Editor's Note: We are pleased to post this article, which first appeared in the latest issue of
APS Affiliate ESPER’s newsletter, Reflections. ESPER, or Ebony Society of Philatelic Events and Reflections,
is dedicated to promoting philately amongst African-Americans, along with promoting interest in the
collection and creation of philatelic material depicting people and events
within the African diaspora.
If you or your APS club/affilate have blogs or articles of note, please email us for more information.
The Great American Stamp Show (GASS) was to be held August 20-23, 2020, in Hartford, Connecticut, but COVID-19 changed all that. The show, co-hosted by the American Philatelic Society, the American Topical Association, and the American First Day Cover Society, and co-sponsored by the United States Postal Service, is billed as the largest national stamp and postal history show in the country. This would have been the first time that the show had three co-hosts and the first year with its new name.
Free registration for the Virtual Stamp Show (August 17-22) is now open to all!
Typically, ESPER’s presence at this show includes a general meeting, seminars, member exhibits, and a popular destination – our society table with handouts, ESPER merch, and a display related to the show’s host city or state. Previous host city/state displays have included Arthur Ashe (Richmond, Virginia), Charles Chesnutt and Paul Laurence Dunbar (Columbus, Ohio), and Malcolm X and others (Omaha, Nebraska).
This year, the display was to feature historical figures with a connection to Connecticut including two stamp subjects. Also, there is an interesting footnote connected to Hartford itself: Thirman L. Milner.
Milner (born October 29, 1933) not only was the city of Hartford’s first African-American mayor, but also he was the first African-American mayor in all of New England. Born in Hartford, he grew up poor, in the city’s north end raised by his mother and was the youngest child of nine. Milner was attending New York University when he heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speak. After hearing and meeting Dr. King, Milner decided to become a civil rights activist and turned to politics in Hartford. In 1981, Milner made history by becoming Hartford’s first Black mayor. He served from 1981 to 1987, and his efforts paved the way for the election of his successor and Hartford’s second Black mayor, Carrie Saxon Perry. After serving three terms as mayor of Hartford, Milner was elected to a single term in the Connecticut House of Representatives, representing the seventh district. His book Up from Slavery: A History from Slavery to City Hall in New England tells his story.
Cinqué and the Amistad
This commemorative cancellation and cachet celebrate the arrival of the ”freedom schooner” Amistad at its home port in New Haven, Connecticut, on July 15, 2000. Image courtesy of ESPER.
The man known to history as Cinqué was born sometime around the year 1814 in Sierra Leone. A rice farmer and trader among the Mende people, his birth name was Singbe-Pieh. Young farmers like Cinqué were frequent targets of slave traders who knew agriculture skills would be prized by plantation owners in the Americas. Cinqué was abducted in 1839 while working in his rice field. He was taken to the Sierra Leone slave depot known as Lomboko, held in chains for months, and put on board a slave ship bound for Cuba. In Havana, he was sold to slave traders José Ruiz and Pedro Montes who hired the schooner Amistad to carry them all – the two slave traders and 53 slaves – to Puerto Principé, a region in central Cuba where the slaves were to be put to work on sugar plantations. The Amistad never arrived.
Portrait of Sengbe Pieh (Cinqué) by Nathaniel Jocelyn / Public domain
Cinqué managed to pick the lock on his chains and set the rest of the slaves free. The mutineers killed the captain and the ship’s cook, and two other crewmembers disappeared overboard. But Ruiz and Montes were spared, and Cinqué now ordered Montes, an experienced sea captain, to sail east for Africa. But Montes secretly reversed course each night, erasing the progress made during the day. After 63 days of this subterfuge, with no end in sight and 10 of his fellow Africans dead, Cinqué allowed Montes to sail for land. The nearest port turned out to be Long Island Sound in New York, where, on arrival, the Amistad was seized by a U. S. Coast Guard ship under the command of Lt. Thomas Gedney. Montes and Ruiz were set free, and Cinqué and the other surviving slaves were charged with piracy and murder.
