A Local Field Trip: AC-BAW in Mount Vernon

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(a) An envelope directed to Miss Lynda M. Smith of the Peace Corps, with an Abraham Lincoln postage stamp (U.S. Government work).

I became a stamp collector when a friend of my mom introduced me to the hobby in third or fourth grade. I already loved history and the idea of finding stamps that had been used for mail decades ago and had come from far away places was especially exciting for me. The images on the stamps showed me beautiful art (introducing me to the many iterations of the Madonna and Child for instance), visages of the presidents and historical figures, various animals and plants, and of course, the American flag.  I never collected anything particularly valuable. My stamps were almost all postmarked, and the basis of my collection consisted of duplicates from hobby collectors who never would have been in the position to pay for something rare or expensive. But for me, that was all fine. Maybe I had a few fantasies of discovering something amongst the cast-offs, but there were no “inverted Jennys” to be found.

I can’t believe it’s been this long, but a few months ago, I visited an exhibit about African Americans on postage stamps at AC-BAW Center for the Arts in Mount Vernon. I found out about the exhibit from the community newspaper. As a women’s history student, I wanted to see how Black women figured on postage stamps and in the exhibit.

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(b) Shirley Chisholm (Wikimedia Commons)

On postage stamps, I had seen Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, aviator Bessie Coleman, singer Roberta Martin, and the illustration of the musical Porgy and Bess. I used sheets of stamps of jazz artist Sarah Vaughan and writer Maya Angelou for my own correspondence. However, I was surprised by the vast number of stamps in the exhibit and the number that I had never seen before! (Unfortunately, I am not finding any public domain images of the actual stamps to show within this post, so I will link to outside sources and show images of the individuals I mention…but you should go to the exhibit to see them all!)

Stamps depicting presidential cabinet secretary Patricia Roberts Harris, gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and actress Fredi Washington (in writing only) were among those I had never cast my eyes on before. There were several people of which I previously had no knowledge at all.

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(c) Fredi Washington from Imitation of Life (Wikimedia Commons)

While I was there, I scribbled the names and years of a number of cool stamps that caught my eye. Ethel Payne, a columnist for the Chicago Defender, and Secretary Harris (named above) figure in my research on historical Black newspapers. I wish I knew about these fascinating women earlier! Congresswoman Barbara Jordan‘s stamp had to be one of my favorites though. There are too few women elected officials who have made it onto the postage stamp (the reasons why are a whole other blog post). Congresswoman Jordan was an awesome person about whom I don’t think enough people know.

The exhibit at AC-BAW was originally supposed to close about a month ago, but when I visited, a board member told me that it was extended. So, you should still be able to go see it! If you need a break from your work or perhaps after you finish the semester, go check it out! If you have any particular favorite stamps, share with us!

 

 Image Credits blog post 4.26.17

*Please note that any links to outside sources are for educational purposes. I tried to avoid pages where the stamps were being sold, but some stamps were less visible online than others.

AM I WORTHY: A CHOREOPOEM

BY VAR

Am I worthy? That is the question that I have been asking myself all my life.

Little white girls are told they are from birth and at as if,

They are put on the self worth pedestal and carry it with them.

Black women question whatever good they get

Until a catastrophic or any life changing event

Occurs and they get that Oprah “Aha” moment,

We are told “Don’t be too proud”, “Stay humble”,

“Don’t put on airs”; “Don’t show your Black Girl Magic”.

But not feeling worthy enough has been a many a detriment to many a black girl,

We stay in relationships that aren’t worthy,

Hoping he would change, praying that someday the man you see in him would show up instead,

We stay in a job that isn’t worthy,

Making less than our worth, treated unworthy,

Breaking our backs working long hours,

Hoping someone would recognize our worth,

We hang around girlfriends that aren’t worthy of our time,

Friends that see our worth but are too jealous to tell us,

Or they don’t value their own self worth,

So we sit around and talking about how unworthy we all are, how unworthy we are to leave that man, that job or them girlfriends,

In Webster’s Dictionary unworthy has a black woman’s picture next to it.   

 

About our guest writer: Hailing from the Boogie Down Bronx, Velvet A. Ross is a graduate student in Women’s History and Writer, Filmmaker, Actress and Singer. She is dedicated to writing historically and producing creative pieces about black women who have been marginalized and hidden in the arts.