Teaching black history through stamp collecting

Sharing an article that we had the honor to be featured in:

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Charlene Blair uses her stamp collection to teach black history at Laclede Elementary School in St. Louis.

Photo by: Elisa Tomich

 Teaching black history through stamp collecting

By Elisa Tomich, Wells Fargo Advisors communications consultant

Twenty-six years ago, Charlene Blair, a Wells Fargo executive assistant, stumbled upon a magazine article that intrigued her.

It featured the Black Heritage Collection, the longest running series of U.S. postage stamps, which has celebrated notable African Americans over the years such as Ella Fitzgerald, Thurgood Marshall, and James Baldwin.

Standing in a St. Louis elementary school classroom earlier this month, Charlene recounted how she immediately went to the Post Office to see if she could buy the 14 stamps that were part of the collection at the time. They were no longer available. So she turned to stamp dealers and collectors to find them, and quickly became a collector herself.

“All these individual stamps have a history to them,” Charlene told the students.

Much of Charlene’s stamp collection is arranged in frames, displayed on easels. It tells the stories of black history, one that she takes to public libraries, schools and social media. It tells stories of civil rights struggles, of inventors and scientists and cultural icons.

Harriet Tubman was the first black woman to be on U.S. stamp, in 1978.

“Is she the one who went back and got the other slaves?” one fifth grader asked. 

“Correct,” Charlene said. “And may one day be on the $20 bill.”

What’s on a stamp says a lot about what a nation values. For most of the 20th century, stamps featured the faces of white men. That slowly began to change in 1940, when Booker T. Washington became the first African American featured on a stamp.

Since then, U.S. postage stamps have featured more than 200 African Americans.

“Do you know who W.E.B DuBois is?” Charlene asked.  His stamp was issued in 1992.

One student knew that he was a social activist.  Another pointed out that he was the first African American to receive a PhD from Harvard University.

In 2017, Charlene began a non-profit organization, the National Museum of African Americans on Stamps, a traveling and virtual display that allows her to share her collection and the stories behind them.

Her favorite stamp is that of Marian Anderson, an opera singer who was denied permission to sing before an integrated audience in Philadelphia due to her skin color. Outraged, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt helped arrange an outdoor concert at the Lincoln Memorial, featuring Anderson. It drew an audience of 75,000. 

“Do you know what an ally is?” Charlene asked the students. “An ally is someone who may not be like you, but is on your side.”

Throughout February, Charlene will take her exhibit on the road, to a public library, a charter high school in Illinois, and a university black business expo, reaching as many as she can about the history-making men and women who appear in her stamp collection.

As the conversation wrapped up at the elementary school, Charlene pointed out that new collectors could start now. The Lena Horne stamp was issued in January.

“I’ll get it from the post office or order it online,” she said.

Wells Fargo Advisors is a trade name used by Wells Fargo Clearing Services, LLC, Member SIPC, a registered broker-dealer and non-bank affiliate of Wells Fargo & Company.

 

MLK Bell Toll Commemoration

We had an opportunity to participate in the MLK50 Bell Toll by joining others at the Missouri History Museum.  We were featured on their Facebook Live feed and interviewed by a reporter, Nassim Benchaabane, from the St. Louis Post Dispatch.  He wrote: 

Charlene Blair, 55, stood listening to Nance’s words while holding a framed picture of the ceremonial U.S. Postal Stamp bearing King’s image, part of a collection she has of stamps of famous or accomplished African-Americans.

Blair was a kindergartner in East St. Louis when King was assassinated.

“As I grew older, I became more and more appreciative of the opportunities I had in my life because of Dr. King,” she said. “I wanted to show my appreciation for all that he’s done for us.”

Here is the full article: ‘Keep the Dream Alive‘: Bells toll in honor of MLK on 50th anniversary of his death

Black History Issues – Dragon Cards

Stamp collecting can be enhanced by collecting first day covers, souvenir pages, posters, key chains, coasters and other items with stamps on them. Dragon cards by Lloyd de Vries have been nice additions to many collectors.  Look at the Ralph Ellison below.

Black History Dragon Cards

 

Dorothy Height Stamp

The Dorothy Height is still available at the USPS online. 

