08/31/2005

New Stamps Honor Civil Rights Movement

MONTGOMERY, Ala. | The United State Postal Service paid tribute to 10 historic Civil Rights Movement milestones when it unveiled the To Form a More Perfect Union commemorative postage stamps here yesterday.

The stamps, which are now on sale throughout the nation, were based on paintings depicting important moments of the Movement. They begin with the 1948 Executive Order 9981, when President Harry S. Truman issued an order, implemented over several ensuing years, abolishing segregation in the United States armed forces. The Little Rock Nine, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the 1963 March on Washington, the Selma to Montgomery March and the Freedom Riders are also included.

Several of the major milestones occurred in Montgomery, including the Boycott, the Freedom Riders and the end of the 1965 Voting Rights March. Other cities that were sites of significant Movement events also held dedication ceremonies yesterday. They were Topeka, Kan.; Little Rock; Greensboro, N.C.; Selma, Ala.; and Washington, D.C. Dedication ceremonies scheduled in Jackson, Miss., and Memphis were cancelled due to back weather generated by Hurricane Katrina.

The common theme of the programs across the country was "To Form a More Perfect Union." Leaders and "foot soldiers" of the Civil Rights Movement took part in the ceremonies.

U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, a Montgomery native who worked at the Southern Poverty Law Center early in his legal career spoke in Selma. He said he does not believe the civil rights movement ended with the signing of legislation outlawing segregationist practices.

"We are still struggling with the demons of that movement," he said. "We are still trying to build a more perfect union."

Recognized as a special guest at the Montgomery event was Brewton, Ala., artist Bernice Sims. Her "memory" painting of the Selma-to-Montgomery marchers crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge is included in the stamp collection. Surrounded by a display of her vibrant work, she shared her stories at an informal gathering following the stamp dedication ceremony.

Despite health problems, she was active in the Civil Rights Movement — attending the beginning of the voting rights march, encouraging black citizens in her county to register, and enrolling her children in the formerly all-white public schools in her community.

In addition to painting scenes from the Movement, Sims also has painted memories from childhood: children playing with homemade toys, church revivals, hog-killings and family gatherings.

"I'm trying to tell a story in my work," Sims said. "I also try to have a little history for these youngsters coming along. You don't find it in a schoolbook or classroom. I want them to know things weren't like they are today. I want them to learn about the struggle people my age had to go through."