Because New York was a “free state,” no longer importing slaves, Montes and Ruiz persuaded Gedney to tow the Amistad to the Connecticut port of New London. Cinqué and his fellow mutineers were jailed in New Haven during these negotiations. On September 17, 1839, the Circuit Court convened in Hartford. President Martin Van Buren and Secretary of State John Forsyth, intent on maintaining good relations with Spain, unsuccessfully argued in a brief that the court had no jurisdiction. The New York Anti-Slavery Society enlisted the prominent abolitionist Roger Baldwin to represent the slaves without charge.
The trial riveted the American public, and abolitionists claimed a victory when Judge Andrew Judson ruled for Cinqué and his fellow slaves, holding that they had never been slaves in a legal sense. The federal government, backed by President Van Buren, appealed the decision all the way to the Supreme Court where former President John Quincy Adams presented a passionate argument on behalf of the Amistad mutineers. Cinqué and his fellow slaves restated their case each time, always forced to return to a jail cell at the end of the day. In an 1841 decision, the Supreme Court upheld Judge Judson’s original ruling on a strict interpretation of the facts of the case. Cinqué and the other Amistad mutineers, after two years of incarceration and appeals, were free to go. Cinqué returned to Africa and died c. 1879.
Edward Alexander Bouchet
Image courtesy of ESPER.
In the 1870s, American universities had only graduated six doctors of physics. Edward Alexander Bouchet (September 15, 1852 – October 28, 1918), a Black man who was born in New Haven, Connecticut, was one of them. He already was one of the first African Americans to graduate from Yale College in 1874 and the first Black man to earn a PhD in America. Despite these many achievements, Bouchet never was offered a faculty position and spent most of his career teaching science to high school students.
Lewis Howard Latimer
In 1880, after relocating to Bridgeport, Connecticut, inventor and patent draftsman, Lewis Howard Latimer (September 4, 1848 – December 11, 1928) was hired as assistant manager and draftsman for the United States Electric Lighting Co., which was owned by Hiram Maxim. Maxim was the chief competitor of Thomas Edison, who had invented the electric light.
Maxim hoped to improve on Edison’s light bulb by focusing on its main weakness: its brief life span, typically only a few days. Latimer set out to make a longer-lasting light bulb. He developed a way to encase the filament in a cardboard envelope that prevented the carbon from breaking up, giving the bulbs a much longer life while making them less expensive and more efficient. Latimer’s expertise had become well known, and he was sought after to continue to improve on incandescent lighting as well as arc lighting. As more major cities began wiring their roadways for electric lighting, Latimer was selected to lead several planning teams. He helped install the first electric plants in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; New York, New York; and Montreal, Quebec. He also oversaw the installation of lighting in railroad stations, government buildings, and major thoroughfares in Canada, New England, and London. Lewis Latimer is one of the Black inventors for whom ESPER has been campaigning to get on a U. S. stamp.
Constance Baker Motley
Image courtesy of ESPER.
A child of immigrants from Nevis, New Haven-born Constance Baker Motley (September 14, 1920 – September 28, 2005) was a longtime Connecticut resident and a trailblazer for women of color. The first Black woman to graduate from Columbia University School of Law in 1946, she went on to defend the Freedom Riders of Montgomery. In 1964, she was the first African American to serve as a New York state senator. In 1965, she was also the first woman to become Manhattan Borough President in New York, and a year later, the first African-American woman to be appointed a federal judge, serving as a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. She also was an assistant attorney to Thurgood Marshall arguing the case Brown v. Board of Education.
Marian Anderson, issued January 27th, 2005.
The renowned singer Marian Anderson (February 27, 1897 – April 8, 1993) was born, raised, and buried in the Philadelphia area but spent over five decades living on a farm named for her in Danbury, Connecticut.
Like many other African-American singers, Marian’s singing talent first got noticed through her participation in her church choir. In fact, her pastor organized efforts to get her voice lessons and was also instrumental in getting her admitted to high school. Upon completing high school, Marian was refused admission to a music academy due to her color. Undaunted, she continued to take lessons and to perfect her craft.
