An African-American first appeared on a U.S. postage stamp in 1940—the first of several memorable stamps to feature Black people. On July 1, National Postage Stamp Day, many will pause to learn about the history of the people and moments depicted on stamps. Here’s a look at a few of the most unforgettable ones that recognized African-American people and their history.
1. Booker T. Washington (April 7, 1940; 10 cents)
The legendary Black leader Booker T. Washington, who rose from slavery to become an educator and author, was the first Black person to appear on a U.S. postage stamp. There was a racist outcry when the proposal was made for Washington’s image to appear on a stamp, according to Smithsonian magazine. Prior to that, only white men, mainly presidents or generals, were considered by many white Americans as suitable subjects. Making matters worse for racists, Washington’s image appeared on a 10-cent stamp, which was a high amount for a stamp in the 1940s.
2. 13th Amendment (October 20, 1940; 3 cents)
Shortly after Booker T. Washington, the U.S. Postal Service released a stamp that celebrated passage of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery. It illustrated a former slave named Archer Alexander kneeling beneath a figure of President Abraham Lincoln. Archer was the last slave known to be captured under the Fugitive Slave Act. The stamp borrowed the image of the Emancipation Statue in Washington D.C.’s Lincoln Park.
3. Malcolm X (January 20, 1999; 33 cents)
Many criticized the U.S. Postal Service for its 1999 release of a stamp honoring Malcolm X, according to the Smithsonian Institution. The opposition centered on it depicting the civil rights leader’s early association with the Nation of Islam and his call for equality “by any means necessary,” including violence.
4. Paul Robeson (January 20, 2004; 37 cents)
Five years later, a stamp honoring Paul Robeson also created uproar. The African-American entertainer and activist became a political target in the United States during the Cold War because of his support of Communism during some of the darkest days of racial segregation and inequality in the country.
5. The Snowy Day (October 4, 2017; 49 cents)
The beloved 1962 children’s book The Snowy Day became part of the “Forever” series of stamps in October. It recognized the first prominent picture books in the United States to feature a Black child as the central character.