African Americans in Sports  - 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 the shaping of American history and heritage. This series of exhibits showcases the black experience in the United States through the lens of American postage stamps. 

Achievements In The Olympics

African-Americans have made many contributions to the Olympic Games in many different sports. In boxing, Olympic gold medals have been won by Floyd Patterson, Muhammed Ali (at the time known as Cassius Clay), Joe Frazier, George Foreman, and "Sugar Ray" Leonard.

Achievements In The Olympics

African-Americans have made many contributions to the Olympic Games in many different sports. The javelin throw is an event in the men's decathlon and the women's heptathlon. Milton Campbell and Rafer Johnson each won gold and silver medals in the decathlon, and Jackie Joyner-Kersee won two gold medals and one silver medal in the heptathlon.

Achievements In The Olympics

Although a frail, sickly child, Jesse Owens developed into a strong runner, winning national high school titles in three events. Pursued by dozens of colleges, he chose to go to Ohio State University, where he worked his way through school. At the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Owens stunned the world by capturing four gold medals in track and field. He shattered Olympic records as well as Hitler's false theories of racial superiority.

The Reichssportfeld, in Berlin, site of the 1936 Olympics Track and Field events. A nearby street is named after Jesse Owens.

Achievements In The Olympics

A second Jesse Owens stamp was issued September 10, 1998. It is one of the stamps featured on the Celebrate The Century: 1930s Souvenir Sheet.

Achievements In The Olympics

Few people would have expected that a child who suffered from polio and wore leg braces for several years would one day be proclaimed "the world's fastest woman." But that is the story of Wilma Rudolph, who at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, Italy, won three gold medals in sprint events (the 100-meter, 200-meter, and 4-x-100-meter relay events). Rudolph, who also won a bronze medal in the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia, and won several awards and was inducted into the Black Sports Hall of Fame in 1980. After retiring from competition, Rudolph worked as a teacher, track coach, and sports broadcaster. She also served in several government programs helping underprivileged youth. She also founded the Wilma Rudolph Foundation to promote community-based, youth-oriented athletic and academic programs. In her honor, the Women’s Sports Foundation annually presents the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award to a female athlete who exhibits fortitude, perseverance, self-sacrifice, and inspiration.

Professional Sports: Boxing

Known as the "Brown Bomber," Joseph Louis Barrow won the world heavyweight boxing title in 1937 and held it until he retired in 1949. He defended his title more than 20 times before he joined the Army in World War II, and defended it several more times after the war. Two of his most famous fights were against Max Schmeling- Louis lost in 1936 (his only loss as a professional before he retired), but he knocked out Schmeling in the first round in the rematch in 1938.

Joe Lewis Memorial Statue in Detroit, MI.

The Monument to Joe Louis, known also as "The Fist", is a memorial to the boxer at Detroit's Hart Plaza.

Dedicated on October 16, 1986, the sculpture, commissioned by Sports Illustrated magazine from the Mexican-American sculptor Robert Graham, is a 24-foot-long (7.3 m) arm with a fisted hand suspended by a 24-foot-high (7.3 m) pyramidal framework.

It represents the power of his punch both inside and outside the ring. Because of his efforts to fight Jim Crow laws, the fist was symbolically aimed toward racial injustice.[ Graham referred to the sculpture as a "battering ram".

- Wikipedia

Professional Sports: Boxing

Sugar Ray Robinson a native of Ailey, Georgia became a professional boxer in 1940 at the age of nineteen. Throughout Robinson’s career which lasted until 1965, he garnered the World Welterweight and Middleweight championship titles several times. Over the course of his career Robinson competed in over 200 fights, winning 175 of them including 109 knockouts. Robinson’s incredible performance and record in professional boxing resonates to this day as many in the current boxing world consider him to be the greatest boxer to have ever lived.

As a youth, Sugar Ray Robnison boxed with the Salem Crescent Athletic Club, housed in the basement of the Salem Methodist Church in Harlem.

Professional Sports: Tennis

Arthur Ashe spent his life in constant struggle. Beginning with the death of his mother when he was seven years old, Ashe would overcome discrimination at a young age and go on to become the first African-American to win a Grand Slam Tournament. Ashe spent considerable time working for civil rights and other philanthropic causes. He died at the age of 49 from AIDS. He had contracted HIV from a blood transfusion. In 1997, the new main stadium where the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament would be played was named after Arthur Ashe.

