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
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. 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.
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.