Clarence L. Irving, Sr. Centennial
The Founder of the Black Heritage Series
Cultural activist Clarence L. Irving, Sr. was born on August 21, 1924, in Prince George County, Virginia. His father, Paul Irving, was a farmer; his mother, Elizabeth Claiborne, was a housewife. After attending Thaddeus Stevens Elementary School and Randall, Jr. High School in Washington, D.C., Irving moved to New York City where he graduated from the Brooklyn Naval Shipyard in 1952 and Brooklyn Technical Evening School in 1960.
From 1944 to 1953, Irving worked as a mechanic at the U.S. Naval Yard. In April of 1946, he organized his first baseball team in Brooklyn, New York. Then, in 1949, Irving’s team, the Falcons, became the undefeated championship team in the Betsy Hyde Park Baseball League Junior Division. He began working for Con Edison in 1953 as an electrical planner in the electrical power plant. Irving continued coaching youth baseball and went on to organize the Bisons, which by 1955 became very successful in the Brooklyn Kiwanis League, winning seven championship seasons in three divisions. On September 9, 1955, the Bisons won the New York State Kiwanis Baseball Senior Division Championship at Abner Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, New York, making it the first time a baseball team with an African- American manager and coach played on the field. In 1956, Irving retired from managing youth baseball teams and developed the Bison Athletic Club where he served as a mentor.
In 1972, Irving conceived the idea of commemorating African-American women on U. S. postage stamps. Two years later, the U. S. Postal Service created a new series of stamps commemorating African Americans, “The Black Heritage U.S.A. Series.” Then, in 1984, Irving founded the Black American Heritage Foundation (BAHF) to document, preserve, and disseminate information about the accomplishment’s of African Americans. He also founded the Music History Archive in 1989, which serves as a repository for many original scores, early recordings, instruments, costumes, photographs, sheet music, and other artifacts related to musicians.
Irving holds the sole distinction of being honored by three elected women borough presidents of New York City: the Honorable Claire Shilman of Queens; the Honorable Helen M. Marshall of Queens; and the Honorable C. Virginia Fields of Manhattan. In 1996, New York Governor George E. Pataki, along with New York Senator Alton R. Waldon and New York City Assemblywoman Barbara Clark, named April 8th “Clarence L. Irving, Sr. Day.” He received the 1999 Carter G. Woodson Award and the 2000 Humanitarian Award from Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. In 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives honored Irving by renaming the U.S. Postal Service Office in Jamaica, New York, the “Clarence L. Irving, Sr. Post Office Building.”
When York College of City University of New York gained some permanence in 1978, this was historic for York college and also for Clarence L. Irving, Sr., Chairman and Founder of the Black America Heritage Foundation, the proposal of which he authored and worked in a collaborated venue with Dr. Robert D. Parmet, Senator Karen Burstein, and Claire Shulman, to get Rep. Joseph Addabbo a member of the House of Appropriations Sub- committee to present a bill which proposed that the U.S. Postal Service issue a stamp each year of an African American during the month of February. Mr. Addabbo presented the bill, and it was passed.
In 1978, the U. S. Postal Service issued the first stamp in a series named Black Heritage. This first stamp was of Harriett Tubman, the first African-American woman honored on a U. S. stamp. This act made Clarence L. Irving, Sr. the Father of the Black Heritage series, and in 2010 it made U. S. Postal History while honoring him as the longest running series in U. S. postal history.
Today, there are 47th stamps in the series honoring African-American men and women for their contributions to the U. S. and the world. This pioneer had the vision to see a way to honor his race in a way that is now shared around the globe. His proposal has also promoted many other ways for Africans Americans to share a role in the economic sector of our world. Through philately, many jobs have been filled: the illustrators of the stamps issued, the dealers who sell stamps, the other new entrepreneurs, the postal service, and stamp collectors. Mr. Irving has certainly made a giant impact upon opening up the world to many African-American cultural and historical representations throughout the world. He received several honors and a post office named after him. This is a legacy for a history-making man, who pioneered for his race recognition of honor with a stamp of its country.
As the founder of the Ebony Society of Philatelic Events & Reflections, I am proud of his human services and of Clarence L. Irving, Sr. passed away March 24, 2014. Clarence L. Irving was a ESPER member. He also served on ESPER Board of Directors.
By Dr. Esper G. Hayes, Founder of ESPER
From an interview by The History Makers on July 11, 2013. For more information, go to www.thehistorymakers.com