It has been some time since I’ve been in the downtown post office of Salisbury, Maryland, but last I checked there was a tribute to James James, Salisbury’s last town crier. It is not known if he was the first and only African American with this unique position, but he is immortalized in a New Deal mural in Salisbury’s old post office.
As described in the 1981 book Salisbury and Wicomico County, A Pictorial History, by John E. Jacobs, Jr., which had a caption and a description:
James James, known as “Jim Jeems,” the Salisbury town crier. This was an unofficial occupation, probably an accompaniment to his door-to-door peddling of meats. James was a butcher who lived at the corner of North Division and Church Streets. In 1872 he was prohibited by the town commissioners from killing cattle, or hots in his backyard. This picture taken by the Reverend John S. Fulton was used by the artist who painted the murals at the old Salisbury Post Office. Courtesy of Wicomico Historical Society.
A James James is listed in the 1870 U.S. Census at the age of 44 and identified as a retired grocer. The 1900 U.S. Census lists James James as a butcher of the same age. He lived in or close to the former black neighborhood in Salisbury called Georgetown, located within a few blocks of Poplar Hill Mansion and downtown.
The Salisbury Post Office, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, was originally built in the 1920s. The U.S. Treasury commissioned an expansion of the building circa 1936 “which included a second floor and…an additional two bays on each end of the original five-bay building” (from a Maryland Historical Trust report).
The U.S. Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture commissioned three murals by artist Jacob Getlar Smith for Salisbury’s post office circa 1939. The last I checked, they were still there. And James James is featured in one of the murals which also includes Poplar Hill Mansion in the background. –Linda Duyer