The Story Behind the Stamp by Stephanie Micheals

Posted April 20, 2012 by Mali Jeffers | 2 comments
The Story Behind the Stamp by Stephanie Micheals

 The Story Behind the Stamp

*Ed. Note: This blog post is part of a series written by graduate students in the IUPUI Museum Studies Program. They have spent this semester surveying, documenting, and researching the collection of artworks and artifacts at the Madame Walker Theatre Center, for more info go here:

Today’s post is by Stephanie Michaels.

When I first began thinking about how I would talk about the Madam C.J. Walker Commemorative stamp I realized that endless questions began to arise. How was Madam Walker chosen? Who decided what picture went on the stamp? What is the history of this well-known photo? Who took it?

The popular black and white photo of Madam Walker used in the stamp was taken circa 1914 by the well-known and respected photographer Addison Scurlock (1883-1964). Born in North Carolina, Addison made his fame in Washington D.C. taking portraits of distinguished people from Booker T. Washington to President Coolidge. The PBS documentary Duke Ellington’s Washington describes how easily loved and respected Addison Scurlock was and how much he loved his community in return. “Having one's picture in Scurlock's studio was a mark of true social status in the community and black Americans would travel across the country to have their portraits taken by him.”

In 1914, Madam Walker chose to mark her social status by having a portrait taken by Addison, who at this point in time was just beginning his studio in Washington D.C. Madam Walker herself had only four years prior made her headquarters in Indianapolis. She had been traveling across the country campaigning and selling her products, continuously looking for ways to advance against her competitors. The Scurlock portrait became a new part of her advertising, showing up on products and flyers. Today this portrait has become one of the most well-known photos of Madam Walker.

In 1978 the United States Postal Service began their Black Heritage Series of stamps with Harriet Tubman. Prior to the series, African-Americans had been seen on stamps as far back as 1940 when a 10 cent stamp of Booker T. Washington was first issued. In January 1998 Madam Walker was officially chosen to be the 21st historical figure, as well as the first African-American entrepreneur, on a stamp. Each year the new honoree is chosen by the Postmaster and the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee, who take into consideration over 40,000 suggestions from the public. The Black Heritage Stamps are sold for one year and any remaining stamps uncirculated are destroyed to make sure the stamp maintains a collector’s value.

Finding your way on a stamp can be difficult. It took over two years and over 70,000 signatures for A’Lelia Bundles to make her case and convince the CSAC to put Madam Walker on a stamp. It took another 3 years for the stamp to be chosen, designed, and then sold to the public. Many stamps require an artist and although a picture was already made and waiting, the stamp was ultimately designed by Richard Sheaff from Scottsdale, AZ. A single image can say so much and after being a part of this class I am glad A’Lelia and her family worked so hard to put this portrait of Madam Walker on a stamp for the world to see. Madam Walker has earned the right to be associated with a group filled with the likes of Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes, and Ida B. Wells.

If you are interested in the Black Heritage stamps, a young 11 year old boy is currently trying to gain enough signatures to put a young man named York on the next Black Heritage Stamp. York was a slave of Lewis and Clark who traveled across the country with them throughout their expedition. You can follow his story on Facebook.


A Student :)
May 02nd, 2012 5:46pm
Wow this is really cool... I learned a lot and I want to congratulate Madam C.J. Walker for everything she did... this was well deserved.
A'Lelia Bundles
April 21st, 2012 4:50pm
Thanks very much to Stephanie Michaels for telling the "story behind the stamp." As with so many of our Madam Walker projects, we could not accomplish them without the support of many other people. Harold Doley, an investment banker and former ambassador, who currently owns Villa Lewaro (Madam Walker's Irvington, New York mansion), helped get the ball rolling for the Walker stamp in 1994 when he introduced me to LeGree Daniels, a member of the Board of Governors of the U.S. Postal Service. Mrs. Daniels in turn arranged for me to speak with an organization of black women postmasters and executives, who provided our first letter of endorsement. Their support was critical to the process and later led to endorsements from Indiana Senator Richard Lugar, Illinois Senator Carol Moseley Braun, the National Beauty Culturists League and dozens of other individuals and organizations. Many thanks, Ms. Michaels and to the IUPUI Museum Studies Class. Best wishes, A'Lelia Bundles

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