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‘Fully Deserving of This Honor’: Late Congressman John Lewis to be Featured on Postage Stamp

Trailblazing congressman John Lewis’ image and likeness will be featured on a postage stamp.

The distinction makes the civil rights hero one of about 200 Black people in U.S. history to be honored in such a way.

On Tuesday, Dec. 13,  the United States Postal Service announced the late African-American politician will be the subject of a new stamp, setting its release date in 2023.

The stamp has been supported by some of his colleagues in politics. Sen. Jon Ossoff of Georgia, who counted Lewis as a mentor and friend, said the icon deserved to be on the stamp in 2021, a year after his transition.

John Lewis Postage Stamp
A US postage stamp celebrates the life and legacy of civil rights leader and U.S. Rep. John Lewis. (Photo: Twitter/U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams)

“Congressman Lewis was an American hero, civil rights icon, and revered citizen of Georgia, fully deserving of this honor,” Ossoff said in a statement.

Ossoff has made multiple overtures to his colleagues to express his admiration for the brother of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. With his first-ever piece of legislation, he used his influence as a new Peach State senator to introduce a bicameral resolution to honor Lewis’ accomplishments, legacy and passing it in 2021.

The image used for the artwork of the stamp was originally snapped by Marco Grob for the Aug. 26, 2013, issue of Time magazine. The selvage stamp is a different picture. The photograph was shot by Steve Schapiro in 1963, when he was outside of a nonviolent protest workshop in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

The first African-American to be honored with their image on a stamp was Booker T. Washington in 1940, where he was featured on a 10-cent stamp. Over the past 82 years, about 200 Black people have been featured on the stamps, mostly in the arts, sports, business, inventions, educators, or stakeholders in civil rights.

Only a handful of Blacks have been public servants, including Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (2003), Ambassador Clifton R. Wharton Sr. (2006), Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (2011), Congresswoman and U.S. presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm (2014), and now, Lewis.

Derry Noyes, the postal service art director, curated both images into stylized pieces for the stamps.

Lewis was selected for the upcoming year because of his outstanding service to the nation and his devotion to “equality and justice for all Americans.”

The agency hopes to “celebrate the life and legacy of the civil rights leader” and his dedication to others.

“Devoted to equality and justice for all Americans,” the USPS announcement said, “Lewis spent more than 30 years in Congress steadfastly defending and building on key civil rights gains that he had helped achieve in the 1960s.”

Adding, “even in the face of hatred and violence, as well as some 45 arrests, Lewis remained resolute in his commitment to what he liked to call ‘good trouble.’”

Lewis started his career in the late ’50s, and was considered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “The boy from Troy,” and by the world, the last of the “Big Six” civil rights leaders.

He attended Nashville’s American Baptist Theological Seminary but later earned his bachelor’s degree in religion and philosophy from Fisk University. While there, he was one of the founding members of the Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and was an organizer for various sit-ins at segregated lunch counters, bus boycotts, and other nonviolent demonstrations. The sit-in movement eventually resulted in the desegregation of Nashville’s lunch counters.”

He was also one of the first Freedom Riders in 1961, a group of 13 young people (white and Black), who tried to register voters in the segregated south— enduring violent beatings, bigoted harassment, and discrimination from the nation’s capital to New Orleans.

Lewis was one of the young people who led the march from Selma to Montgomery, coming before King and the other older civil rights leaders at the time. The youth were savagely beaten by Alabama State Troopers in what is now known as the “Bloody Sunday” attack. Lewis suffered a head injury that was captured on American television, showing the world the nastiness of Jim Crow and the racist South.

Years later, he would be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Georgia’s 5th District. He served in this capacity from 1987 until his death.

In 2020, Lewis, 80, lost his battle with pancreatic cancer, leaving behind an enduring blueprint of advocacy.

He was diagnosed the year prior and told his supporters he was not yet done fighting.

“I’ve been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights— for nearly my entire life,” he wrote in a message to his constituents. “I’ve never faced a fight quite like this one.”

Several other stamps will also make their debut in the upcoming year. The agency will tap into pop culture by featuring the “Art of the Skateboard,” a nod to the elaborate boards decorated by their skaters and highlighting the art of prolific children’s book author and illustrator Tomie dePaola, who died in 2020.

The two of the new stamps will feature beautiful locations in the country, the Florida Everglades, and various big bridges, while two more feature elements of nature: the Northern Cardinal and Life Magnified.

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