“Height is the 40th addition to the Black Heritage Series which features other African American pioneers and activists including Harriet Tubman, W.E.B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, and Martin Luther King, Jr. She is also the 15th woman to be added to the series.” See more info at NBCNEWS

This is a dragon card from https://dragoncards.biz/

Radio Promos, Voices and Perspectives

One of the goals of the National Museum of African Americans on Stamps is to be a catalyst for courageous conversations. To support this effort we will have 30 second promos on WSIE 88.7 The Sound.
http://www.siue.edu/wsie/ or http://streaming.siue.edu:8000/wsie

We will appear in the hour before and after “Voices,” an hour-long radio-news magazine hosted by St. Louis radio personality Hank Thompson, that airs at 6 p.m. on Sundays, and focuses on social issues, politics and culture from an African-American perspective. We invite you to listen.

If you would like to support the marketing and programming efforts of NMAAS, please donate on our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/TheStampKeeper/), www.paypal.me/NMAAStamps, or send to P.O. Box 303, Edwardsville IL 62025. Thanks and enjoy the music and show.

Note: Voices has its own dedicated sponsor(s). NMAAS is not responsible for the guest, views expressed or topics chosen.

NMAAS – February 2018 Events

February 2018 was a busy month. We began with a visit to an elementary school where a journalism club had the opportunity to ask questions and write a report about NMAAS and the hobby of stamp collecting. The winner receives $50 and the opportunity to be published in the St. Louis American Newspaper. 

We had a booth at a black business expo on the campus of SIU-Edwardsville and hosted our first exhibit at the Edwardsville, IL Library.  Eight tables of items from the personal collection of Charlene Blair were enjoyed by adults and children.

The month was rounded out by a visit to the E. St. Louis, IL Resource Library where Charter School students and the community visited the exhibit and heard a brief presentation.

Check out some of the photos shared on the Ebony Society of Philatelic Events and Reflections page –  ESPER page.

Preservation of African American Spaces

We are excited to see the initiative to preserve African American Spaces. In his article about Historic Preservation, Brent Leggs states, “Along with elevating forgotten places, we aim to reveal the hidden, and sometimes willfully obscured, layers of history at all historic sites”. Below are some of the organizations that may benefit from this project. 

Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.
A non-profit organization that honors the accomplishments and history of African-Americans who participated in air crew, ground crew and operations support training in the Army Air Corps during WWII.
http://www.tuskegeeairmen.org/

Association for the Study of African American Life and History
Promotes, researches, preserves, interprets and disseminates information about Black life, history and culture to the global community.
www.asalh.org

National Great Blacks In Wax Museum
This museum is committed solely to the study and preservation of African American history. Visitors report that this museum is the most unique and dynamic black history experience. 
http://www.ngbiwm.com/

Idaho Black History Museum
This museum, one of few in the state of Idaho, exhibits, provides educational and outreach programs, and maintains a speakers bureau.
www.ibhm.org

Higgins-Bond

We should never forget that it takes a team to execute our best ideas and produce effective change. Furthermore, to portray accomplished African-Americans in an accurate and creative light we need the artists.

Barbara Higgins Bond is an artist and designs some of the artwork in the stamps we share on this page. The first African-American female to illustrate a United States postage stamp, she has created outstanding designs for three Black Heritage issues: Jan E. Matzeliger, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Percy Lavon Julian.

Higgins Bond earned her bachelor of fine arts from Memphis College of Art. A versatile artist whose work has attracted national attention, Higgins Bond (as she’s known professionally) has been an illustrator and commercial artist for close to 40 years. Her images have appeared in children’s books and on magazine and book covers, posters, album covers, and collectors’ plated created for such prominent clients as Anheuser-Busch, McGraw-Hill, Essence magazine, the Franklin Mint, The Bradford Exchange, NBC, Hennessy Cognac, Frito-Lay, and Columbia House. She also is an adjunct professor of illustration at the Nossi College of Art in Nashville, where she lives. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Du Sable Museum of African-American History have exhibited her work.

She has received prestigious honors including a medal of honor from then-Governor Bill Clinton. She also has illustrated four stamps for the United Nations Postal Administration. Higgins Bond was the keynote speaker at ESPER’s 25th anniversay in 2013.

http://www.esperstamps.org/african-american-stamp-artists

Lena Horne – 41st Stamp in the Black Heritage Series

Do you plan on attending the Lena Horne Stamp unveiling? Don’t forget to reserve your tickets. 

Martin Luther King, Jr.

As we start the year, we have been recognizing and celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr,. – one of the most inspirational people of our time. The civil rights leader left a legacy that we are still striving to achieve.  The stamp below was issued January 13, 1979. He is the second stamp in the Black Heritage Series. Click the links to see a brief video and information about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

MLK Recognition

 

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