Bay Area Paul Robeson Centennial Committee

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Citizen Pressure Wins Robeson Stamp

January 20, 2004, the Paul Robeson Commemorative Postage Stamp was issued by the United States Postal Service (USPS). It is the 27th stamp in the Black Heritage Series.

How is it possible that this great scholar, athlete, actor, singer and fierce fighter for peace and justice for all peoples, who was vilified, persecuted and blacklisted by the government, the power elite and the media in the 1940s and 1950s, has now been awarded such an honor?

Four postage stamps honoring Paul Robeson had previously been issued in other countries. The first was in German Democratic Republic (GDR) on March 22, 1983, with a picture of Robeson and the words “For Peace, Against Racism,” in German, Russian and English. This was followed by Guyana on October 9, 1989, Republique du Mali on May 10, 1996, and Guyana, a second stamp on July 26, 1996. Many people thought it could never happen in the U.S.

In the U.S., legendary folk singer Pete Seeger initiated the effort with his letter to the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC), in Washington, DC on March 30, 1996. The Paul Robeson 100th Birthday Committee of Chicago and its website were to become a rallying center for many organizations, institutions and individuals across the nation who circulated a petition calling for a postage stamp to honor this great American. By 1998, nearly 100,000 petition signatures were submitted. Articles, editorials and Letters to the Editor appeared in newspapers around the country. The CSAC also received thousands of letters.

In July, 1997, organized by Congressmen Ronald V. Dellums (D-CA), Bobby Rush (D-IL) and Charles Rangel (D-NY), 37 U.S. Senators and Congresspersons, including 18 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, signed letters to the CSAC, urging the issuance of a Paul Robeson stamp. That same month, California Assemblywoman Dion Aroner (D-14th District) and 28 of her colleagues sent a letter to the Committee.

The national Stamp Unveiling Ceremony was held on January 20, 2004 at Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, Robeson’s birthplace, with Paul Robeson, Jr. participating. Soon after, similar events took place in New York, Philadelphia, Hartford, Chicago, Mobile, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Hayward and elsewhere.

In the Bay Area, the Stamp Unveiling Ceremony, at Merritt College on February 18 featured special guest speakers Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Willie Adams, Secretary-Treasurer of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), and cultural performances by Merritt College students and the Vukani Mawethu, a Bay Area community choir. The event was sponsored by Merritt College, the Oakland District of the United States Postal Service and the Bay Area Paul Robeson Centennial Committee.

On February 19, the Bayview Hunters Point Post Office held a Paul Robeson Stamp Unveiling Ceremony, with keynote speaker San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, performances by four school and community choirs, and a duet from the Bay Area Paul Robeson Centennial Committee.

The Black Faculty and Staff at California State University Hayward commemorated the issuance of the Paul Robeson Stamp at an Unveiling Ceremony and benefit for its “Upward Bound” Scholarship Program, on February 26, 2004.

Over 400 national and international celebrations of the 1998 Robeson Centennial. More biographies written. And now, with his stamp, we see a qualitatively new consciousness and a curiosity about Paul Robeson’s rightful place in history. Learning about his life, young people may well view today’s pop stars in a new light.

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