Part Three: 1998 to 2009
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. Read part two here, which features eight more from 1990 to 1997.
Madam C.J. Walker (1867-1919) was featured on the 1998 Black Heritage stamp. Madam C.J. Walker developed a very successful business creating hair-care and cosmetic products, specializing in products for African-American hair. Her door-to-door and mail-order business (white department stores would not sell her products) was so successful that by 1910 her company employed more than 3,000 workers. She promoted her products by traveling around the country giving lecture-demonstrations and eventually established Madame C.J. Walker Laboratories to manufacture cosmetics and train sales beauticians. She was the first American woman to become a self-made millionaire. She was also known for her philanthropic endeavors, including giving generously to homes for the elderly, the NAACP, and the black YMCA. The stamp (Scott 3181) was issued on January 28, 1998.
Malcolm X (1925-1965) was featured on the 1999 Black Heritage stamp. By the age of 20, Malcolm X (Malcolm Little) was sentenced to prison for armed robbery, where he entered into an intense program of self-education and took the last name “X” to symbolize his stolen African identity. Soon after his release, he became a minister of the Nation of Islam (a nationalist religious movement loosely based on traditional Islamic teachings). He later became a follower of the Sunni Muslim sect and founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity. After a trip to Mecca, he changed his name to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz and came to believe that all the people of the world could live in harmony. He was a prominent civil rights and human rights activist before his assassination in 1965. The stamp (Scott 3273) was issued on January 20, 1999.
Patricia Harris (1924-1985) was featured on the 2000 Black Heritage stamp. She was a lawyer and educator, as well as serving in many positions as a public administrator. Harris was a co-chair of the National Women's Committee for Civil Rights, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and Secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. She was the first African-American woman to serve as a director of a major U.S. corporation — IBM, the first African American woman to serve in the United States Cabinet, and the first to enter the line of succession to the Presidency. She previously served as United States Ambassador to Luxembourg under President Lyndon B. Johnson, and was the first African-American woman to represent the United States as an ambassador. The stamp (Scott 3371) was issued on January 27, 2000.
Roy Wilkins (1901-1981) was featured on the 2001 Black Heritage stamp. He was a prominent civil rights activist in the United States from the 1930s to the 1970s, nicknamed Mr. Civil Rights because of his relentless work on behalf of racial equality and civil rights. He became a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) while attending college, where he was editor of the St. Paul Appeal. After a short stint at The Kansas City Call, he became the assistant executive secretary of the NAACP, and later served as the editor of its journal, the Crisis Magazine. In 1955 he was appointed as NAACP Executive Director. He served on the boards of many other organizations including the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Peace with Freedom, the Eleanor Roosevelt Foundation, and the Kennedy Memorial Library Foundation. The stamp (Scott 3501) was issued on January 24, 2001.
Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was featured on the 2002 Black Heritage stamp. When he was just eighteen years old, Langston Hughes wrote his first, and best known, poem — “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” Hughes was an important figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Throughout his lifetime he continued to write poetry, news articles, books, short stories, and plays into which he incorporated poverty, prejudice, radical politics, violence, and social causes. He wrote the Broadway shows Mulatto and Street Scene, and two successful gospel shows, Black Nativity and Jericho-Jim Crow. The stamp (Scott 3557) was issued on February 1, 2002.
Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993) was featured on the 2003 Black Heritage stamp. He was the first African-American Supreme Court justice. Marshall became famous for his views concerning the need for equitable and just treatment of the nation’s minorities. As the chief of the NAACP’s legal staff, he won the civil rights case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka before the U.S. Supreme Court — a landmark case in which racial segregation in the public schools was declared unconstitutional. Marshall later served on the U.S. Court of Appeals, was the U.S. Solicitor General, and was a liberal member of the Supreme Court. The stamp (Scott 3746) was issued on January 7, 2003.
Paul Robeson (1898-1976) was featured on the 2004 Black Heritage stamp. As an acclaimed 20th-century performer, he became world famous with his version of Ol’ Man River when he played Joe in the musical Show Boat and for his title role in Othello. He also appeared in a number of films, including Sanders of the River, Show Boat, and Song of Freedom. Robeson was an outspoken activist for racial justice and social progress, and even traveled to Soviet Union pursuing international peace. The stamp (Scott 3834) was issued on January 20, 2004.
Marian Anderson (1897-1993) was featured on the 2005 Black Heritage stamp. From an early age, Marian Anderson realized her musical ability, joining her church choir when she was six years old. Members of her church congregation raised funds for her to attend a music school for a year. Following years of not being able to sing in “white artists only” venues, she became the first black singer to appear as a member of New York’s Metropolitan Opera Company in 1955. Beyond music, Anderson was a goodwill ambassador to Asia and a delegate to the United Nations. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award, and the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal. The stamp (Scott 3896) was issued on January 27, 2005.
Hattie McDaniel (1895-1952) was featured on the 2006 Black Heritage stamp. She was an American actress of stage and screen, professional singer-songwriter, and comedian. Although Hattie McDaniel often played a house maid and other stereotypical roles, she is known to have worked to battle racism and discrimination. She appeared in more than ninety films. For her supporting role of "Mammy" in the film Gone with the Wind, McDaniel became the first African American to win an Academy Award in 1940. The stamp (Scott 3996) was issued on January 25, 2006.
Ella Fitzgerald (1917-1996) was featured on the 2007 Black Heritage stamp. She was the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for over 50 years and sold over 40 million albums. With her gift for pitch and rhythm, and more than half a century of singing, Ella Fitzgerald became well known as “The First Lady of Song.” She won thirteen Grammy Awards, the National Medal of Arts, Kennedy Center Honors, and was inducted into the Lincoln Center Nesuhi Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame. The Society of Singers created an award for lifetime achievement, making her the first recipient of the “Ella” award. The stamp (Scott 4120) was issued on January 10, 2006.
Charles W. Chesnutt (1858-1932) was featured on the 2008 Black Heritage stamp. He was the first African-American writer to receive major acclaim when in 1887 his short story “The Goophered Grapevine” appeared in the Atlantic Monthly. Chesnutt was considered one of the pioneers in writing on racial themes and he often spoke out against racial discrimination; his writings were well known for their probing into the fight for civil rights — often revealing the contradictions at the heart of attitudes toward race. Chesnutt received the NAACP’s Spingarn Award for his “pioneer work as a literary artist depicting the life and struggles of Americans of Negro descent.” The stamp (Scott 4222) was issued on January 31, 2008.
Anna Julia Cooper (1858-1964) was featured on the 2009 Black Heritage stamp. She was an educator, leader, and voice for middle-class African-American women. Cooper founded several organizations to promote black civil rights causes. including the Colored Women’s League. At that time, the YMCAs and YWCAs did not accept African-American members; her — to create “colored” branches to provide support for young black migrants. She was the only woman elected to the American Negro Academy which existed from 1897–1924. Her book A Voice From the South by a Black Woman of the South (1892) became a classic African American feminist text. The stamp (Scott 4408) was issued on June 11, 2009.
The Black Heritage series currently has 43 subjects. Read part 4 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!