The Fight For Civil Rights - The Black Experience on Stamps

Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

Since the founding of the United States, African Americans have played a pivotal role in American history and heritage. This series of exhibits showcases the black experience in the United States through the lens of American postage stamps.

The Fight For Civil Rights: MLK

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and attended Morehouse College, Crozer Theological Seminary, and Boston University. He was a minister at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery in 1955, and coordinated the Montgomery bus boycott. He moved to Atlanta, Georgia, to serve as co-pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1959, and from there he helped organize Civil Rights demonstrations and voter registration in Alabama and Georgia.

This is one of the stamps featured on the Celebrate The Century: 1960s Souvenir Sheet.

The Fight For Civil Rights: MLK

Ever since the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865, which abolished slavery as an amendment to the United States Constitution, African-Americans have been fighting for equal rights. Many of these influential black Americans have been portrayed on postage stamps.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was the most powerful and popular leader of the African-American protest movement of the 1950s and 1960s. He spearheaded mass action through marches, sit-ins, boycotts, and nonviolent demonstrations that profoundly and positively affected America’s attitudes toward racial prejudice and discrimination. In 1963, he became the first African-American honored as TIME magazine’s Man of the Year, and he was presented the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

The Fight For Civil Rights

Raised in abolitionist traditions by his minister father, A. Philip Randolph mirrored those beliefs for more than 60 years as a tireless champion of equal rights and equal opportunity. In 1925 he organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and in 1937, after 12 years of contentious and often bitter struggle with the Pullman Company, he achieved the first union contract signed by a white employer and an African-American labor union.

The Fight For Civil Rights

Roy Wilkins was a U.S. civil rights leader. In 1931, he was appointed assistant executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the largest civil rights organization in the United States. In 1955, he was named the NAACP’s executive secretary, a position he held for the next 22 years. As a writer and spokesman for the civil rights movement, he inspired presidents and members of Congress to pay attention to the rights of African Americans. When asked to describe his greatest satisfaction in life, he pointed to the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954 that ended segregation in public schools.

One Activist: From Slavery To Civil Rights

As an educator, scholar, feminist and activist, Anna Julia Cooper (c.1858-1964), gave voice to the African-American community during the 19th and 20th centuries from the end of slavery to the beginning of the Civil Rights movement.

Cooper, best known for her groundbreaking collection of essays and speeches, A Voice from the South by a Black Woman of the South, also exhibited educational leadership, most notably challenging the racist notion that African Americans were naturally inferior.

To Form A More Perfect Union Stamp Issue

The Civil Rights Movement cannot be boiled down to a single event or attributed to a single person. This stamp issue presents an artistic representation of several pivotal events in the fight for civil rights from the 1948 Executive Order ending segregation in the military to the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

“For in a real sense, America is essentially a dream. A dream as yet unfulfilled. It is a dream of a land where men of all races of all nationalities and of all creeds can live together as brothers.”- Martin Luther King, Jr

To Form A More Perfect Union Stamp Issue

1948 Executive Order 9981
On July 26, 1948, President Harry S. Truman issued an executive order, implemented over several ensuing years, abolishing segregation in the United States armed forces.
"Training for War"
William H. Johnson

To Form A More Perfect Union Stamp Issue

1965 Voting Rights Act
After this bill was signed into law, African Americans who had been kept from voting could finally have an impact on local, state, and federal elections.
"Youths on the Selma March", 1965
Bruce Davidson

To Form A More Perfect Union Stamp Issue

1960 Lunch Counter Sit-Ins
When four African-American college students placed an order at a "whites only" lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960, they sparked acts of civil disobedience in many other cities.
National Civil Rights Museum exhibit
StudioEIS

To Form A More Perfect Union Stamp Issue

1957 The Little Rock Nine
In the face of steadfast opposition, nine courageous African-American students in Little Rock, Arkansas, were the first to integrate the city's Central High School.
"America Cares"
George Hunt

To Form A More Perfect Union Stamp Issue

1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott
After Rosa Parks was arrested in 1955 for refusing to let a white passenger take her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, African Americans began a prolonged boycott of the bus company.
"Walking"
Charles Alston

To Form A More Perfect Union Stamp Issue

Biracial groups of courageous men and women challenged discrimination by taking interstate bus trips through the South and using the "wrong" facilities at stops.
"Freedom Riders"
May Stevens

To Form A More Perfect Union Stamp Issue

1964 Civil Rights Act
This bill designed to outlaw discrimination in public accommodations - initiated by President John F. Kennedy in 1963- was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 2, 1964.
"Dixie Cafe"
Jacob Lawrence

To Form A More Perfect Union Stamp Issue

1963 March on Washington
In August 1963, more than 250,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C., to demand racial justice; Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech.
"March on Washington"
Alma Thomas

To Form A More Perfect Union Stamp Issue

1965 Selma March
In the spring of 1965, demonstrators demanding an end to discrimination gathered in Selma, Alabama, to march to the state capital, Montgomery, fifty miles away.
"Selma March"
Bernice Sims

To Form A More Perfect Union Stamp Issue

1954 Brown v. Board of Education
Racial segregation was the standard in American public schools until the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously declared that separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.
"The Lamp", 1984
© Romare Bearden Foundation

The Fight For Civil Rights

Famed civil rights lawyer Thurgood Marshall was one of the best known lawyers in the history of civil rights in America. He became the first director-counsel of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. In 1954, Marshall and his legal team prevailed in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, that struck down segregation in public schools. President Kennedy appointed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1961. In 1965 President Johnson appointed him the first African-American solicitor general of the United States. Marshall made history again in 1967, when he was sworn in as the first African-American justice of the Supreme Court. His 24-year tenure was marked by his commitment to defending constitutional rights and affirmative action and by his strong opposition to the death penalty. Thurgood Marshall died on January 24, 1993, at the age of 85. On November 30, 1993, he was awarded a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom-our country’s highest civilian honor.

