Celebrating Lincoln through Stamps and Postal History

Celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation

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The Emancipation Proclamation stamp was issued August 16, 1963.

Lincoln understood the historic importance of the Emancipation Proclamation. “I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing the right thing than I do in signing this paper,” Lincoln claimed. “If my name goes down in history, it will be for this act. My whole soul is in it.” Even though Lincoln believed firmly in his cause, freeing slaves took more than the movement of his pen. Following the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, the country still faced more than two years of civil war. Even following the Confederacy’s surrender in April 1865, African Americans faced another century of inequality throughout much of the United States. The fight to gain equal rights was still ragging when the Post Office Department issued the Emancipation Proclamation Issue postage stamp on August 16, 1963.

In his address at the dedication for the stamp commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Richard Murphy, the Assistant Postmaster General, stated that the fight for equality continued. “We are today in the midst of a genuine revolution, a revolution to end finally and for all time the injustices and imposed inferiority of the last century.” He continued, “One hundred years ago the Emancipation Proclamation established the legal equality of the Negro in America. Today we seek no less than to make the equality meaningful in the economic and social as well as the legal spheres.” He noted that the Post Office Department espoused racial equality. Employing 87,000 African Americans in 1963, the Post Office Department was the largest employer of African Americans in the country. Concurrently, locations that held a postal contract were required to offer services to all patrons on an equal basis.

The stamp depicts a broken iron chain symbolizing the freedom granted to slaves by Lincoln’s historic proclamation. Internationally renowned graphic artist Georg Olden designed the stamp. He often did graphic design work for television programs, but also worked for the “Saturday Evening Post” and “The New Yorker.” Mr. Olden’s effort marked another milestone in the history of American postage stamp production as he became the first African American to design a United States postage stamp. At the first day of issue ceremony for the stamp, the Assistant Postmaster General spoke about Olden’s work on the stamp. “Mr. Olden’s bold design will serve to remind the millions of Americans who will see and use this stamp of the historical chapter in mankind’s fight for freedom which was written a century ago.”

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Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863; Presidential Proclamations, 1791-1991; Record Group 11; General Records of the United States Government; National Archives.