Quite often when browsing stamps I come across items regarding certain people or subjects of which I previously had no knowledge. But that’s part of the fascination of stamp collecting as a hobby – it can be both intriguing and educational at the same time.
For example, the stamp above from United States Postal Service’s Black Heritage series celebrates the achievements of Benjamin Banneker (1731–1826), who was a self-taught mathematician and astronomer.
When he was in his early twenties, he reportedly met a European trader who allowed Banneker to study the inner workings of a pocket watch. Banneker was able to calculate the sizes and ratios of gears and other parts and, using his calculations, he created a completely wooden clock that kept accurate time for the rest of his life.
In later life he constructed accurate astronomical tables. In 1791 he compiled the first of several almanacs – ‘The creation of a free man of the African race’ – and sent it to Thomas Jefferson with a plea to end slavery. Banneker was appointed by George Washington, himself a noted surveyor, to help with the surveying and layout of the new American capital city.
The first U.S. stamp to honour an African American was the ten-cent Booker T. Washington stamp issued in 1940. Booker Taliaferro Washington (1856 – 1915) was an American educator, author, orator, businessman and adviser to many presidents of the United States. Between 1890 and 1915, Washington was the dominant leader in the African American community. He was from the last generation of black American leaders born into slavery and became the leading voice of the former slaves and their descendants.
In 1978, the U. S. Postal Service created a new stamp series to honour African-Americans and the vital role they have played in U. S. history. Entitled the Black Heritage Stamp Series. The year 2020 celebrates the 43rd consecutive new release.
The first stamp issued in the series featured Harriet Tubman. Tubman was born a slave in 1820 and is credited with helping over 300 enslaved men, women and children escape to freedom by way of the “Underground Railroad”, a network of secret routes and safe houses established in the United States during the early to mid-19th Century, and used by enslaved African-Americans to escape into free states and Canada.