The U.S. Postal Service is unveiling a commemorative Black Heritage stamp honoring publishing legend John H. Johnson.
Johnson, the founder of Johnson Publishing Company, which publishes Ebony and Jet magazines, is the 35th honoree in the Black Heritage stamp series. Past honorees in the series, which debuted in 1978, include Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Madam C.J. Walker and Barbara Jordan.
“John Johnson’s unyielding commitment to journalistic excellence and his unparalleled reporting on African-American culture have distinguished him as one of America’s greatest publishers,” USPS Chicago Senior Plant Manager Anthony Vaughan said in a statement announcing the release of the stamp.
A dedication ceremony will be held Tuesday at Johnson Publishing Company’s offices with Linda Johnson Rice, chairman, Johnson Publishing Co. and Johnson’s daughter; Desiree Rogers, CEO of Johnson Publishing Co.; Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel; former Mayor Richard M. Daley; Illinois Rep. Danny Davis and the Rev. James Meeks of Salem Baptist Church of Chicago.
“I’m immensely proud that my father and his life’s passion are being recognized in such a high honor as the Black Heritage Stamp,” Johnson Rice said in the statement. “His legacy lives on in all whom he touched and in the work we continue to do daily.”
Roy Betts, a USPS communications officer, said Americans nominate between 40,000 to 50,000 people and events each year for consideration for commemorative stamps.
A citizen review committee considers the requests and pares them down to a list of 20 to 25 nominees, and those recommendations are sent to the postmaster general, who makes the final decision.
The Black Heritage series is among the postal service’s most popular.
Each year, however, a rumor starts circulating claiming that USPS plans to eliminate the series, a falsehood that consistently results in a spike in sales of the stamps.
“We’ve been accused of starting the rumor,” Betts said with a laugh. “We’re pretty slick when it comes to marketing, but we can’t take credit for that one. Right around Christmas or Martin Luther King’s birthday, people put a rush on the post office” to buy the stamps.
Betts said other public figures who have been nominated for inclusion in the Black Heritage series include President Barack Obama, Muhammad Ali, Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin.
“There was a time when we wouldn’t consider anyone who had been dead less than 10 years, then it was five years,” Betts said. “Now we’ve decided to honor living persons.”
The USPS also now announces two stamps per year and has started using Facebook and Twitter.
“The whole idea is to get the younger generation interested in stamp collecting,” Betts said.
Johnson had a remarkable history. He was born in Arkansas City, Arkansas in a segregated town that had no high schools for black students. By the time of his death at age 87, he commanded a business empire encompassing magazines, cosmetics, radio stations, book publishing and more and was the first black person on Forbes magazine’s annual list of the 400 wealthiest people in America in 1982.