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Clarence McKnight points to a poster with a stamp of Gwen Ifill and others, that are coming out in 2020. KATE ALBRIGHT/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

Stamping Thru History
An exhibit of commemorative stamp posters, celebrating Black History Month, curated by Clarence M. McKnight.

Through Feb. 28, Montclair Public Library,
50 South Fullerton Ave.

For more information on The Ebony Society of Philatelic Events and Reflections, visit Esperstamps.org.

PowerPoint presentation, during “The History of Black Churches and the Voting Movement,” Sunday, Feb. 16, 2 p.m., MPL, 50 South Fullerton Ave.

The event also includes the St. Paul Baptist Church Mass Choir of Montclair, spiritual hymns by Jacquelyn Graham, and a handbell performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Eddie Nicholas will emcee, with special guest speakers the Rev. Dr. Bernadette Glover and Montclair Councilwoman Renée Baskerville.

By GWEN OREL
orel@montclairlocal.news

That there are stamps with Barack Obama’s face on them is not surprising, perhaps, until you remember that the former President is alive.

The U.S. Postal Service does not issue stamps honoring living people; usually, though with some exceptions, a person has to be dead for five years. Those stamps honoring Obama are from Sweden, Germany and other countries.

You can see those stamps, and many others, in posters made by Clarence M. McKnight on display for the “Stamping Thru History” exhibit at the Montclair Public Library gallery. The exhibit, which celebrates Black History Month, runs through the end of February.

McKnight will give a PowerPoint presentation on Sunday during the library’s “The History of Black Churches and the Voting Movement” presentation.

You might be surprised that not every stamp celebrating African Americans was issued following the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Most of them are recent. But the USPS In 1940 issued a stamp series about famous Americans, one of which commemorated the centennial of the birthday of Booker T. Washington. He was the only African American included.

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A stamp poster of Maya Angelou, made by Clarence McKnight. COURTESY CLARENCE MCKNIGHT

Some of the framed posters are one stamp with a photograph: a striking stamp of Maya Angelou, with a picture of the author and a quote, or the Miles Davis commemorative stamp, with an image of his trumpet. Other posters show many stamps together. One wall shows stamps that commemorate Negro League baseball, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. There are about 55 pieces all together in this exhibit.

McKnight is the former New Jersey state director and board member of The Ebony Society of Philatelic Events and Reflections (ESPER), an international stamp society dedicated to promoting the collecting of stamps and philatelic material depicting people and events related to the African diaspora. 

The stamps include portraits of African American inventors, teachers, military figures, and athletes.

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READ: YOGI BERRA MUSEUM; NEGRO LEAGUES TURN 100

READ: CELEBRATE BLACK HISTORY MONTH IN MONTCLAIR

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The Yogi Berra Museum, in its “Discover Greatness: An Illustrated History of Negro Leagues Baseball” exhibit, on loan from the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum through June 20, uses memorabilia loaned by McKnight, including a Wheaties box.

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A Negro Leagues baseball stamp poster. COURTESY CLARENCE MCKNIGHT

“I love history,” said McKnight, an East Orange resident who lived in Montclair for many years. He also has made posters dedicated to women’s history and Hispanic history, about eight different PowerPoint presentations, he said.

Some stamps commemorate events, such as the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves in the Confederate states, and the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in 1865. Other stamps honor individual figures, such as the jazz great Miles Davis, and the late journalist Gwen Ifill.

“I love that one,” said McKnight about the Davis poster. He put the stamp in the middle,

Marvin Gaye stamp poster. COURTESY CLARENCE MCKNIGHT

and just wrote “Miles” on it. 

He added the titles of songs to his poster using artist Kadir Nelson’s “Marvin Gaye” stamp, while a poster with the Gregory Hines stamp is signed by the performers that attended an event honoring the late dancer.

McKnight began making posters about four years ago. He had been doing presentations for students, bringing stamps and albums to schools, and realized it was easier for children to see and appreciate the posters.

He also enlarges the hand-painted envelopes he has received. For example, when the commemorative envelope of aviator Bessie Coleman is blown up, you can

Miles Davis stamp poster. COURTESY CLARENCE MCKNIGHT

see her airplane, he said. Coleman earned her international pilot’s license in 1921, the first African American to do so.

The posters are all based on his original stamps, which he keeps in acid-free albums.

The 2020 stamps are not out yet: as the webmaster for ESPER, McKnight receives the stamps in advance. The organization is 33 years old.

For the presentation on Sunday, he’ll talk about his childhood in segregated North Carolina: “I’ll tell my story about having to walk a mile of school,” McKnight said. “There was a playground across the street from my church, but I couldn’t play in that playground. We couldn’t try on shoes. My mother had to put our feet on brown paper and draw around them.” Then he will show the presentation, which shows images and music of the Civil Rights era, with stamps. There is no narration, because it is self-explanatory, he said.

As he showed a bit of it in the library gallery people clustered around and nodded.

McKnight said, “Each stamp has a story.”

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This Civil Rights Pioneer stamp poster uses a backdrop of the march from Selma. COURTESY CLARENCE MCKNIGHT