Tag: African American

#SaturdayStamps: Aaron Douglas

In both his style and his subjects, Aaron Douglas revolutionized African-American art. A leader within the Harlem Renaissance, Douglas created a broad range of work that helped to shape this movement and bring it to national prominence. Through his collaborations, illustrations, and public murals, he established a method of combining elements of modern art and African culture to celebrate the African-American experience and call attention to racism and segregation.

Key Ideas

Douglas depicted African subjects in an innovative and bold graphic style that was inspired by modern art, particularly Cubism. His approach elevated both everyday experiences and non-Western history to be part of an international avant-garde. He also integrated the rhythms of jazz into his compositions, adding an additional element of African-American culture to his imagery.
Flattening his figures to two-dimensional silhouettes and generalizing their forms to be generic men and women, Douglas created imagery that celebrated African and African-American themes in terms that were universal and integrative. He employed this style across a range of different media, including painting, illustration, murals, and prints.
Douglas often worked with a narrow range of colors, instead using compositional elements and shapes like concentric circles and radiating beams, to create dramatic focal points and dynamic movement. These abstract elements enhanced the narratives of his paintings to make them more emotionally impactful.
Through his work with the Harlem Artists Guild and as the chair of the art department at Fisk University (a historically black college), Douglas worked to increase educational access and career opportunities for young African-American artists. He was an important mentor for second-generation Harlem Renaissance artists and an inspiration to contemporary artists who deal with race and identity in their work.

#SaturdayStamps: John Johnson

John Johnson, the founder of Johnson Publishing Company, which publishes Ebony and Jet magazines, is the 35th honoree in the Black Heritage stamp series. The Postal Service has recognized the achievements of prominent African Americans through the Black Heritage series since 1978. Past honorees have included Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Madam C.J. Walker, Paul Robeson, Jackie Robinson, Marian Anderson, Langston Hughes and Barbara Jordan.

“John Johnson’s unyielding commitment to journalistic excellence and his unparalleled reporting on African American culture have distinguished him as one of America’s greatest publishers,” said USPS Chicago Senior Plant Manager Anthony Vaughan.

Joining Vaughan to dedicate the stamp at Johnson Publishing Company’s Chicago offices today were Linda Johnson Rice, chairman, Johnson Publishing Co.; Desiree Rogers, CEO, Johnson Publishing Co.; Rahm Emanuel, mayor, Chicago; Richard M. Daley, former mayor, Chicago; U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, 7th Congressional District; and Rev. James Meeks, Salem Baptist Church of Chicago.

“I’m immensely proud that my father and his life’s passion are being recognized in such a high honor as the Black Heritage Stamp,” said Linda Johnson Rice. “His legacy lives on in all whom he touched and in the work we continue to do daily.” The stamp goes on sale today at Post Offices nationwide, online at usps.com and by phone at 800-782-6724.

From poverty to the pinnacle of American society, Johnson’s journey was extraordinary. He was born in Arkansas City, AR., where schools were segregated and there were no high schools for black students. By the time of his death at age 87, he commanded a business empire encompassing magazines, cosmetics, radio stations, book publishing and more. In 1982, he became the first black person to appear on Forbes magazine’s annual list of the 400 wealthiest people in America.

Johnson was the trailblazing publisher of Negro Digest, Ebony, Jet, and other magazines that showcased African American accomplishments at a time when such affirmation was rare in mainstream media. In 1946, the year after it was founded, Ebony landed its first national advertising account. Selling advertising space to white-owned corporations and persuading them to use black models in their ads were major breakthroughs.

In recognition of his achievements, Johnson received many prizes and honors, including the NAACP’s prestigious Spingarn Medal in 1966 and being named publisher of the year by industry peers in 1972. President Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996, and a panel of experts polled by Baylor University in 2003 named Johnson the greatest minority entrepreneur in American history.