She caught a huge break in 1925 by winning a singing contest sponsored by the New York Philharmonic orchestra. Her beautiful contralto voice soon got more attention and enabled her to perform many concerts over the next several years in the United States; nevertheless, like her contemporary, Paul Robeson, Anderson continually faced racial discrimination in her own country. Like Robeson — also a longtime resident of Connecticut — she also opted to tour in Europe during the 1930s.
In 1940, Marian rekindled a relationship with fellow Philadelphian, Orpheus H. Fisher. She and Fisher had met as teenagers in Philly. A successful architect, Fisher searched for several months for a home for the pair, often encountering racial discrimination in his quest. Finally, he bought a 100-acre farm in Danbury in 1940, which he named “Marianna,” in honor of his soon-to-be wife. The couple married in 1943 when Marian Anderson was 46 years old. Fisher designed and had built a rehearsal studio for his wife on the farm. In 1996, the farm was named one of 60 sites on the Connecticut Freedom Trail. The studio was moved to down-town Danbury as the Marian Anderson studio.
Orpheus Fisher died in 1986 after 43 years of marriage to Marian Anderson. Marian continued to live in Danbury. As a town resident, she was set on waiting in line at shops and restaurants, declining offers to go ahead as a celebrity. She was known to visit the Danbury State Fair. She sang at the city hall on the occasion of the lighting of Christmas ornaments. She gave a concert at the Danbury High School. She served on the boards of the Danbury Music Center and supported the Charles Ives Center for the Arts and the Danbury Chapter of the NAACP.
Anderson remained in residence at Marianna Farm until 1992 when she relocated to Oregon to be with her nephew for the final year of her life. She had lived in Connecticut for over 52 years! Although the property was sold to developers, various preservationists as well as the City of Danbury fought to protect Anderson’s studio. Their efforts proved successful, and the Danbury Museum and Historical Society received a grant from the State of Connecticut, relocated the structure, restored it, and opened it to the public in 2004. In addition to seeing the studio, visitors can see photographs and memorabilia from milestones in Anderson’s career. Click here to learn more about the museum.
Throughout her long life, Marian Anderson persevered with grace and class when confronted with numerous acts of discrimination directed against her. Not surprisingly, she is a member of the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame. Click here to visit the CT Women’s Hall of Fame to read more about Marian Anderson.
A famous friend of Marian Anderson was Nobel Prize-winning physicist Albert Einstein. Einstein, who once said, “I get most joy in life out of music,” and whose own mother was an accomplished pianist, was captivated by Marian Anderson’s voice. Einstein, also known for his strong views on racial equality, often hosted Anderson when others would not; in fact, Marian Anderson last stayed with Einstein just weeks before the great physicist died on April 18, 1955. Earlier, on January 7, 1955, Anderson had become the first Black person, American or otherwise, to perform with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. On that occasion, she sang the part of Ulrica in Giuseppe Verdi's Un ballo in maschera at the invitation of director Rudolf Bing.
The Marian Anderson stamp, 28th in the Black Heritage series, was issued on January 27, 2005, ironically at the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall in Washington, D. C. The stunning portrait featured on the stamp is an oil painting by Albert Slark who based his painting on a black-and-white photograph believed to have been made by Moisé Benkow in Stockholm circa 1934. The print quantity of the stamps was 150 million, and at the time, there also was available a Cultural Diary Page/Illustrated Envelope Set. Below is a Doris Gold cachet.
Image courtesy of ESPER.
Paul Robeson, issued January 20th, 2004.
Paul Leroy Robeson (April 9, 1898 – January 23, 1976) was born in Princeton, New Jersey, but from 1941 to 1953, he made Enfield, Connecticut his home. Considered one of the great American “Renaissance men” and the son of an escaped slave, he was the 1919 valedictorian of Rutgers University, where he also won fifteen varsity letters in football, baseball, basketball, and track & field.
