Grave Coordinates: (37.4149753, -79.1554846)
Since the 1850s, railroads have been an integral part of Lynchburg’s identity and prosperity. By the 1870s, African Americans were increasingly working on the railroads and helping shape their identity. One such individual was Robert A. Perkins (1834–1881), who was born enslaved and went on to hold the position of Mail Agent in the United States Railway Postal Service. This specialized service employed exceptionally efficient and intelligent workers who were trained to expedite the delivery of mail by sorting it en route on the trains. Perkins’ abilities and admirable work were quickly noticed by others and, in 1871, he was appointed by President Grant to be the first African American Chief Clerk of the Postal Service on the rail line between Lynchburg and Bristol. He served in this position for eight years, earning an impressive annual salary for the time of $1400.
Perkins was also a beloved member of the community and was revered as a “wholly self-taught man” by his peers. In addition to working on the railroad, he served as the Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Masons (African American) and was Chairman of the Building Committee of Court Street Baptist Church.
Obituary, Richmond Dispatch, 2/4/1881
News Item, The Abingdon Virginian (Abingdon, Virginia), 11/24/1871
News Item, The Daily State (Alexandria, Virginia), 6/9/1871
News Item, The Norfolk Landmark (Norfolk, Virginia), 2/11/1881