The Fight For Civil Rights

On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” Segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race deprives children of minority groups equal educational opportunities, even when physical facilities and other tangible factors may be equal. Such practices violate the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The decision effectively denied the legal basis for segregation in Kansas and 20 other states with segregated classrooms and would forever change race relations in the United States. The Desegregating Public Schools stamp was issued May 26, 1999.

This is one of the stamps featured on the Celebrate The Century: 1950s Souvenir Sheet.

The Fight For Civil Rights

Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, the son of a Baptist preacher. In 1931, Malcolm’s father was killed, probably murdered because of his political and social activism. For Malcolm, this started a spiral into a life of crime that ended with his being sentenced to prison for burglary. While in prison, Malcolm became a militant activist and a follower of the Nation of Islam, a black nationalist religious movement based on traditional Islamic teachings and Marcus Garvey’s principles of black nationalism. After his release from prison, Malcolm became a powerful spokesman for the movement, one who was both popular yet polarizing. But in 1964 he split from the movement and started the Organization of Afro-American Unity, and after a trip to Mecca, he took the name El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz and came to believe that the world’s people could live in fellowship.

"You can't separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom."- Malcolm X

The Fight For Civil Rights

Whitney Moore Young, Jr. was a moderate civil rights leader who urged African Americans to work within the system. He served as executive director of the National Urban League for 10 years. In 1969, he received the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom.

"The truth is that there is nothing noble in being superior to somebody else. The only real nobility is in being superior to your former self."- Whitney Young

Civil Rights Pioneers Issue

Charles Hamilton Houston (1895-1950) was a lawyer and educator in addition to a main architect of the civil rights movement. He believed in using laws to better the lives of underprivileged citizens. Houston’s portrait used for the stamp honoring him is from a Nov. 22, 1939, photograph from the Washington Press held by the Library of Congress.

With his blue eyes and fair complexion, NAACP leader Walter White, (1893-1955) was able to make daring undercover investigations of civil rights abuses in the United States. The portrait of Walter White used in the stamp honoring him, dated around 1950, is from the records of the NAACP at the Library of Congress.

Civil Rights Pioneers Issue

Throughout Mary Church Terrell's (1863-1954) long life as a writer, activist, and lecturer, she was a powerful advocate for racial justice and women’s rights in America and abroad. The portrait of Mary Church Terrell used for the stamp honoring her is from the collection of the Library of Congress.

Mary White Ovington (1865-1951), a journalist and social worker, believed passionately in racial equality and was a founder of the NAACP. The photograph of Mary White Ovington used on the stamp honoring her was taken between 1930 and 1940. It is part of the NAACP archival collection at the Library of Congress.

Civil Rights Pioneers Issue

Oswald Garrison Villard (1872-1949) was one of the founders of the NAACP and wrote “The Call” leading to its formation. His undated portrait used on the stamp honoring him comes from the records of the NAACP at the Library of Congress.

Daisy Gatson Bates (1914-1999) mentored nine black students who enrolled at all-white Central High School in Little Rock, AR, in 1957. The students used her home as an organizational hub. The 1957 photograph of Bates is from the New York World-Telegram & Sun Newspaper photographic collection at the Library of Congress.

Civil Rights Pioneers Issue

J.R. Clifford (1848-1933) was the first black attorney licensed in West Virginia. In two landmark cases before his state’s Supreme Court, he attacked racial discrimination in education. The image of J.R. Clifford is a detail from an undated photograph from the University of Massachusetts Library Special Collections.

Because coverage of blacks in the media tended to be negative, Joel Elias Spingarn (1875-1939) endowed the prestigious Spingarn Medal, awarded annually since 1915, to highlight black achievement. The portrait of Joel Elias Spingarn is dated in the 1920s and comes from the records of NAACP at the Library of Congress.

Civil Rights Pioneers Issue

Medgar Evers (1925-1963) served with distinction as an official of the NAACP in Mississippi until his assassination in 1963. The photograph of Evers is from the Library of Congress.

Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) was a Mississippi sharecropper who fought for black voting rights and spoke for many when she said, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Her portrait is dated Aug. 24, 1964.

Civil Rights Pioneers Issue

Ella Baker's (1903-1986) lifetime of activism made her a skillful organizer. She encouraged women and young people to assume positions of leadership in the civil rights movement. The portrait of Ella Baker is dated between 1943 and 1946 and is from NAACP records at the Library of Congress.

As a courageous and capable official with the NAACP, Ruby Hurley (1909-1980) did difficult, dangerous work in the South. Hurley’s image is from a 1963 newspaper photo.

Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
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The National Postal Museum extends thanks to the United States Postal Service and to its employees who assisted in the creation of this exhibit: Angelo Wider, Roy Betts, Michael Tidwell, Sheryl Turner, Robert Faruq, Meg Ausman, and Pamela Hyman.

Many of the subjects appearing in this exhibit and on U.S. stamps in general are suggested by the public. Each year, the Postal Service receives from the American public thousands of letters proposing stamp subjects. Every stamp suggestion meeting criteria is considered, regardless of who makes it or how it is presented.

To learn more about the stamp selection process, visit the following link to the Postal Service's web site:

https://about.usps.com/who-we-are/csac/welcome.htm

Visit the National Postal Museum's Website

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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