Rosa Parks: Courage Personified

Rosa Parks (1913–2005) is often celebrated for her refusal to give up her seat on the bus to a white man on December 1, 1955. But the decision she made after her arrest—while not as well known—was equally courageous.

Pay tribute to Rosa Parks with this 33 ¾ x 14 ½-inch press sheet, available with or without die-cuts. Each stamp sheet includes selvage markings denoting the printer and the ink colors used to print the stamps. Click the image for more info.

Seen through the eyes of her husband, Raymond Parks, Rosa was in grave danger every minute she remained in jail. Raymond was therefore elated when Rosa was released on bond thanks to the intervention of the president of the Montgomery branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and a white lawyer for whom Parks had worked.

That could have been the end of the trauma for the Parks family. But for some time the NAACP had been looking for a test case to challenge the city’s segregation ordinance. Other black women before Rosa Parks had been arrested for refusing to give up their seat on a Montgomery bus, but the NAACP judged that they could not withstand the relentless scrutiny to which such a public case would subject them.

Mrs. Rosa Parks gave them the perfect test case: “middle-aged, religious, of good character, known and respected in the community for her political work, and brave,” as her biographer Jeanne Theoharis writes in The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks (2013).

Still, Mrs. Parks had to agree to undertake what promised to be an ordeal. Her husband tried to dissuade her. “The white folks will kill you, Rosa,” he warned her. Fully aware of the dangers ahead, she nevertheless decided that if it could “mean something to Montgomery and do some good, I’ll be happy to go along with it.”

That deliberate decision, as much as her earlier refusal to give up her seat on the bus, helped launch the Montgomery bus boycott and bring an end to legal segregation in the South.

5 Digits, 50 Years: The Triumphant Return of Mr. ZIP

In 1986, one of history’s hardest-working postmen slipped quietly into retirement—but not before leaving his mark on every card, letter, and package most of us have ever mailed.

We now take ZIP Codes for granted, but when the Zone Improvement Plan began in July 1963, post officials foresaw that few Americans would be excited about memorizing five-digit codes for their own addresses, let alone codes for all of their family and friends. Enter Mr. ZIP, wMr. ZIPho began appearing in the media in late 1962 and started popping up on the selvage of stamp sheets in 1964. His job was to promote ZIP Codes—and to make using them second nature for generations to come.

Some aspects of the campaign, like this video from the mid-1960s, were all business, promising “space-age speed” if you remembered to include a ZIP Code on your letters. Other attempts at public outreach, like fourteen minutes of songs by “The Swingin’ Six,” are reminders of a far different age in American taste. Even so, Mr. ZIP abounds in these videos, just as he appeared on buttons and signs, in magazines, on the sides of trucks, and in other prominent places across the culture. Half a century later, he may well be one of the most successful ad icons of all time: USPS historians note that by 1967, 80 percent of Americans recognized Mr. ZIP and knew what he stood for.

Throughout 2013, we’ll celebrate 50 successful years of the ZIP Code system with the return of the smiling chap who taught America how to keep the mail on track. Mr. ZIP has his own web site at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum, and he’s already appeared this year on the backs of the Grand Central Terminal and Arlington Green Bridge stamp sheets. In the months ahead, keep an eye out for him—and marvel at how a simple doodle convinced the public to participate in one of the biggest mail-delivery revolutions in U.S. history.

Exclusive Video: Muscle Cars Stamps at Daytona

To celebrate the launch of our Muscle Cars stamps, we created an event worthy of racing history—featuring all the cars from our stamps AND racing legends Richard and Kyle Petty. Watch it all happen again!

Muscle Cars Stamps Roar in Today

Hit the ignition, folks. The Muscle Cars (Forever®) stamps have arrived!

470504-01-main-900x695The five stamps celebrate an exciting era in American automotive history. Typically equipped with big, powerful engines, these high-performance vehicles first roared onto our roads in the 1960s. The stamps feature five iconic muscle cars: the 1966 Pontiac GTO, the 1967 Shelby GT-500, the 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona, the 1970 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda, and the 1970 Chevelle SS.

Muscle Cars is the third issuance in the America on the Move series. The first two issuances in the series were 50s Sporty Cars (2005) and 50s Fins and Chrome (2008).

Later today, the Muscle Cars stamps will be officially issued at Daytona International Speedway, but they are available now online and in Post Offices around the country. Put the pedal to the metal and get yours today!

“To embrace the whole of America”: The Legacy of Hattie McDaniel

As movie fans eagerly await the Oscars, it’s worth remembering the night when black history forever became Hollywood history, too. At a banquet in 1940, Hattie McDaniel became the first African American to win an Academy Award—and quietly bequeathed a legacy of hope to other black performers.

USPS06STA004BIn 2006, McDaniel was featured on a Black Heritage stamp—a potentially controversial decision for the Postal Service, because the actress dealt with withering scorn for playing maids and other stereotypical roles. “I’d rather play a maid than be one,” she often quipped, working behind the scenes to battle racism and discrimination in ways that her critics came to appreciate only later.

McDaniel won praise from the NAACP and the National Urban League when she played the title role on The Beulah Show, a radio program that aired from 1947 to 1952. As the lead in the first radio show to feature a black star, she insisted that her character not speak in dialect, and she successfully negotiated the right to alter scripts that didn’t meet her approval.

Of course, McDaniel’s ultimate claim to immortality remains her turn in the 1939 classic Gone with the Wind. Unfortunately, her actual award—not a statuette, but a small plaque—has long since vanished. Prior to her death in 1952, she bequeathed the plaque to Howard University, but it went missing sometime in the 1960s. The search for the award prompted a recent Washington Post feature story and a fascinating law journal article—and hope that it may someday reappear.

In the meantime, we’re pleased to have honored McDaniel on a stamp that shows her in the dress she wore on the biggest night of her career, and to have told her story on a commemorative panel. Her accomplishment was aptly and movingly summed up by actress Fay Bainter, who presented her with the Academy Award: “It opens the doors of this room, moves back the walls, and enables us to embrace the whole of America.”

We have two copies of the 2006 Hattie McDaniel commemorative panel to give away today. The 8 ½ x 11 ¼-inch panel includes a background narrative about McDaniel as well as historic images and a block of four mint Hattie McDaniel stamps in a protective acetate mount. To enter to win, all you have to do is email your name and address to uspsstamps [at] gmail [dot] com. Two winners will be selected at random. The deadline for entries is 10 p.m. EST, Friday, February 22. Good luck!

CONTEST UPDATE: Congratulations to our two winners: Tomekia Walker and Mark Pawelczak! If you didn’t win this time, don’t worry. We’ll have plenty more contests and giveaways throughout the year.