#SaturdayStamps: Robert Robinson Taylor

The stamp honors Robert Robinson Taylor (1868-1942). The son of emancipated slaves, he was the first black student to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  When he graduated in 1892, he became the first fully accredited African-American architect in America.

During his time at MIT, Taylor met Booker T. Washington.  President of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, Washington focused on education to fight discrimination in the post-Civil War South.  He was impressed with Taylor and recruited him to teach at the school.

As the drafting instructor and architect to the Tuskegee Institute, Taylor was dedicated to promoting Washington’s self-help philosophy.  His architectural debut, Science Hall, was constructed entirely by the students, right down to the bricks.  But Taylor’s second project, the Tuskegee Chapel, was his proudest accomplishment.  Washington once referred to it as the most imposing building on campus.  Taylor’s designs and structures were said to epitomize the institute’s standards of excellence.

Taylor spent the majority of his career at Tuskegee.  He became a model of achievement   through his many contributions – a symbol of pride for the Tuskegee Institute and the nation.

#SaturdayStamps: Mary Church Terrell and Mary White Ovington 

Mary White Ovington (April 11, 1865 in Brooklyn, New York – July 15, 1951) a suffragette, socialist, unitarian, journalist, and co-founder of the NAACP.

Her parents, members of the Unitarian Church were supporters of women’s rights and had been involved in anti-slavery movement. Educated at Packer Collegiate Institute and Radcliffe College, Ovington became involved in the campaign for civil rights in 1890 after hearing Frederick Douglass speak in a Brooklyn church.

In 1895 she helped found the Greenpoint Settlement in Brooklyn. Appointed head of the project the following year, Ovington remained until 1904 when she was appointed fellow of the Greenwich House Committee on Social Investigations. Over the next five years she studied employment and housing problems in black Manhattan. During her investigations she met William Du Bois, an African American from Harvard University, and she was introduced to the founding members of the Niagara Movement.

Influenced by the ideas of William Morris, Ovington joined the Socialist Party in 1905, where she met people such as Daniel De Leon, Asa Philip Randolph, Floyd Dell, Max Eastman and Jack London, who argued that racial problems were as much a matter of class as of race. She wrote for radical journals and newspapers such as, The Masses, New York Evening Post, and The Call. She also worked with Ray Stannard Baker and influenced the content of his book, Following the Color Line (1908).

On September 3, 1908 she read an article written by socialist William English Walling entitled “Race War in the North” in The Independent. Walling described a massive race riot directed at black residents in the hometown of Abraham Lincoln, Springfield, Illinois that led to seven deaths, 40 homes and 24 businesses destroyed, and 107 indictments against rioters. Walling ended the article by calling for a powerful body of citizens to come to the aid blacks. Ovington responded to the article by writing Walling and meeting at his apartment in New York City along with social worker Dr. Henry Moskowitz. The group decided to launch a campaign by issuing a “call” for a national conference on the civil and political rights of African-Americans on the centennial of Lincoln’s birthday, February 12, 1909. Many responded to the “call” that eventually led to the formation of the National Negro Committee that held its first meeting in New York on May 31 and June 1, 1909. By May, 1910 the National Negro Committee and attendants, at its second conference, organized a permanent body known as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) where Ovington was appointed as its executive secretary. Early members included Josephine Ruffin, Mary Talbert, Mary Church Terrell, Inez Milholland, Jane Addams, George Henry White, William Du Bois, Charles Edward Russell, John Dewey, Charles Darrow, Lincoln Steffens, Ray Stannard Baker, Fanny Garrison Villard, Oswald Garrison Villard and Ida Wells-Barnett.

The following year she attended the Universal Races Congress in London. Ovington remained active in the struggle for women’s suffrage and as a pacifist opposed America’s involvement in the First World War. During the war Ovington supported Asa Philip Randolph and his magazine, The Messenger, which campaigned for black civil rights.

