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.
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.
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.
Romare Howard Bearden was born on September 2, 1911, to (Richard) Howard and Bessye Bearden in Charlotte, North Carolina, and died in New York City on March 12, 1988, at the age of 76. His life and art are marked by exceptional talent, encompassing a broad range of intellectual and scholarly interests, including music, performing arts, history, literature and world art. Bearden was also a celebrated humanist, as demonstrated by his lifelong support of young, emerging artists.
Romare Bearden began college at Lincoln University, transferred to Boston University and completed his studies at New York University (NYU), graduating with a degree in education. While at NYU, Bearden took extensive courses in art and was a lead cartoonist and then art editor for the monthly journal The Medley. He had also been art director of Beanpot, the student humor magazine of Boston University. Bearden published many journal covers during his university years and the first of numerous texts he would write on social and artistic issues. He also attended the Art Students League in New York and later, the Sorbonne in Paris. In 1935, Bearden became a weekly editorial cartoonist for the Baltimore Afro-American, which he continued doing until 1937.
From the mid-1930s through 1960s, Bearden was a social worker with the New York City Department of Social Services, working on his art at night and on weekends. His success as an artist was recognized with his first solo exhibition in Harlem in 1940 and his first solo show in Washington, DC, in 1944. Bearden was a prolific artist whose works were exhibited during his lifetime throughout the United States and Europe. His collages, watercolors, oils, photomontages and prints are imbued with visual metaphors from his past in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Harlem and from a variety of historical, literary and musical sources.
Bearden was also a respected writer and an eloquent spokesman on artistic and social issues of the day. Active in many arts organizations, in 1964 Bearden was appointed the first art director of the newly established Harlem Cultural Council, a prominent African-American advocacy group. He was involved in founding several important art venues, such as The Studio Museum in Harlem and the Cinque Gallery. Initially funded by the Ford Foundation, Bearden and the artists Norman Lewis and Ernest Crichlow established Cinque to support younger minority artists. Bearden was also one of the founding members of the Black Academy of Arts and Letters in 1970 and was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1972.
Recognized as one of the most creative and original visual artists of the twentieth century, Romare Bearden had a prolific and distinguished career. He experimented with many different mediums and artistic styles, but is best known for his richly textured collages, two of which appeared on the covers of Fortune and Time magazines, in 1968. An innovative artist with diverse interests, Bearden also designed costumes and sets for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and programs, sets and designs for Nanette Bearden’s Contemporary Dance Theatre.
Bearden’s work is included in many important public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and The Studio Museum in Harlem, among others. He has had retrospectives at the Mint Museum of Art (1980), the Detroit Institute of the Arts (1986), as well as numerous posthumous retrospectives, including The Studio Museum in Harlem (1991) and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (2003).
Bearden was the recipient of many awards and honors throughout his lifetime. Honorary doctorates were given by Pratt Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, Davidson College and Atlanta University, to name but a few. He received the Mayor’s Award of Honor for Art and Culture in New York City in 1984 and the National Medal of Arts, presented by President Ronald Reagan, in 1987.
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.
Oswald Garrison Villard (1872-1949)
Villard was one of the founders of the NAACP and wrote “The Call” leading to its formation. His undated portrait comes from the records of the NAACP at the Library of Congress.
Daisy Gatson Bates (1914-1999)
Bates mentored nine black students who enrolled at all-white Central High School in Little Rock, AR, in 1957. The students used her home as an organizational hub. The 1957 photograph of Bates is from the New York World-Telegram & Sun Newspaper photographic collection at the Library of Congress.
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.