The Black Heritage Series, initiated by the United
States Postal Service (USPS) in 1978, recognizes the achievements of prominent
African Americans and has featured outstanding individuals such as Harriet
Tubman, Jackie Robinson, Sojourner Truth, Mary McLeod Bethune, Langston
Hughes, Thurgood Marshall, and Barbara Jordan who helped shape American
culture through their involvement in science, technology, medicine,
education, the arts, sports, government, and social activism.
The idea for the series was born at a Queens County, New
York, Bicentennial meeting in the Queens Central Library in 1975, with a
proposal by Clarence L. Irving, Sr.,
chairman and founder of the Black American Heritage Foundation. Mr. Irving lived from August 21, 1924 to
March 24, 2014. In 1976, Irving
drafted a proposal, and working with Dr. Robert D. Parmet, professor of
history at York College of The City University of New York; former New York
State Senator Karen Burstein (1973-1978); and then-Queens Borough President
Claire Shulman, he presented the plan to then-Rep. Joseph Addabbo
(1961-1983), a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee dealing with
the Postal Service. The initiative
was designed to honor Black women as part of the Bicentennial celebration
of the United States. Two years
later in 1978, the USPS created a completely new series commemorating Black
Americans, with Harriet Tubman of the famous Underground Railroad chosen as
the first historical figure to start the "Black Heritage USA
Series. Tubman was the first
African-American woman to appear on a U. S. postage stamp. The first African American ever honored
on a U. S. postage stamp was Booker T. Washington in 1940 as a part of the
"Famous Americans Series."
Today, what started at the Queens Library years ago has
become the longest-running commemorative stamp series in U. S. history and
is sought after by collectors worldwide.
The first stamps were illustrated in color, however beginning in
1996 with the 32¢ Ernest E. Just stamp, the designs were based on a
monochromatic photograph as the principal design element with subtle
coloring added. In 2005 with the 37¢
Marian Anderson stamp, artwork returned to color illustrations. The 2012 John H. Johnson stamp again uses
a photograph, though this time in color.
Click Black Heritage Series to see the stamps.
For more information about Clarence L. Irving, Sr.:
The American Philatelic Society has free downloadable
album pages for the Black Heritage Series available at http://stamps.org/userfiles/file/albums/BlackHeritage.pdf
And meet the African-American
artists whose artwork has appeared on U. S. postage stamps since 1963.