Today’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the 34th annual federal holiday honoring the civil rights leader and reverend, who has appeared on more than 100 stamps worldwide.
King (January 15, 1929–April 4, 1968) was a prime force in the civil rights movement and was awarded the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize and posthumously the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1977) and Congressional Gold Medal (2004).
Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established in 1983 and first celebrated in 1986. The annual day of service is held on the third Monday of January to coincide with King's actual birthday — January 15.
King has been honored on two U.S. stamps and his image is used as the central focal point on a 10-stamp pane dedicated to the civil rights movement.
King was first honored on a U.S. stamp as the second subject of the then-new USPS Black Heritage series. His stamp, a year after a Harriet Tubman commemorative, was issued January 13, 1979.
King and his “I Have a Dream Speech” are honored on the top-left stamp of the 15-stamp Celebrate the Century 1960s pane, issued September 17, 1999. The dynamic speech — delivered August 28, 1963 from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. — is considered a masterpiece by many. Like the U.S., in 1999, Belgium included an image of King with text from the speech in the background.
An artistic stamp-like portrait of King is in the center selvage of the 10-stamp To Form a More Perfect Union U.S. pane of 2005. King does not appear on any of the stamps, but he was linked to all the events depicted, which include the 1955 Montgomery (Alabama) Bus Boycott, the 1963 March on Washington and the Selma March of 1965.
Nations around the world began issuing stamps honoring King not long after he was assassinated while standing on motel balcony the day after speaking at a rally in Memphis, Tennessee.
The African nations of Cameroun and Rwanda were among the first countries to depict King on stamps, with both releases in 1968. Cameroun paired a stamp featuring MLK with those for three other assassinated leaders: Mahatma Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, and Robert F. Kennedy. The following January, India issued an MLK stamp.
On July 4, 1977, Mali issued a stamp depicting King and the flags of the United States and Sweden. Sweden’s Nobel Prize committee awarded MLK the Peace Prize in 1964. Sweden itself issued an engraved stamp showing King and the Peace Prize in 1986.
This post was updated from an APS blog post originally published on January 16, 2017.