next week with the introduction of more awesome authors. I have pushed it back a week for some important reminders and updates. You will also find these updates and reminders on the Introduce Yourself page.
#1: When emailing me about the introduce yourself interview, please put Introduce Yourself Author Interview in the subject line.
#2: Please be clear about why you are emailing me. Do not just send me questions. Address me by name, include your author bio, social media handles and your blog so I can follow you. Let me know you have at least attempted to read the instructions and be professional. Learn more about what to include in your email HERE and learn more about me by reading the About page of this blog HERE. You can also check out my author website HERE.
#3: Please attach your questions in a Word document and attach images separately. Do not include images in the word document. Attach them separately.
#4: When answering the questions, please post the question first and then your answer. Example: What is your name and where are you from? My name is _________. I ask you to do it this way so I don‘t have to go back and figure out which question you are answering. This is a free service but if I have to do extra work, I will start to charge a fee.
#5. Please do not send ambiguous emails where I have to figure out what you want. If you are emailing me about the introduction interview series, please say so plainly. Whatever service you are inquiring about, say so plainly.
#6: Again, please read the instructions published to the Introduce Yourself Author Interview page HERE.
Failure to follow these instructions mean I will ignore your email. All I ask is that you approach this opportunity with respect and professionalism. Nothing less.
Are you a new author looking for more exposure? Learn more HERE.
Whenever I travel, I always get the same question, “where can I find your books?” So, here’s a breakdown of where you can find me. For clarity, I write Poetry and Black Historical Fiction so my books are either poetic/inspirational or historical.
1. Always check my website first. Everything is there in one place. Just visit me atyecheilyahysrayl.com. Go to the bookstore page for print books only and the Amazon Author Central page for digital + print books. Go to services to learn about the services I offer and visit the events page for updates on any new events I have coming up.
2. After you have already checked my website, you can also find me on Webuyblack.com. Simply click on the link in my bio or go to > webuyblack.com/yecheilyahysrayl
3. you can also find me on Amazon. Follow this Amazon Author Central link and it will take you to my page where you can see all the books I have available on Amazon. (some of my books are only available on my website. be sure to check there first).
3. If you are in ATL, remember that I need your support at the stores. You can find I am Soul and Renaissance at Nubian books (IG handle – @nubian_bookstore), I am Soul at Medu (IG handle – @medubookstoreatl), Even Salt Looks Like Sugar and The Road to Freedom at Tall Tales Books (IG handle – @talltalesbooks). Be sure to stop in for a physical, signed copy and help me stay on the shelves. Not in ATL? Follow the first three steps.
Today, I’d like to welcome Camille Frazer. Welcome to The PBS Blog! Let’s get started.
What is your name and where are you from?
My name is Camille Frazer. I was born in Jamaica.
Jamaica in the house. Are you employed outside of writing?
Yes. I am a Child Advocate Attorney. I advocate for the best interest of children who have been removed from their parents due to abuse, abandonment or neglect. I support a team of attorneys in Florida.
I love that. What was your childhood dream?
To be an attorney.
Dream fulfilled. What job do you think you’d be really good at?
I think I would be good at Logistics Management. I feel I do quite a bit of it already in my job as I cover a vast region (Central and South) in Florida.
What skill would you like to master?
I would love to master marketing. It is important to reaching people, establishing relationships and building a base for your audience.
Agreed. What skill do you think you’ve mastered?
Delivering a closing argument in court. I love pulling out the facts that support my position and crafting a strong and moving argument.
Awesome. What’s your favorite food?
Ackee and Saltfish. It is the national dish of Jamaica.
What kind of music do you like?
Every kind except metal.
Lol. Who is your favorite writer?
Speaking of writing, let’s get into that. When did you publish your first book? What was that like?
I published my first book in December 2017. It was an exciting process as it was a dream of mine for so long. The book was self-published in collaboration with Createspace. I was attracted to the support and efficiency of the process and the sort of a la carte approach. Meaning, the ability to choose the services I wanted, such as copy editing and marketing and foregoing services related to creation of a book cover. The team kept in regular contact via messages on my dashboard and by phone, if necessary. It was such a wonderful feeling receiving the finished work in my hand.
