By Char McCargo Bah
Many African Americans in Alexandria in 1940 were gearing up for World War II. The mandatory military draft was in place. For most African Americans during that period, to be drafted or to volunteer to serve in World War II was an opportunity for them to travel and gain valuable work experience. This was particularly true for Arthur Lee Nelson, who was very eager to serve his country by enlisting in the U.S. Army.
However, the military discovered that he was underage. After that discovery, he was discharged. He had only served for less than six months.
His short stay in the military was a blessing for Nelson. His charisma, his sense of humor and the willingness to work hard landed him a government job in the U.S. War Department as a laborer. He then became a record and file clerk. After obtaining valuable work experience, Nelson got a job as a mail carrier with the U.S. Postal Service. He was one of the first African American mail carriers in Alexandria.
He was well received in his new position as a mail carrier. His warm personality and people skills made him a likable person by everyone he met. He held the position of mail carrier for more than 30 years, and he knew most of his customers by name.
As a postal employee, Nelson was respected in his community. He was awarded the Departmental Progressive Club award of Champion of Equality and Justice in 2007 as a recognition of his leadership qualities. He also received an award from the Alexandria Chapter of the NAACP for his contribution of improving and enhancing the lives of African Americans in his community.
Nelson was also devoted to his church. He was a member of Beulah Baptist Church since 1950 and he became a member of the church ministries. He was a church historian, chairman of the Joint Renovation Board and the mentor and assistant chairman of the Trustee Board. Even with a full time job and his commitment to his church, Nelson still found time to be on several civic organizations, which included the Alexandria Lodge #48, I.B.P.O.E. and the Departmental Progressive Club, where he held leadership roles. In the Alexandria Braddock Station community, he was an active member of the Braddock Station Civic Association, and he served as a commissioner and vice-chairman in the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority.
Nelson was one of 16 children born to Linwood and Carrie Nelson on Nov. 9, 1927, in Northern Virginia. Nelson’s parents were from Fredericksburg, Virginia. Before Linwood migrated to Alexandria, he was a waiter on a steamboat in Fredericksburg.
In 1913, Linwood and Carrie were living in Alexandria at 310 Henry St.
Linwood was a dedicated worker. He held a lot of responsibility in providing for his wife and 16 children. He was always looking for jobs to supplement his income. Throughout his career, he worked on a number of jobs, including on the railroad. His flexibility in his career choices helped him to earn more money. Nelson acquired his father’s work ethic, which helped him to progress in life.
Nelson was educated in the Alexandria segregated public school system, where he attended Lyles-Crouch Elementary School and Parker-Gray High School. After two to three years in high school, Nelson dropped out.
Nelson married Adell Morgan, whom he met in the early 1940s while he was working at Capitol Theater at Queen and Henry streets. They had three children.
Nelson was not the first African American mail carrier. Rosier Thompson, another African American mail carrier, began delivering mail as early as 1920. However, many African Americans in Alexandria knew Nelson as their mail carrier and as a community leader.
In the summer of 2016, Nelson relocated to Marietta, Georgia to live near his daughter, Rose. One year later in Georgia, he died on March 7, 2017. His body arrived back home where the Alexandria community would see their mail carrier one more time. He is buried at Bethel Cemetery in Alexandria.
The writer is a published author, freelance writer, independent historian, investigative/genealogist researcher and a Living Legend of Alexandria. Her blog is http://www. theotheralexandria.com.