Gates Joins Postal Service Stamp Committee

Long-time stamp aficionado Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. now has the chance to influence the stamps he gets to collect.

Gates, the Du Bois professor of the humanities, was named the 14th member of the Postmaster General’s Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee last Thursday.

The committee, founded in 1957, meets four times a year and deliberates on proposals for U.S. stamps, deciding which 25 to 30 ideas will be turned into stamps each year.

Gates, who is the chairman of the African and African American Studies department, said that he was “deeply honored” to be part of the committee.

“I’ve been fascinated by stamps depicting black subjects since I was a child,” he said. “When I saw a very old stamp featuring George Washington Carver, I began to collect stamps with black themes—which were very rare at the time.”

David E. Failor, executive director of Stamp Services, said that Gates was chosen because of his expertise in African-American history and culture.

“We look for people that have a broad-based understanding of American culture,” he said. “We feel that [Gates] is a great scholar and has an extensive background in American history.”

Gates said that he would like to see black poet Phillis Wheatley, whom he called “the mother of the African-American literary tradition,” honored on a stamp.

Currently, according to Gates, there are 28 black people on the black heritage stamp series.

“James Baldwin—one of my heroes—was just put on a stamp,” said Gates.

According to Failor, there is no “formalized process” in selecting committee members. Some people nominate themselves, some recommend others and the stamp service staff also keep tabs on potential members.

“We have internal methods to search externally for people,” said Failor. “You don’t submit an application for [the position].”

The members serve three years each term, for a maximum of four terms.

Four times each year, members gather to discuss over 50,000 ideas received from the public, said Failor.

The Stamp Advisory Committee is divided into two subcommittees. The subject subcommittee is responsible for content, narrowing down the 50,000 suggestions down to approximately 25. The design subcommittee then puts artwork to each subject.

According to Failor, there are certain rules which dictate what type of subject matter may be used as stamps.