New Issue: Legendary performer, civil rights activist on latest U.S. ‘Black Heritage’ stamp

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) celebrated the life and legacy of Lena Horne as the 41st honoree in the Black Heritage series during a first-day-of-issue ceremony held at Peter Norton Symphony Space last month.

The design, by art director Ethel Kessler, features a photograph of Horne taken by Christian Steiner in the 1980s. Kristen Monthei colourized the original black-and-white photo using a royal blue—a colour Horne frequently wore—for the dress. Monthei also added a background reminiscent of Horne’s Stormy Weather album with a few clouds to add texture and to subtly evoke the album title.

“Today, we honour the 70-year career of a true American legend,” said Deputy Postmaster General Ronald Stroman, who dedicated the stamp. “With this Forever stamp, the postal service celebrates a woman who used her platform as a renowned entertainer to become a prolific voice for civil rights advancement and gender equality.”

Joining Stroman to unveil the stamp were Steiner as well as Gail Lumet Buckley, an author and Horne’s daughter, and Amy Niles, president and CEO of WBGO Radio.

BLACK HERITAGE SERIES

The Black Heritage series began in 1978 with a stamp honouring abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who guided thousands of enslaved African Americans to St. Catharines, Ont. in the mid-19th century as part of the Underground Railroad.

TRAILBLAZER FOR BLACK WOMEN

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on June 30, 1917, Horne was a trailblazer in Hollywood for women of colour and used her fame to inspire Americans as a dedicated activist for civil rights.

Horne began her career as a dancer at Harlem’s Cotton Club and later became a featured vocalist with touring orchestras. The rampant racial discrimination she encountered from audiences, hotel and venue managers and others was so disconcerting that she stopped touring, and in 1941, she made her move to Hollywood. A year later, she signed a contract with MGM—one of the first long-term contracts with a major Hollywood studio—with the stipulation that she would never be asked to take stereotypical roles then available to black actors. Her most famous movie roles were in Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather, both released in 1943.

During the Second World War, Horne entertained at camps for black servicemen; after the war, she worked on behalf of Japanese Americans who were facing discriminatory housing policies. She also worked with Eleanor Roosevelt in pressing for anti-lynching legislation.

In the 1960s, Horne continued her high-profile work for civil rights, performing at rallies in the South, supporting the work of the National Council for Negro Women and participating in the 1963 March on Washington.

Horne’s awards and honours include a special Tony Award for her one-woman Broadway show, Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music; three Grammy Awards; the NAACP Spingarn Medal; and the Actors Equity Paul Robeson Award. She was a Kennedy Center Honors recipient in 1984, and her name is among those on the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site.

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