The Guardian October 22, 2003


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".

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