The Booker T. Washington stamp, the first stamp honoring an African American, was issued on April 7, 1940 by the Post Office Department, predecessor of the U.S. Postal Service, as part of its famous Americans series.
Born a slave in Hale’s Ford, Virginia, Washington served as a role model for other struggling African Americans, and, as founder of Alabama’s Tuskegee Normal Industrial School (renamed Tuskegee Institute in 1937), he profoundly influenced the black community’s self-esteem and self-reliance.
In 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, responding to numerous petitions from African American supporters, recognized the timeliness of such a stamp and directed that Washington be considered for this important stamp series. The stamp sold for 10 cents, a high price at the time, but blacks were urged to buy the stamp for special mailings.
Tuskegee Institute owns the first sheet of Booker T. Washington stamps sold, but it passed through several hands before reaching its destination.
Captain Alvin J. Neely, Tuskegee General Alumni Association’s executive secretary, purchased the sheet, autographed by James A. Farley, postmaster general under two administrations of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Neely presented the sheet to Washington’s daughter, Portia Washington Pittman, who then gave it to Dr. William J. Schieffelin, Tuskegee’s chairman of the board, for preservation.
Adding to the memorable event, the Tuskegee Philatelic Club issued covers with a hand-stamped cachet showing a likeness of Washington’s graveside monument.
Booker T. Washington died November 14, 1945 of high blood pressure, according to his medical records. He was 59.