What would your perfect writing/ reading room look like?
My perfect writing/reading room would be a room with bay windows overlooking water, with built in bookshelves, a daybed for reading and a writing desk.
What’s the most difficult thing about being a writer? The most exciting thing?
The most difficult thing I have found is the discipline to write every day, no matter the distractions. I got distracted in 2018, so my goal is to write every day in 2019. So far, I am on track. I carve out time to write, so it is built into my day.
The most exciting is crafting a story or poem from an idea, and creating new pieces of it that you can share and hopefully someone finds it beautiful or helpful.
Why is writing important to you?
Its important because I love it and I see it as an ability to help others lose themselves in a story or poem. It’s also a way to express my thoughts and emotions.
You seem to have a passion for being an attorney and writing so I have to ask. If you had to pick one to do the rest of your life, which would it be?
If I had to chose, I would chose writing. I have practiced law for many years and have focused more on it than my writing. I welcome the opportunity to focus on my writing and the experience the joy that it brings.
Good to hear. You are so talented. What would be the most amazing adventure to go on?
It would be traveling abroad for at least a year, volunteering, mingling with the locals and collecting stories and inspiration for a novel and other collections of poems.
I am so feeling that. I love to travel. What small things makes your life easier?
Audible makes my reading goals easier. My goal in 2018 was to read 24 books for the year. My 2019 goal is 36. I travel quite a bit, so Audible helps me meet my goals.
What makes it difficult? Traffic.
What TV channel doesn’t exist but really should?
I think there are so many channels already, but if there isn’t already one, there should be a channel that prepares children to live successfully after they leave home. It should cover budgeting, balancing a check book, provide information on credit card spending and debt, savings, insurance, and creating healthy relationships.
That is so needed. What TV channel exists but really shouldn’t?
Channels with infomercials. They can get you into trouble if you are not careful.
In your own words, what is humility?
Humility is a letting go of one’s ego and demonstrating a sincere interest in another person.
In your own words, what is love?
Love is an appreciation of self, letting go of ego, aiming to be your best self so that you can be the best for another person and also, sometimes putting the needs of another before your own.
What is the most thought provoking book you’ve ever read?
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a law firm dedicated to defending the poor and condemned, and individuals on death row. Its a call for us to consider mercy for these individuals as chronicled in the stories, they faced mental and familial challenges that contributed to their involvement in the criminal justice system.
What do you think of police brutality in the black community?
There is no denying the police have a difficult job, and there are good policemen and women who serve their communities honorably. However, given the statistics it should be hard to deny the disparity in treatment. For example, “black Americans are more than twice likely to be unarmed when killed during police encounters than whites” (2015 Guardian report), and “black people accounted for 31% of police killing victims in 2012 even though they made up just 13% of the population,” (Vox report by German Lopez).
I am concerned about the examples of brutality that have been documented and have led to the death or serious injury of civilians, particularly in the black community.
It’s unfortunate that good officers are blighted by the bad actors who tarnish their reputation. However, we can’t ignore the brutality suffered by black Americans.
I think better training and screening of officers would help to address the problem.
Outside of writing, what are some of your passions?
I love to play tennis. I enjoy exercising outside and tennis is a great sport for running around and burning calories while having fun.
If you could, would you visit the past?
Yes. I would love to have lived in Egypt during the time of their inventions such as the papyrus writing paper, their contributions to medicine, and the building of the pyramids.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Be more consistent with your writing and network more.
Life is not always pretty. We all experience hardship every now and again. What is your best advice for reducing stress?
Deep breathing and meditation. They help clear and relax the mind.
Thank you Camille for spending this time with us. We enjoyed you!
