Founding a Nation & Fighting For an End to Slavery - 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 Revolutionary War: Salem Poor

Salem Poor earned his place in history during the Battle of Bunker Hill. For his deeds in that battle, he received a commendation extolling him as a “brave and gallant soldier.” He also served elsewhere with the American army during the Revolutionary War, including at Valley Forge.

The Battle of Bunker Hill took place at the onset of the Revolutionary War and is considered a decisive turning point for the American colonies.

Bailyn, Bernard. "The Battle of Bunker Hill." The Massachusetts Historical Society.

Bunker Hill Monument

"Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes!" This legendary order has come to symbolize the conviction and determination of the ill-equipped American colonists facing powerful British forces during the famous battle fought on this site on June 17, 1775. The battle is popularly known as "The Battle of Bunker Hill" although most of the fighting actually took place on Breed's Hill, the site of the existing monument and exhibit lodge. Today, a 221-foot granite obelisk marks the site of the first major battle of the American Revolution.

- National Park Service

Early Pioneers

A self-taught mathematician and astronomer, Benjamin Banneker was probably the most accomplished African American of America’s colonial period. In 1753, he constructed the first wooden striking clock made in America. His studies and calculations in astronomy allowed him to successfully predict a solar eclipse in 1789 and to publish farmer’s almanacs in the 1790s. In 1791 he helped design and survey the city of Washington, D.C.

"The color of the skin is in no way connected with the strength of the mind or intellectual powers" -Benjamin Banneker.

Early Pioneers

A pioneer and entrepreneur, Jean Baptiste Pointe Du Sable is acknowledged as the founder of Chicago for having established the first permanent trading post at the mouth of the Chicago River in 1779. At his settlement, Du Sable exhibited skill and knowledge as a merchant, fur trader, farmer, and businessman.

The Jean Baptiste Pointe Du Sable stamp was issued February 20, 1987 in the year of the 150th birthday of Chicago, Illinois.

This bust of Du Sable marks the spot where he set up his homestead and trading post, the first permanent non-native settlement in the area. Founders Court, at 401 N. Michigan Ave, Chicago, was designated a National Landmark in 1976.

Fighting For An End To Slavery

Born a slave, abolitionist Harriet Tubman was the first African-American woman to be honored on a U.S. postage stamp. After escaping slavery in 1849, Tubman returned to the south many times to bring other slaves to freedom, including members of her own family. This dangerous work made her a conductor for the famed Underground Railroad, which helped many slaves escape to freedom before and during the Civil War. She served the Union Army during the Civil War as a scout and spy.

Harriet Tubman was the first honoree in the Black Heritage series.

Fighting For An End To Slavery

This Harriet Tubman stamp was issued June 29, 1995 in the year of the 130th Anniversary of the end of the Civil War.

Fighting For An End To Slavery

Sojourner Truth was one of the most inspirational and widely known African-Americans of the 19th century. She was born Isabella Bomefree (also spelled “Baumfree”) in 1797, a slave in New York, but received her freedom in 1828. In the 1830s, she became involved in evangelical movements, and in 1843 she changed her name to Sojourner Truth and began traveling and preaching. Her autobiography, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave, was published in 1850, and her speeches against slavery and for women’s suffrage drew large crowds. In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln received her at the White House, and from 1864 to 1868 she worked with the National Freedmen’s Relief Association to advise former slaves as they started new lives.

The Sojourner Truth Memorial in Florence, MA.

Sojourner Truth was a former slave who lived in Florence, Massachusetts (a village of Northampton) from 1843-1857. She came to Florence to join the Northampton Association of Education and Industry, a utopian community dedicated to equality and justice.

Sojourner Truth Memorial

On April 15, 1850, Sojourner Truth bought this home in Florence, MA. Following the example of her friend Frederick Douglas, she published her memoir, Narrative of Sojourner Truth, a Northern Slave. The income allowed her to pay off the mortgage.

- Sojouner Truth Memorial

Fighting For An End To Slavery

It is fitting that an African-American artist, Georg Olden, designed the stamp commemorating the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation. Olden was the first African American to design a U.S. postage stamp.

Fighting For An End To Slavery

Frederick Douglass argued against slavery and for equal rights with such clarity and precision that he earned a reputation as America’s predominant African-American abolitionist and agitator during the 19th century. As founder and editor of the North Star and a leading proponent of the antislavery movement, he convincingly expressed the moral issues of human freedom and equality. He believed that the status of African-Americans was the touchstone of American democracy. Because of these beliefs, he became known as the “father of the civil rights movement.”

This Frederick Douglass stamp was issued February 14, 1967 as part of the Prominent Americans Definitive stamp series.

Fighting For An End To Slavery

This Frederick Douglass stamp was issued June 29, 1995 in the year of the 130th Anniversary of the end of the Civil War.

This Frederick Douglass Statue in New York City faces north into Harlem from the NW corner of Central Park. The plaza contains numerous symbolic elements.

- New York City Parks

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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