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Black Heritage Stamp Series: Origins

U.S. postage stamps were in use for nearly a century before Booker T. Washington became the first African American to appear on one. A handful of additional black history-related designs appeared between 1940 and 1978, when the U.S. Postal Service introduced the Black Heritage series. Today the Black Heritage issues are the longest-running U.S. stamp series.
 

5¢ Emancipation Proclamation Concept Stamp Art by Georg Olden, c. 1963

5¢ Emancipation Proclamation concept stamp art by Georg Olden, c. 1963
5¢ Emancipation Proclamation concept stamp art by Georg Olden, c. 1963
Loan from the United States Postal Service, Postmaster General's Collection
Loan from the United States Postal Service, Postmaster
General's Collection

This bold, allegorical commemorative for the hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation was the first U.S. postage stamp designed by an African American. A marginal notation indicates that the design was approved by President Kennedy.

25¢ Frederick Douglass Approved Stamp Art by Walter DuBois Richards, c. 1967

25¢ Frederick Douglass approved stamp art by Walter DuBois Richards, c. 1967
25¢ Frederick Douglass approved stamp art by Walter DuBois Richards, c. 1967
Loan from the United States Postal Service, Postmaster General's Collection
Loan from the United States Postal Service, Postmaster
General's Collection

The Douglass stamp marked the first time an African American was included in a “regular” stamp series; that is, one meant for everyday postal use. The dramatic portrait was based on a photograph approved by Douglass’s descendants.

10¢ Salem Poor Concept Stamp Art by Neil Boyle, c. 1975

10¢ Salem Poor concept stamp art by Neil Boyle, c. 1975
10¢ Salem Poor concept stamp art by Neil Boyle, c. 1975
Loan from the United States Postal Service, Postmaster General's Collection
Loan from the United States Postal Service, Postmaster
General's Collection

The U.S. bicentennial was the occasion for this stamp, part of a series that honored little-known figures of the American Revolution. Salem Poor was a slave who purchased his freedom and later participated in the battles at Bunker Hill, Valley Forge, and White Plains.

15¢ Martin Luther King, Jr. Approved Stamp Art by Jerry Pinkney, c. 1979

15¢ Martin Luther King, Jr. approved stamp art by Jerry Pinkney, c. 1979
15¢ Martin Luther King, Jr. approved stamp art by Jerry Pinkney, c. 1979
Loan from the United States Postal Service, Postmaster General's Collection
Loan from the United States Postal Service, Postmaster
General's Collection

Illustrator Jerry Pinkney’s designs for the first Black Heritage stamps set the tone for the series and were emulated by later illustrators Thomas Blackshear II and Higgins Bond. They feature a central portrait surrounded by symbolic vignettes of the subject’s primary accomplishments.

13¢ Harriet Tubman Die Proof, c. 1978

13¢ Harriet Tubman die proof, c. 1978
13¢ Harriet Tubman die proof, c. 1978
Loan from the United States Postal Service, Postmaster General's Collection
Loan from the United States Postal Service, Postmaster
General's Collection