The Black Heritage stamp series is the longest running commemorative stamp series in U.S. history. The Black Americans honored in the series are known for their contributions to U.S. history and culture, as activists, scientists, artists, actors/musicians, writers, educators, doctors, inventors, politicians, and more. In part one, we shared the first twelve people depicted in the Black Heritage series: 1978 to 1989.
Part Two: 1990 to 1997
Ida B. Wells (1862-1931) was featured on the 1990 Black Heritage stamp. She was an African American journalist, abolitionist and feminist who led an anti-lynching crusade in the United States in the 1890s. As a strong believer of civil and women’s rights, Wells spent much of her life publicizing the horrors of black lynching. She was one of the founders of the NAACP and served as the secretary of the National Afro-American Council. Wells was the author of Lynching and the Excuse for It and her autobiography, Crusade for Justice. Her efforts set the stage for the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. The stamp (Scott 2442) was issued on February 1, 1990.
Jan E. Matzeliger (1852-1889) was featured on the 1991 Black Heritage stamp. When Jan Ernst Matzeliger started working in a shoe factory, hundreds of inventors and thousands of dollars had already been spent trying to make a device that would stitch the leather top to the sole of a shoe (a process called “lasting”). Matzeliger spent all his spare time attempting to invent such a machine. His first successful lasting machine was made with cigar boxes, wood, and wire. After Jan perfected his Lasting Machine he was able to complete up to 600 pairs of shoes each day, compared to the traditional manual rate of only fifty per day. Matzeliger’s invention quickly made his home of Lynn, Massachusetts, the “shoe capital of the world.” The stamp (Scott 2567) was issued on September 15, 1991.
W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963) was featured on the 1992 Black Heritage stamp. Du Bois was a scholar, author, and civil rights leader. Du Bois became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1895. His writings include The Philadelphia Negro, the first sociological text about a black community; The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States 1638–1870, which became the first volume in the Harvard Historical Studies; and a Marxist interpretation of the post-Civil war era entitled Black Reconstruction. Du Bois co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. The stamp (Scott 2617) was issued on January 31, 1992.
Percy Lavon Julian (1899-1975) was featured on the 1993 Black Heritage stamp. As a pioneering chemist, he attended the University of Vienna in Austria where he researched methods for synthesizing hormones and vitamins. Upon returning to the United States, he continued his research and successfully synthesized a chemical used to treat glaucoma. Julian is also noted for the creation of a synthetic version of cortisone, making it much cheaper to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Although his race presented challenges at every turn, he is regarded as one of the most influential chemists in American history. The stamp (Scott 2746) was issued on January 29, 1993.
Allison Davis (1902-1983) was featured on the 1994 Black Heritage stamp. Dr. William Allison Davis spent most of his career promoting equal education for American children. He developed the DavisEllis Intelligence Test to measure mental development — a test that is relatively free of class bias (upper class vs. low income). He served on the White House Task Force on the Gifted, the President’s Commission on Civil Rights, the Department of Labor’s Commission on Manpower Retraining, and was a member of the Conference to Insure Civil Rights. The stamp (Scott 2816) was issued on February 1, 1994.
Bessie Coleman (1892-1926) was featured on the 1995 Black Heritage stamp. Since it was very difficult in the 1920s for any woman to learn how to fly, Bessie Coleman traveled to France where she became the first woman to earn her International Aeronautics license after just seven months. Coleman became known as “Queen Bess, Daredevil Aviatrix”, performing as a stunt flyer. She became such a celebrity that she received full honors by the African American Eighth Infantry Regiment of the Illinois National Guard at her burial. She remains a pioneer of women in the field of aviation. The stamp (Scott 2956) was issued on April 27, 1995.
Ernest E. Just (1883-1941) was featured on the 1996 Black Heritage stamp. As an African-American biologist and educator best known for his pioneering work in the physiology of development, he received international acclaim for his experiments studying the fertilization of the marine mammal cell, cell division, hydration and dehydration in living cells, and the effect of ultraviolet rays on chromosome numbers. Dr. Just served on the board of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Wood’s Hole, Massachusetts, founded the Omega Psi Phi fraternity, and was the recipient of the first Spingarn Medal (awarded annually by the NAACP for outstanding achievement by a black American). The stamp (Scott 3058) was issued on February 1, 1996.
Benjamin O. Davis Sr. (1877-1970) was featured on the 1997 Black Heritage stamp. Brigadier General Benjamin Oliver Davis Sr. began his military career as a volunteer during the Spanish-American War. He then enlisted in the U.S. Army and quickly moved up through the ranks, becoming the first African-American general in U.S. history. Davis was appointed to the Committee on Negro Troop Policies where he worked on changing the military’s policies on segregation. During his army career he received the Bronze Star medal and the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM). The stamp (Scott 3121) was issued on January 28, 1997.
The Black Heritage series currently has 43 subjects. Read part 3 here.
In 2017, the American Philatelic Society published its most recent update of the Black Heritage series album pages, available for free download now.
Interested in learning more about the Black Heritage series and black history on stamps? Check out ESPER, the Ebony Society of Philatelic Events and Reflections, which has excellent resources to share. Happy Black History Month!