US Stamps

Tubman, Douglass, eight others featured on Underground Railroad stamps March 9

Feb 19, 2024, 8 AM

By Charles Snee

On March 9, the United States Postal Service will honor the noble efforts of 10 individuals, known as operatives, who escaped slavery or assisted others to escape on the Underground Railroad.

In a fitting tribute to Harriet Tubman, one of the 10 people pictured on the stamps, the first-day ceremony for the nondenominated (68¢) Underground Railroad stamps will take place at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center, 4068 Golden Hill Road, in Church Creek, Md.

The ceremony will begin at 11 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. “This stamp event is a tented outdoor event that is free and open to the public,” according to the Postal Service.

“Join us for a journey in history by walking in the footsteps of 10 heroes who escaped slavery and/or helped others escape during a pivotal resistance movement,” the USPS said.

Ronald A. Stroman, a member of the Postal Service’s board of governors, will serve as the dedicating official.

To register for the event online, visit the Postal Service’s website. Each attendee may invite up to 98 additional guests, the USPS said.

As with several recent 2024 issues, the Postal Service’s Stamp Fulfillment Services center in Kansas City, Mo., will automatically distribute panes of 20 (containing two of each stamp) of the Underground Railroad stamps to post offices.

USPS art director and designer Antonio Alcala used existing sepia photographs of the six men and four women portrayed on the stamps.

Illustrated above is the Postal Service’s preliminary image of a block of 10 Underground Railroad stamps. Pictured in the first row (left to right) are Harriet Tubman, Thomas Garrett, William Still, Harriet Jacobs and Jermain Loguen. The second row features (left to right) Catharine Coffin, Lewis Hayden, Frederick Douglass, William Lambert and Laura Haviland.

At the top of each design, a closely cropped image of the operative’s head is shown against a light or dark background at left. The operative’s name and “FOREVER” are lettered down the right side.

Beneath each photo are eight lines of text in capital letters: “BLACK/WHITE,” “COOPERATION,” “TRUST/DANGER,” “FLIGHT/FAITH,” “COURAGE/RISK,” “DEFIANCE/HOPE,” and “UNDERGROUND RAILROAD/USA.”

Alcala shared with Linn’s Stamp News some insights about the process the Postal Service used to pick the 10 individuals shown on the stamps.

“The design originally began with four portraits before expanding it to ten,” Alcala said. “Our goal was to represent the wide variety of people involved in helping people escape enslavement and move toward freedom.”

“Of course, we were limited to those for whom a history is known, and a portrait exists,” he recalled. “There were many anonymous contributors to the Underground Railroad.”

“What sources inspired the dynamic words printed beneath each portrait?” Alcala was asked.

“The words are not from any particular source but reflect our understanding of the Underground Railroad learned from historical materials and input from consultants who are authorities on the topic,” Alcala replied.

Alcala found the Underground Railroad a challenging subject, noting that “many early sketches were discarded.”

“It wasn’t until I added words in my sketches that this direction began to take shape,” he said.

Overall, Alcala sought to create a set of stamps that would capture the noble work of those who worked along the Underground Railroad.

“My goal was to create a design communicating the collaborative efforts of many brave individuals and communities,” Alcala said. “This is the reason the Underground Railroad succeeded.”

Illustrated above are preliminary images of both sides of the Underground Railroad pane of 20. The light brown selvage (margin paper) features a header in capital letters that reads, “The Underground Railroad.”

A plate number appears in the bottom corners. On issued panes, the plate number will be a “P” followed by four single digits. The “P” stands for printer Ashton Potter (USA) Ltd. Each digit represents one of the four process colors used to print the stamps: black, cyan, magenta and yellow.

On the back of the pane is a map showing the routes along the Underground Railroad. Text below the map reads: “The Underground Railroad Network to Freedom encompassed the efforts of enslaved African Americans to escape bondage, and the efforts of people — or ‘operatives’ — of all backgrounds to assist them, in the period before the Civil War ended in 1865.

“This map shows, generally, where freedom seekers started out and where their difficult and dangerous journeys took them.”

The map and text are courtesy of the National Park Service, according to the USPS.

Below the map and caption are brief biographies of the people portrayed on the stamps.

In response to a request from Linn’s, Felicia Lott, a USPS senior public relations representative, provided the following information about the operatives and their photos: ...

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