After the war Ovington served the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People as board member, executive secretary and chairman. The NAACP fought a long legal battle against segregation and racial discrimination in housing, education, employment, voting and transportation. They appealed to the Supreme Court to rule that several laws passed by southern states were unconstitutional and won three important judgments between 1915-1923 concerning voting rights and housing.

She wrote several books and articles including a study of black Manhattan, Half a Man (1911), Status of the Negro in the United States (1913), Socialism and the Feminist Movement (1914), an anthology for black children, The Upward Path (1919), biographical sketches of prominent African Americans, Portraits in Color (1927), an autobiography, Reminiscences (1932) and a history of the NAACP, The Walls Come Tumbling Down (1947).

Ovington retired as a board member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1947 and in doing so, ended decades of service with the organization. She died in 1951.

#SaturdayStamps: Ella Baker and Ruby Hurley

Ella Jo Baker was born on December 13, 1903, in Norfolk, Virginia. She developed a sense for social justice early in her life. As a girl growing up in North Carolina, Baker listened to her grandmother tell stories about slave revolts. As a slave, her grandmother had been whipped for refusing to marry a man chosen for her by the slave owner.

Baker studied at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. As a student she challenged school policies that she thought were unfair. After graduating in 1927 as class valedictorian, she moved to New York City and began joining social activist organizations. In 1930, she joined the Young Negroes Cooperative League, whose purpose was to develop black economic power through collective planning. She also involved herself with several women’s organizations. She was committed to economic justice for all people and once said, “People cannot be free until there is enough work in this land to give everybody a job.”

Ella Baker began her involvement with the NAACP in 1940. She worked as a field secretary and then served as director of branches from 1943 until 1946. Inspired by the historic bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, Baker co-founded the organization In Friendship to raise money to fight against Jim Crow Laws in the deep South.

In 1957, Baker moved to Atlanta to help organize Martin Luther King’s new organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). She also ran a voter registration campaign called the Crusade for Citizenship.

On February 1, 1960, a group of black college students from North Carolina A&T University refused to leave a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina where they had been denied service. Baker left the SCLC after the Greensboro sit-ins. She wanted to assist the new student activists because she viewed young, emerging activists as a resource and an asset to the movement. Miss Baker organized a meeting at Shaw University for the student leaders of the sit-ins in April 1960. From that meeting, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee — SNCC — was born.

Adopting the Gandhian theory of nonviolent direct action, SNCC members joined with activists from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to organize the 1961 Freedom Rides. In 1964 SNCC helped create Freedom Summer, an effort to focus national attention on Mississippi’s racism and to register black voters. Miss Baker, and many of her contemporaries, believed that voting was one key to freedom.  We agree that if we do not exercise our collective voice, we are unable to influence the policies and laws that impact our lives. To be counted, we must be heard. Our Soul of the City civic engagement work and participation with Oakland Rising builds on the Voting Rights work of the 60s.

With Ella Baker’s guidance and encouragement, SNCC became one of the foremost advocates for human rights in the country. Ella Baker once said, “This may only be a dream of mine, but I think it can be made real.” Her audacity to dream big is a cornerstone of our philosophy. Her influence was reflected in the nickname she acquired: “Fundi,” a Swahili word meaning a person who teaches a craft to the next generation. Baker continued to be a respected and influential leader in the fight for human and civil rights until her death on December 13, 1986, her 83rd birthday.

Ruby Ruffin was born on November 7, 1909 in Washington, D.C. to Alice and Edward R. Ruffin. She graduated from Dunbar High School in 1926. She attended Miner Teachers College and Robert H. Terrell Law School. She worked briefly for the federal government and at the Industrial Bank of Washington. She married William L. Hurley, a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In 1939, Hurley was on a committee that was tasked with arranging for a performance from Marian Anderson, an African-American opera singer who was barred from singing at Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution. The committee was able to secure a venue change and Anderson performed at an open air concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to a crowd of 75,000.

