Black America from Civil War to Civil Rights

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

refer to caption

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.

Loan from the United States Postal Service, Postmaster General's Collection

 

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

refer to caption

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.

Loan from the United States Postal Service, Postmaster General's Collection

 

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

refer to caption

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.

Loan from the United States Postal Service, Postmaster General's Collection

 

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

refer to caption

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.

Loan from the United States Postal Service, Postmaster General's Collection

13¢ Harriet Tubman Die Proof, c. 1978

refer to caption
 

Loan from the United States Postal Service, Postmaster General's Collection