ESPER in collaboration with the APS virtually celebrates . . . Voices of the Harlem Renaissance
This spring, the Ebony Society of Philatelic Events and Reflections (ESPER) in collaboration with the American Philatelic Society (APS) celebrated the issuance of the Voices of the Harlem Renaissance stamps. The unveiling was to take place at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, New York, on May 21st.
About the Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance was a turning point in Black cultural history. It was the springboard for Black writers, artists, and musicians to gain control over the representation of Black culture and the Black experience. Most importantly, the Harlem Renaissance instilled in Blacks across the country a new spirit of self-determination and pride, a new social consciousness, and a new commitment to political activism.
The Harlem Renaissance began with the Great Migration of Blacks to northern cities between 1919 and 1926 because of Jim Crow segregation and the start of World War I. The demise of the movement began with the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. By 1935, many Harlem residents had begun to relocate to seek employment.
The Stamps and Ceremony
The United States Postal Service issued the Voices of the Harlem Renaissance Forever ® stamps in a pane of 20 in 4 designs featuring:
Alain Locke – writer, philosopher, educator, arts advocate, and the first Black Rhodes scholar.
Anne Spencer – poet, “Before the Feast at Shushan”
In April, the Postal Service cancelled the May 21st First Day Ceremony due to the social distancing guidance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ongoing pandemic has forced us to adapt to “new norms.” Upon hearing of the cancellation, Dr. Warachal Faison, ESPER President, immediately contacted the USPS about the possibility of a virtual program. The USPS responded that they were in discussions about a virtual celebration. With follow-up discussions, USPS shared that unfortunately there wouldn’t be a USPS virtual FDOI (first day of issue ceremony) for the Voices of the Harlem Renaissance stamps on May 21, and they were currently focusing on creating ceremony options for future events. Dr. Faison quickly responded that ESPER may want to take this on and celebrate the stamps virtually. USPS shared they would attend the celebration if ESPER proceeded. In fact, USPS was quite supportive and offered assistance throughout the short planning process.
Because ESPER members have such an affinity for stamps showcasing the African-American experience and because ESPER Past President Mani Gilyard worked tirelessly with the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Dr. Faison did not hesitate. ESPER’s Board of Directors was in full support of the celebration.
Dr. Faison spoke with APS Executive Director Scott English about the possibilities of a partnership. From this conversation came the birth of the “live zoom event.” It made sense to use the APS Stamp Chat format, already in existence, and with the assistance of Heidi Lauckhardt-Rhoades and Thomas Loebig, the transition was seamless. Special thanks also go out to Artis Montgomery of the USPS.
Fast forward to May 21st at 7 p.m. Eastern time, the virtual release of the U.S. Postal Service’s Voices of the Harlem Renaissance Commemorative Forever ® Stamps. Participants in the event were stamp artist Gary Kelley, USPS Director of Stamp Services William Glicker, American Philatelic Society Executive Director Scott English, Dr. Warachal E. Faison, and Walter L. Faison of ESPER. Due to the potential impact of COVID-19 on future stamp ceremonies, we also highlighted and celebrated each USPS stamp that will be issued from June-September 2020.
The event was Zoomed live in addition to being livestreamed on Facebook. The Zoom call was capped at 100 participants and was filled to the max. There is no way to know how many stamp enthusiasts livestreamed on Facebook or YouTube. The chat room was very active with descendants of the honorees, past and present stamp advisory members, ESPER members, APS members, stamp collectors, and history buffs.
We were determined not to let COVID-19 get in our way.
Written by Walter Faison, ESPER Secretary.