Arthur Ashe Stadium is a tennis stadium located in the New York City borough of Queens. Part of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center located within Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, it is the largest tennis-specific stadium in the world by capacity, seating 23,771 and is the main stadium of the US Open. The stadium is named after Arthur Ashe, who won the inaugural US Open in which professionals could compete in 1968.

- Wikipedia

African American Baseball Stars: Paige

Leroy Robert "Satchel" Paige is considered the most dominating and crowd-pleasing pitcher to play in the Negro Leagues. He started his professional baseball career in 1926 and played for many teams over the years, and he helped the Kansas City Monarchs to four consecutive Negro American League pennants from 1939 to 1942 and again in 1946. Before professional baseball was integrated, he played many exhibition games against major league players and often astonished and stifled them with his wide assortment of pitches. In 1948, at the reported age of 42, Paige signed with the Cleveland Indians and had a 6-1 record while helping the team win the World Series. In addition to being the oldest rookie to play in the majors, he also became the oldest man to pitch in a major league game, returning in 1965 to pitch three scoreless innings for the Kansas City Athletics.

Former site of the Municipal Stadium, home to the Kansas City Monarchs, the longest running franchise in the Negro Leagues.

African American Baseball Stars: Gibson

Legendary baseball figure Josh Gibson was one of the greatest power hitters in Negro League baseball. He regularly hit home runs when he played for the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords. Gibson was never able to display his greatness in major league baseball; he died January 20, 1947, only a month after he turned 35 and a few months before Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to play in major league baseball. Gibson was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972. He was the second Negro League player, after Satchel Paige, to be so honored.

African American Baseball Stars: Robinson

Jackie Robinson broke the Major League Baseball color barrier in 1947, had a 10-year all-star career, became the first African-American inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and had his number 42 retired by Major League Baseball in 1997. More important than his accomplishments in baseball are his contributions to racial equality in the United States, of which his many baseball "firsts" are just one part. After his retirement from baseball in 1956, he became very active in the civil rights movement, working with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and on several political campaigns to help break barriers for all people, not just athletes.

African American Baseball Stars: Robinson

This Jackie Robinson stamp was issued February 18, 1999. This is one of the stamps featured on the Celebrate The Century: 1940s Souvenir Sheet.

African American Baseball Stars: Robinson

This Jackie Robinson stamp was issued July 6, 2000. It is one of the Legends of Baseball Classic Collection stamps.

African American Baseball Stars: Campanella

The first African American catcher to play in Major League Baseball was Roy Campanella. Today Campanella is not as recognizable as his Brooklyn Dodgers teammate Jackie Robinson who had his debut in the spring of 1947, but his contributions to the Dodgers were essential for the team's successes in the 1950s. Campanella was selected as the National League's Most Valuable Player three times in 1951, 1953 and 1955. Jackie Robinson was only selected as the National League MVP once in 1949. In 1953, Campanella hit 40 home runs, a single season record for a catcher in Major League Baseball. This record would stand until 1996.

Roy Campanella along with Jackie Robinson and other early African American baseball players pioneered a path of excellence which shattered the color barrier forever. This allowed for the eventual opening up of every professional sport to persons of all races and backgrounds.

African American Baseball Stars: Clemente

Proud of his African-American and Hispanic roots, Roberto Clemente relied on his upbringing to weather incidents of racial prejudice that occurred early in his baseball career. He said, "I don't believe in color, I believe in people. My mother and father taught me never to hate... someone because of their color." He was known for his zeal and passion for his sport, his inclusive attitude, and his devotion to serving the poor and underprivileged. He was not just a great baseball player but a great humanitarian, too. He died tragically in an airplane crash while attempting to deliver supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua on December 31, 1972.

Roberto Clemente Stadium is a baseball stadium in Masaya, Nicaragua. It is named after Puerto Rican baseball legend Roberto Clemente, who died on a plane crash that was delivering aid to the victims of the 1972 Nicaragua earthquake.

- Wikipedia

African American Baseball Stars: Clemente

This Roberto Clemente stamp was issued July 6, 2000. It is one of the Legends of Baseball Classic Collection stamps.

Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
Credits: Story

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:

Visit the National Postal Museum's Website

Credits: All media
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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