US to issue Paul Robeson stamp
by Tim Wheeler and Mark Almberg Bowing to a six-year grassroots campaign, the US Postal Service has announced that it will issue a stamp commemorating the life of Paul Robeson. The announcement is being greeted with joy in the ranks of those who fought for its issuance. The campaign for the stamp was launched in 1997, a year before the 100th anniversary of Robeson's birth. Mark Rogovin, a leader of the Chicago-based Paul Robeson 100th Birthday Committee, credited two people as initiators of the idea of honouring Robeson with a stamp: Dr Margaret Burroughs, founder of Chicago's DuSable Museum of African American History and a friend of Robeson, and Veterans for Peace activist LeRoy Wolins. "We had this idea about pushing for the stamp and we obtained contacts from all over the United States in connection with the 100th birthday celebrations", Rogovin said. "We decided to come up with a very simple petition urging the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee to issue a postage stamp in honour of Paul Robeson." Many thousands or even tens of thousands of signatures were gathered at the DuSable Museum, he said. Every day, busloads of school children would visit the museum on field trips, learn about Robeson, and sign the petition. The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom was another group whose members threw themselves into the campaign, especially members of the Los Angeles WILPF branch, and members from Philadelphia to Miami and from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Oregon. "In the end, I think we gathered nearly a quarter million signatures from all over the country", Rogovin said. "We went to the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee and turned them in. After working on this for nearly four years, every month or two we'd call and ask them for an update and they'd say: "It's still under consideration". He added, "We were never certain that we were going to have a success, but we always felt that whether we got the stamp or not, the campaign would have been worthwhile to do anyway since we introduced so many people, especially young people, at the grade school level, at the high school level, who had never heard of Robeson, to this great man". Now, he said, the task of educating the people about Robeson has been made easier but at the same time a greater challenge. "I think this is a tremendous victory", Rogovin said. "We should think about holding celebrations all over the United States, stamp parties, and so on." The stamp, part of the Postal Service's Black Heritage Series, was unveiled at a September 29 news conference at Columbia University where Robeson earned a law degree in 1923. It will be released in time for African American History Month this coming February. Professor Manning Marable, director of Columbia's Institute for Research in African American Studies, told the news conference that Robeson "was a man who spoke truth to power". Robeson's life, he said, is an argument for affirmative action to increase enrolment in the nation's colleges and universities by men and women of colour. Columbia Law School's vice dean, Richard Briffault, spoke at length of Robeson's legacy at the law school, from which he graduated in three years. "He is one of our greatest graduates", Briffault said, hailing his stand against colonialism and fascism and for civil liberties and civil rights. Former New York Mayor David Dinkins told the news conference, "We thought this day would never come. For years we got stamps for Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse and no Paul Robeson." He praised Robeson as a giant in the struggle for African American equality and against racist oppression. "We all stand on the shoulders of Paul Robeson", Dinkins said. Present at the event was Jarvis Tyner, executive vice chair of the Communist Party USA. "This is a great victory", Tyner told the People's Weekly World. "The US Postal Service could not have honored a greater American. Now, every school child will be told about Paul Robeson, the great fighter for equality and world peace, the great athlete, singer, actor. He was a genius who gave his heart and soul to the people." Robeson, he added, "embraced all the advanced ideas of the Communist Party USA, the need for a socialist transformation of society, the need for unity of Black, Brown and white. He played an outstanding role in the defeat of McCarthyism." Tyner was referring to Robeson's scathing testimony during an appearance before the House Un-American Activities Committee, in which he denounced lawmakers who were covering up for lynchings and segregation in the South. The witch-hunters had put Robeson on the blacklist in an attempt to block him from singing in concerts or speaking. They revoked his passport to keep him from travelling abroad. Tyner said the grassroots petition movement for the Robeson stamp deserves thanks for their efforts and congratulations for a hard- won victory. "We need a grassroots movement urging people to buy this stamp. Every stamp that goes through the system is like a picket sign for justice." He warned that the Postal Service is threatening to terminate the Black Heritage Series claiming "low demand". Said Tyner, "We need a campaign to get people to use these stamps that have honoured giants like Harriet Tubman, W E B Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall and Dr Martin Luther King Jr". The stamp is a black and white photo portrait of Robeson. On the back Robeson is described as an "incomparable artist and singer, human rights advocate, scholar and athlete, defender of Black freedom".
* * *People's Weekly World http://www.pww.org