The baritone and radio singer was best known for his title role in Othello in the 1930s and 1940s, which he portrayed in various venues between London and New York. Robeson performed in numerous American plays and Hollywood films, including Borderline (1930), The Emperor Jones (1933), and Show Boat (1936). Robeson performed regularly at the Bushnell Memorial Theater in Hartford, Connecticut, having sung in their first Concert Series in 1945 with such songs as “Deep River” and “Ritual Fire Dance.” Besides his vocal talents, Paul Robeson was an anti-racism activist. He refused to perform in front of segregated audiences, and urged federal government to pass anti-lynching legislation. In the 1940s, Robeson put his career on hiatus to “talk up and down the nation against race hatred and prejudice.” As proof of his decision, Robeson marched in St. Louis alongside thirty members of the city’s Civil Rights Congress. He was once quoted as saying that he should raise his voice, “but not by singing pretty songs.”
Showboat, issued July 14, 1993
Various actions were taken against Mr. Robeson, including the revoking of his passport by President Truman in 1950. Mr. Robeson moved to Enfield in 1941, and he called Connecticut home because many of his colleagues from Rutgers and the theater also lived there. Robeson performed annual concerts at Enfield High School for numerous years, in support of the Enfield Teachers Association Child Welfare Fund. Despite his connection with Enfield, some Connecticut officials considered Paul Robeson a disgrace to the state, most likely for his political stance and his active support of the civil rights movement. Paul Robeson died in 1976 in Philadelphia, but of Connecticut and Enfield proper, he remarked “here is to be our home for the rest of our lives.”
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Mali, issued May 10, 1986. Image courtesy of ESPER.
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Grenada, issued October 9, 1989. Image courtesy of ESPER.
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East Germany, issued March 22, 1983. Image courtesy of ESPER.
Robeson was no stranger to the Hartford area. The controversial actor and singer had played to 3,000 people in Hartford in 1945 at Bushnell Memorial Hall. Robeson’s wife, Eslanda, enrolled in courses at the Hartford Seminary and was a featured speaker at the meetings of local organizations. Robeson’s long history of engaging in fights for racial equality, workers’ rights, and detente with the Soviet Union (decades before it became official U. S. policy) followed him to Connecticut.
It was called the “greatest mobilization of police in the city’s history.” But the event that brought out hundreds of Hartford area police to Keney Park was not a riot, not a strike – it was the November 15, 1952, concert by Paul Robeson. This time, however, Robeson ran into stiff opposition as his supporters attempted to secure Weaver High School across from the park (now Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School). The performance was a benefit for the progressive electoral efforts of Connecticut’s Peoples’ Party.
In Hartford, conservative veterans’ groups lined up to oppose the Robeson concert. City Council member John J. Mahon led the political effort to stop Robeson. Even the local teachers’ union petitioned the Council and the Board of Education to rescind the Weaver High permit. Supporting Robeson’s right to appear was the local chapter of the American Jewish Congress. Also backing his right to sing was city councilwoman Betty Knox and Board of Education president Lewis Fox.
The Hartford newspapers played a significant role in red-baiting Robeson and playing up the fears of violence. Early in the controversy, the Hartford Times ran a front-page article entitled “Robeson Among Guests at Red Embassy.” Letters to the papers warned Hartford people not to be “liberal with our freedom of speech when it comes to Communism.” When provocative questions from a local reporter angered Robeson, that, too, became a story. “Robeson Enraged as Party Membership is Questioned,” read the Hartford Times headline. Robeson’s anger was eloquent and pointed. “The White ruling class of America doesn’t like Negroes who stand up and talk back and fight for their rights,” he told the reporter. In the end, Robeson did sing at Weaver High School, to an auditorium packed with 800 people. The audience called him back for six encores.
6° Cachets FDC with trivia information about a Russian heirloom tomato named after Robeson, a “black” tomato with dark green shoulders. Image courtesy of ESPER.
The 2005 Marian Anderson stamp marked a return to full-color designs for the Black Heritage Series; the public wanted it. In fact, the USPS had intended to return to color images with the Paul Robeson stamp in 2004, but the family preferred a black and white photograph. The stamp was issued January 20 in Princeton, New Jersey.
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