Freedom, Courage, & Equality: Celebrating Civil Rights Milestones in 2013

For history lovers and stamp fans alike, the year 2013 should be a very special one. By a fortunate coincidence, there are three major civil rights anniversaries this year, each deserving of a stamp:

  • the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s issuance on January 1, 1863, of the Emancipation Proclamation;
  • the 100th anniversary of the birth of Rosa Parks on February 4, 1913;
  • the 50th anniversary of the famous March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963.

The words “Freedom,” “Courage,” and “Equality” appear in large type in the selvage of each respective pane of stamps honoring these civil rights milestones. Throughout 2013, we’re asking you, our readers, to engage in an online discussion of the meaning of these words—freedom, courage, equality—in your own life and in the life of the nation. What does each word mean to you?

Honor the Courage of Rosa Parks With New Forever® Stamp

Today marks the 100th birthday of an extraordinary American activist: Rosa Parks (1913–2005), who became an inspiring, iconic figure of the civil rights movement with one quiet act of courage. We are extremely proud today to issue a new Forever® stamp in her honor.

Rosa Parks’s name and image used under license with the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development.

Rosa Parks’s name and image used under license with the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development.

The stamp art, by art director Derry Noyes and artist Thomas Blackshear II, is an original portrait of Parks that emphasizes her quiet strength and pleasant persona.

On the evening of Thursday, December 1, 1955, after working all day, Parks was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama, for refusing to give up her seat on a municipal bus to a white man. Discriminatory laws in effect at that time required black passengers to sit in the rear section of the bus and to surrender their seats to white passengers on demand.

From an early age, Rosa Louise McCauley (her name before her marriage to Raymond Parks) was conscious of the injustice she saw around her. She was educated in a segregated system, attending a rural schoolhouse in Alabama in her early years and eventually receiving her high school diploma shortly after her marriage.

Recalling her early life in My Story (1992), an autobiography intended for young readers, Parks wrote: “At times I felt overwhelmed by all the violence and hatred, but there was nothing to do but keep going.”

After her arrest for refusing to give up her seat, blacks boycotted Montgomery’s bus system. The boycott lasted for 381 days and thrust a young local pastor, Martin Luther King, Jr., into the spotlight.

On November 13, 1956, in a related case, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that segregating Montgomery buses was unconstitutional. The boycott continued for several weeks more until the written order mandating integrated buses arrived. The next day, December 21, more than a year after the boycott began, black citizens began to ride the Montgomery buses again.

The Rosa Parks stamp is being issued as a Forever® stamp in sheets of 20 self-adhesive stamps. (Forever stamps are always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail one-ounce rate.) It is the second of three stamps we will issue in 2013 to commemorate landmark anniversaries in civil rights history. Watch as Deputy Postmaster General Ronald Stroman introduces the stamps and gives an inspiring account of the U.S. Postal Service’s long history of offering African Americans opportunities not found elsewhere.

“It’s a story we’re proud to tell,” he says, “and a journey we’re eager to continue, together.”

What We Saw on Day One of the 2012 Congressional Stamp Exhibit

The 2012 Congressional Stamp Exhibit opened today at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C. We were there, of course, with a table full of collectibles for all the happy stamp folks who came by. We were also eager to see the stamps and stamp-related items from the personal collections of U.S. Senators Orrin Hatch, Carl Levin, and Lisa Murkowski, and U.S. Representatives Gary L. Ackerman, Robert B. Aderholt, Wm. Lacy Clay Jr., Joseph R. Pitts, and Silvestre Reyes.

It’s a good thing the exhibit is open for three days because, wow, what a selection! The personal collections on display cover everything from Alaska and Utah on stamps to stamp errors and signed philatelic collectibles.

Stamps are a depiction of the history and culture of the nation. In collecting stamps, one can concentrate on any aspect of the culture or mood of the people, as well as own great art on the cheap. And if you’re lucky it can be a good investment and a family legacy. – Rep. Gary L. Ackerman

Representative Ackerman’s stamp collection focuses on the Heroes semipostal stamp, which was issued on June 7, 2002 (it’s hard to see, but check out the postmark date in the picture). The net proceeds from the sale of these stamps were transferred to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide assistance to the families of emergency relief personnel who died or were permanently disabled in the line of duty in connection with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Representative Ackerman’s display of canceled stamp sheets, the First Day of Issue ceremony program, and other materials was moving and a reminder that even tiny stamps can command great power and emotion.

I have always loved stamp collecting because of the people and historical moments they commemorate. Stamps tell the story of our country’s struggle to achieve a more perfect union and of the great Americans who contributed to that ongoing mission. – Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay Jr.

Representative Clay has put together a wonderful collection of framed philatelic products related to the African American experience, including Ella Fitzgerald (is that a real record in there?!), Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Josephine Baker, Booker T. Washington, and the To Form A More Perfect Union stamps. How inspiring it must be to have these hanging on the wall of his office!

We’ll have more from the exhibit tomorrow.  Until then, happy stamping!

Today We Take a Stand Against Racism

Today is the fifth annual Stand Against Racism—a movement that aims to shed light on the pervasive forms of racism that still exist in our country and eliminate them by celebrating our diversity.

In August 1963, during the height of the civil rights movement, more than 250,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C., to demand racial justice. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech to the crowd on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, driving home the importance of racial equality with optimistic hope for the future.

We’ve come a long way since then, but there is still more work to be done. By raising awareness of the injustices enacted upon our fellow citizens every day, Stand Against Racism dreams of the same world Dr. King did in 1963.

Issued as part of the To Form a More Perfect Union pane in 2005, the stamp art is a detail from “March on Washington” by Alma Thomas.