Camille Frazer currently serves as Regional Legal Counsel for the State of Florida Guardian ad Litem Program. Ms. Frazer has been with the Guardian ad Litem Program for twelve years. Prior to her current position, Ms. Frazer was the Supervising Attorney in the 19th Judicial Circuit.
In 2005, she began her tenure with the Guardian ad Litem Program as a Best Interest Attorney in the 11th Judicial Circuit. While there, she also represented the Guardian ad Litem Program in the capacity of Litigation Attorney. After a one year hiatus practicing in the field of Insurance Defense, Ms. Frazer re-joined the Guardian ad Litem Program in October 2009, continuing her advocacy for the best interest of children.
Ms. Frazer earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in History from the University of the West Indies, Jamaica. She obtained her law degree from New England Law, where she served as a Senior Editor for the New England Journal of International and Comparative Law.
Ms. Frazer serves as a mentor with the Florida Take Stock in Children Program, which prepares high school students for college and provides scholarships to assist with their educational needs. She is also a member of the Family Support Committee with Habitat for Humanity.
The Unveiling is her first collection of poems. The poems cover the many nuances of a relationship between people, between an individual and a community. Ms. Frazer believes that every moment has meaning, and each should be utilized to achieve its full potential.
ATTN. If you’ve never read my books, these FOUR are 99cents each in ebook for the entire month of February.
I write poetry and Black Historical Fiction.
About Renaissance: The Nora White Story Book I
When seventeen-year-old Nora White successfully graduates High School in 1922 Mississippi and is College bound, everyone is overjoyed and excited. Everyone except Nora. She dreams of Harlem, Cotton Clubs, Fancy Dresses, and Langston Hughes. For years, she’s sat under Mr. Oak, the big oak tree on the plush green grass of her families five acres, and daydreamed of The Black Mecca. The ambitious, young Nora is fascinated by the prospect of being a famous writer in The Harlem Renaissance and decides she doesn’t want to go to College. Despite her parent’s staunch protest, Nora finds herself in Jacobsville, New York, a small town forty-five minutes outside of Harlem. Shocked by their daughter’s disappearance, Gideon and Molly White are plagued with visions of the deadly south, like the brutal lynching of Gideon’s sister years ago. As the couple embarks on a frightening and gut wrenching search for Nora, they are each stalked by their own traumatic past. Meanwhile, Nora learns that the North is not all it’s cracked up to be. Can Gideon and Molly overcome their disturbing past in time to find their daughter before it’s too late?
About Revolution: The Nora White Story Book II
When Nora White is drugged by her friend she is forced to deal with the harsh reality of life in the North. She meets Keisha and the women catch a ride to The Den, a gambling and numbers hole-in-the-wall in Jacobsville New York. Unlike the upper echelon of Harlem, Nora’s new friends are hustlers but down to Earth and feels more like family. They take her to Liberty Hall where she is introduced to Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A.). Meanwhile, Nora has no idea her father has been arrested and back home Molly is hanging on by a thread. When the community discovers the truth of the alleged crime they devise a way to get Gideon out of jail but their actions could mean life or death for everyone involved. Will Nora come to her senses and return home in time to help the family or will her naiveté lead her astray once again?
About I am Soul (poetry)
I am Soul is a short collection of poetry and prose from Yecheilyah’s PBS Blog covering Black History, Faith, Love and all things Soul. Short, sweet, historical, and spiritual.
About The Road to Freedom (novella)
Deeply concerned about the state of Black America, a fight with his brother compels a young Joseph to leave his mother’s house and join his friends for a trip to Atlanta for SNCC’s (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) second conference. Excited to live life on their own, Jo and his friends have left school and the lives they were living for a chance to become part of the movement. With no money and essentially no plan the seven friends, three black and four white, set out for the road when they are stopped by a racist cop who makes them exit the car. The teens are unaware that a mob of Klansmen also await them at the New Orleans bus terminal. Find out in the 3rd installment of the Stella Trilogy how Joseph and his friends discover the truth about themselves in the Jim Crow south on The Road to Freedom.
Hurry though, this EXCLUSIVE offer won’t last long!