Thousands of African Americans hold public office across the country today. That was impossible to imagine before President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
"It was tremendous," Reverend Samuel Billy Kyles, one of the leaders of the civil rights movement, says."I don't think President Johnson ever got the credit he should have gotten for doing that."
Rev. Kyles says the Voting Rights Act, which outlawed racial discrimination in voting, grew out of that public protest. "It was a marvelous movement," he says."It saved America from a second bloody revolution. It was just common, ordinary, everyday people who stood up against fire hoses, dogs, bombing of their children in church. It was a terrible time in the history of America, but it still needs to be told."
To tell the story behind the Civil Rights Movement, the U.S Postal Service has issued a 10-stamp series entitled In Order to Form A More Perfect Union. Service spokeswoman Susan LaChance says the title comes from the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. "These 10 depictions of the Civil Rights Movement are a very powerful way to celebrate the people and events that brought us so much closer to where our founding fathers wanted us to be, in having a more perfect union."
Ms. LaChance says the collection chronicles the most notable events and figures of the Civil Rights Movement. "Everything," she says,"from the signing of the Executive Order that integrated all branches of our military, to the march in Selma, the bus boycott in Montgomery. We have a stamp to commemorate the Civil Rights Act (1964), the march on Washington DC when Dr. King gave his famous 'I have a dream' speech, and of course, the Voting Rights Act of 1965."
One stamp in the series honors the Freedom Riders, a group of white and black men and women who took bus rides through the south to see how - or whether - the Supreme Court ruling that outlawed segregation on public transportation was being carried out. Another stamp celebrates a 1954 Court ruling, Brown verses Board of Education, which overturned the policy of 'separate but equal.' Reverend Oliver Brown and 12 other families had filed suit against the local Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas, claiming their children's separate education was inferior to that of the whites-only school. "My Dad was one of those people who really demonstrated what African Americans were doing at that time," Cheryl Brown Henderson, now president of the Brown Foundation for Educational Equality, says. "That wasn't something that just happened by accident. That wasn't something that was driven by one person. It was something that African Americans had been organizing, challenging, petitioning and talking to school boards about for more than a century."
Ms. Brown Henderson says she'd like to see this series of stamps inspire Americans to learn more about their nation's history. "I hope that not only those of us who understand civil rights history," she says, "but younger people will look at these stamps as another way to remind them of the valiant efforts on the part of the people who came before them to make changes so they can enjoy the lives they now enjoy. So I'm extremely pleased that the Postal Services has added 'In Order To Form A More Perfect Union' to their series of stamps."
U.S Postal Service spokeswoman Susan LaChance says the Civil Rights' Stamp series is the most recent addition to a program that started more than 150 years ago. "Each year, the public suggests subjects that would be included on the postal stamps, and it is submited to the Stamp Advisory Committee," she says. "The Committee looks for themes that have national appeal, that are educational and celebrate achievements of Americans."
Susan LaChance says when these stamps travel around the country on letters and packages, they will bring history alive, and deliver a message of gratitude for those who fought so hard for equality. These stamps, she says, will also challenge all Americans to follow in their footsteps until the vision of a 'more perfect union' is a reality