Rosa Parks: An Extraordinary Life

Rosa Parks stampWhen Rosa Parks (1913–2005) refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man on December 1, 1955, it was no random act of courage. In a sense, her whole life had prepared her for what she did that day.

From an early age, Rosa Louise McCauley was conscious of the injustice she saw around her in the segregated South. As a young woman, she joined with her husband, Raymond Parks, whom she married in 1932, in the effort to free the “Scottsboro boys,” nine black youths who had been caught up in the discriminatory legal machinery then in place in Alabama. In 1943, she began working with the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), helping to transform the local branch into a more activist organization. That same year, she was forced off a Montgomery city bus for the first time under discriminatory laws requiring black passengers to sit in the rear section and to surrender their seats to white passengers on demand.

Rosa Parks Postmark

This First Day Cover bears an affixed Rosa Parks Forever® stamp and an official First Day of Issue pictorial postmark. Click the image for more information. (Rosa Parks’s name and image used under license with the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development.)

When the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed segregated schools in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, people working in the civil rights movement understood that the ruling held important implications for all kinds of segregation, including on the bus lines in Montgomery. The following summer, Parks attended an interracial workshop at the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tenneseee, learning, among other things, how to desegregate schools.

The workshop and her participation for many years with a community of civil rights activists served as sources of strength for the action she took on December 1, 1955.

Rosa Parks had the courage to act alone. But she knew she didn’t stand alone. She took heart from being part of a larger civil rights movement that opposed injustice and strove for equal rights for all in America.

The stamp honoring Rosa Parks is one of three stamps celebrating freedom, courage, and equality being issued in 2013. It is being issued as a Forever® stamp. (Forever stamps are always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail® one-ounce rate.)

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.

Rosa Parks sheet with die-cuts

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.

“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.

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?

Tennis Pioneer Althea Gibson to Become Part of Black Heritage Stamp Series

We are delighted to announce this morning that the 36th stamp in the Black Heritage series will honor Althea Gibson (1927–2003), a pioneering tennis player who helped integrate her sport at the height of the civil rights movement. The first African American to win one of the four major singles tournaments, Gibson twice captured Wimbledon and the U.S. Championships (now known as the U.S. Open) and became the top-ranked player in the world.

Gibson-2013-Forever-single-BGv1Designed by Derry Noyes, the stamp features an oil-on-wood painting of Gibson by artist Kadir Nelson. The art is based on a photograph—taken at Wimbledon—of the tall and lean Gibson bending down to hit a low volley. By capturing her in action, Nelson’s portrait emphasizes Gibson’s extraordinary grace and athleticism.

The Althea Gibson stamp will be issued later this year 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.) A release date has not yet been set. Follow us on Facebook to be the first to find out when this and other 2013 stamps will be released.