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African American ‘Stamp of Honor’

Celebrated trailblazers memorialized with U.S. postage stamps

  • composite of three stamps featuring portraits of african-americans
    iStock (2); U.S. Postal Service

    The U.S. Postal Service began celebrating the contributions and achievements of African Americans on postage stamps in 1940. Since then, many innovators have been honored through the Black Heritage commemorative series and the Forever stamp. Here are just a few distinguished honorees who have received a "Stamp of Honor."

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  • portrait of african-american woman smiling with hand near her chin
    ©2018 U.S. Postal Service

    Lena Horne (2018)

    Legendary entertainer and civil rights activist Lena Horne (1917-2010) is the subject of the 41st stamp in the USPS Black Heritage series. Lena Mary Calhoun Horne’s career spanned 70 years in music, film, television and theater. She was 16 years old when she began her singing career at the Cotton Club in New York before moving to Hollywood to start her film career. She won four Grammy Awards and recorded 40 albums. Her signature tune was the torch song “Stormy Weather,” which she recorded five times throughout her career. Her version of the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2000.

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  • stamp featuring older african-american woman in purple top and matching hat
    ©2017 U.S. Postal Service

    Dorothy Height (2017)

    She dedicated her life to fighting for gender equality and civil rights. Dorothy Height (1912-2010) was an educator and women’s rights activist who also fought against illiteracy, unemployment and voter awareness. She was president of the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years and led work on racial justice issues at the YWCA in a 40-year career with that organization. Height was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004.

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  • portrait of african-american man wearing sunglasses and red patterned collared shirt
    ©2013 U.S. Postal Service

    Ray Charles (2013)

    Ray Charles (1930-2004) was honored with a Forever stamp in 2013. A gifted musician, composer, singer and songwriter, he combined soul music with rhythm and blues, gospel and pop. Blind from the age of 7, he was often referred to as a genius. He reached crossover success in the '60s. Charles received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1981, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 and received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987.

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  • Maya Angelou stamps
    U.S. Postal Service

    Maya Angelou (2015)

    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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  • Booker T. Washington stamp

    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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  • Frederick Douglass stamp

    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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  • Harriet Tubman stamp
    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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  • Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stamps

    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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  • Jackie Robinson  stamp

    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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  • Scott Joplin stamp

    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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  • Mary McLeod Bethune stamp
    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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  • Bessie Coleman Postage Stamp

    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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  • Madam C.J. Walker
    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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  • Langston Hughes stamps

    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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  • Thurgood Marshall stamp

    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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  • Paul Robeson postage stamp

    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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  • Ella Fitzgerald stamp

    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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  • Althea Gibson stamp

    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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  • Shirley Chisholm stamp

    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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