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African American ‘Stamp of Honor’

16 celebrated African Americans honored with a U.S. postage stamp

  • U.S. Postal Service

    Maya Angelou (2015)

    In April, the best-selling author, poet and exquisite orator (1928-2014) became the 38th African American in the Black Heritage stamp series of the U.S. Postal Service. There is controversy over the origin of the quote, but the image is from a portrait by Ross Rossin, on display at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

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  • Istockphoto

    Booker T. Washington (1940)

    The educator, author and civil rights leader (1856-1915) was the first African American honored by the postal service with a commemorative stamp and the only one in the 35-stamp Famous Americans series in 1940. He was also the first African American featured on a U.S. coin — a memorial half dollar in 1946.  

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  • Istockphoto

    Frederick Douglass (1967)

    The orator, author, social reformer and statesman (1818-1895) was the only African American honored by the postal service in its Prominent Americans series, produced from 1965 to 1978. A second Douglass stamp followed in 1995 in the 20-stamp Civil War Classic Collection.  

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  • PLStamps / Alamy

    Harriet Tubman (1978)

    The stamp for the escaped slave and best-known conductor of the Underground Railroad (1822-1913) launched the Black Heritage series, which honors leaders, inventors, educators, athletes, entertainers, scientists and entrepreneurs. The postal service reissued the Tubman stamp in 1995.

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  • Istockphoto

    Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1979)

    For the first stamp commemorating the civil rights leader (1929-1968), African American illustrator Jerry Pinkney depicted King behind ranks of protesters. A second King stamp (1999) shows him at the Lincoln Memorial with the Reflecting Pool in the background, commemorating his “I Have a Dream” speech” in 1963.  

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  • Istockphoto

    Jackie Robinson (1982)

    After breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947, Robinson (1919-1972) forged a 10-year all-star career that landed him in the Baseball Hall of Fame. There’s also a stamp that depicts him sliding into base (Celebrate the Century series, 1999) and a stamp of him fielding a ball (Legends of Baseball series, 2000).  

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  • Istockphoto

    Scott Joplin (1983)

    A ceremony marking the stamp’s release was held at the former site of the Maple Leaf Club in Sedalia, Mo., where the “King of Ragtime” (circa 1867-1917) frequently performed.  

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  • Igor Golovnov / Alamy

    Mary McLeod Bethune (1985)

    The stamp’s release coincided with the 50th anniversary of the founding by Bethune (1875-1955) of the National Council of Negro Women. The private school that she started for African American girls in 1904 has blossomed into today’s Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

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  • Neftali/Shutterstock

    Bessie Coleman (1995)

    Coleman (1892-1926) wanted to learn to fly but couldn’t find anyone to teach her in the United States. So she went to France to earn her pilot’s license, returned home as the first female African American pilot and quickly established herself as an exciting barnstormer.

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  • StampCollection / Alamy

    Madam C.J. Walker (1998)

    A program observing the release of the stamp honoring the hair products entrepreneur and philanthropist (1867-1919) was held at the headquarters Walker built for her company in Indianapolis.

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  • rook76/Shutterstock

    Langston Hughes (2002)

    The black-and-white photograph of the prolific poet, novelist, activist, playwright and columnist (1902-1967) was taken in 1946 by the groundbreaking photographer and his one-time roommate, Henri Cartier-Bresson.  

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  • Istockphoto

    Thurgood Marshall (2003)

    Marshall (1908-1993) and his legal team won the landmark 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (Kan.), which declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional. He became the first African American justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, where he served for 24 years.

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  • Istockphoto

    Paul Robeson (2004)

    Robeson (1898-1976) was an all-American football player and valedictorian at Rutgers University and earned a law degree from Columbia University before becoming a world-renowned actor, singer and civil rights activist. The Robeson stamp was the last of nine consecutive issues designed by Richard Sheaff for the Black Heritage series.

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  • Istockphoto

    Ella Fitzgerald (2007)

    “The First Lady of Song.” “The Queen of Jazz.” “Lady Ella.” During her long career, Fitzgerald (1917-1996) won 14 Grammies, collaborated with other greats such as Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, and starred in films and on television. Before Fitzgerald, the legendary W.C. Handy, in 1969, became the first jazz musician featured on a U.S. stamp.

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  • Istockphoto

    Althea Gibson (2013)

    The first African American in international tennis (1927-2003) won the French Open in 1956 and then Wimbledon and the U.S. Nationals in both 1957 and 1958 — on her way to claiming 11 career Grand Slam titles. The stamp was introduced in Flushing, N.Y., home of the U.S. Open.

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  • Alamy

    Shirley Chisholm (2014)

    The New York politician, educator and author (1924-2005) became the first African American woman elected to Congress in 1968. The stamp image is a portrait from Robert Shetterly’s Americans Who Tell the Truth series.

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