For the next four years, Hurley worked reorganizing the D.C. branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), bolstering their youth council. Walter Francis White, who headed the NAACP, appointed Hurley to the position of national Youth Secretary in 1943. She moved to New York City and stayed in that role until 1950. Hurley traveled across the country organizing youth councils and college chapters, increasing their number from 86 to over 280 during her tenure.

In 1951, she moved from New York to Birmingham, Alabama to set up an NAACP office and oversee membership drives in Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. It was the first permanent NAACP office located in the Deep South. She became Regional Secretary of the NAACP’s newly formed Southeast Regional Office the following year. In 1955 Hurley joined with civil rights activists Amzie Moore and Medgar Evers, who was Field Secretary at the NAACP’s Mississippi office, in investigating the murders of minister George W. Lee and 14-year-old Emmett Till. In order to interview witnesses for Till’s case, Hurley wore cotton picker’s clothes. Following the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954, Hurley worked to implement racial integration in the South. While she practiced Christian nonviolence, she appeared on the cover of Jet magazine’s October 6, 1955 issue with a caption reading “Most Militant Negro Woman In The South”. In 1956, Hurley helped to prepare the case of Autherine Lucy to be allowed to attend the University of Alabama. Hurley’s efforts were met with open hostility and she suffered from fatigue and weight loss. Her house was attacked and she received obscene telephone calls. Following a riot at the University of Alabama campus, black taxi drivers offered protection, circling her home.

Remembering Elijah Cummings (1951-2019)

The Baltimore-area Democrat who chaired the powerful House Oversight Committee and drew the ire of President Donald Trump — died early Thursday at Johns Hopkins Hospital due to complications from longstanding health challenges, his office said in a statement. He was 68.

Cummings had represented Maryland’s 7th Congressional District for 23 years before ascending in January to his perch atop the Oversight panel, from which he oversaw several investigations into the current administration. 

Cummings was a force inside the Democratic caucus who earned the trust of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to take on some of the toughest and most politically sensitive assignments. Known for his booming oratory and poetic delivery, Cummings quickly emerged as one of Democrats’ most effective critics.

“When the history books are written about this tumultuous era, I want them to show that I was among those in the House of Representatives who stood up to lawlessness and tyranny,” he said in a Sept. 24 statement.

“Those in the highest levels of the government must stop invoking fear, using racist language and encouraging reprehensible behavior. It only creates more division among us,” Cummings said in his speech in early August. Despite his central role in some of the most politically explosive investigations in recent years, Cummings was a rare figure who forged friendships and bonds across the aisle.

Cummings was the beloved son of Baltimore, born in the city on January 18, 1951, and could often be seen walking the streets of the inner-city district, an area where he lived in the same house for more than three decades. “He worked until his last breath because he believed our democracy was the highest and best expression of our collective humanity and that our nation’s diversity was our promise, not our problem.”

#SaturdayStamps: Gee’s Bend Quilt

Gee’s Bend is a small, isolated, rural community in southern Alabama. Joseph Gee had a cotton plantation there that he sold to Mark Pettway in 1845. After the Civil War, Pettway’s freed slaves became tenant farmers. Many bought their farms in a 1940s’ New Deal program.
The women of Gee’s Bend made dozens of quilts. They were needed for warm bed coverings. Quilts were hung on walls to keep out drafts and laid on floors for children to sit on. The quilters passed their skills down through generations. They pieced together recycled fabrics in a bold, geometric style more like modern abstract paintings than familiar quilt patterns.
In Gee’s Bend, the top is designed and stitched by one quilter. Sewing together the top, batting, and back is sometimes done communally. In 2003, more than 40 women founded the Gee’s Bend Quilter’s Collective. Typically, half of the proceeds from each quilt sold goes to the designer and the rest is divided among the collective’s members.
In the 1930s, Gee’s Bend quilts sold for two dollars. Now, having been discovered by the outside world and displayed in museums across the country, top Gee’s Bend quilts sell for as much as $35,000. Gee’s Bend Quilt stamps are part of the American Treasures Series.