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September 11, 2013

Is USPS 50th Anniversary March on Washington Stamp Based on Steve Schapiro’s Jackie Robinson Photo? and What Would That Mean?

63 March on Washington USPS commemorative stamp

Jackie Robinson March on Washington Steve Schapiro photo 2

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about of the 50th anniversary March on Washington. More specifically, it was about events leading up to the anniversary and the unveiling of a stamp by the US Post Office in honor of the occasion. Oddly enough, I was writing about celebrity, and how a young black actress was chosen to lend some flash to the coming week’s ceremonies in light of the challenging task of living up to the profoundly significant original event.

Since then, it was pointed out to me that the stamp’s illustration  bears a strong resemblance to a photo licensed by Corbis and taken by the well known documentary and celebrity photographer, Steve Schapiro. Given some notable differences, I imagine the illustrator either modified it or drew on a couple photographic sources.

I understand, by the way, how people might find this primarily noteworthy from a licensing standpoint. For our purposes, though, The Bag’s interest has more to do with cultural meaning and symbolic license. Specifically, I’m interested in the impact and significance of the illustration once aware of the likelihood the anonymous central figure is (based on) Jackie Robinson, even if the knowledge arrives purely unintentionally.

In this day and age in which events are so thoroughly produced and packaged, how strange to consider that the iconic figure wouldn’t be identified and co-branded with that event, that a person’s celebrity wouldn’t be utilized to transfer their personal shine to the event in question. (I imagined this explains the presence of Ms. Union, the young actress in the stamp unveiling/50th Anniversary promo, lending some next-gen oomph to a historical event that occurred before she was born.)

Considering that collective urgency and spontaneity so alien to this generation, it’s wonderful to experience that the March on Washington in ‘63 was so grassroots, such a populist expression that the people in the stamp would necessarily be generic. (Which is not to say that there weren’t celebrities out in force in ‘63: Harry Belafonte, Marlon Brando, Josephine Baker, Sammy Davis Jr., Bob Dylan, Marian Anderson, Paul Newman, etc.) Still however, in a niche way that we are unable to relate to today, they were part of the atmosphere, the background, the music — sometimes in a literal, but a much more symbolic sense. That’s in dramatic contrast to our celebrity culture and the intermingling of DC and Hollywood in 2013.

As several cases in point: there was Beyonce irradiating Paul Ryan at the last inauguration, lingering on the podium for cell phone shots by mostly GOP legislators, or — most relevant to the subject at hand –the headliners of the 50th Anniversary March event itself:

Forest Whitaker March on Washington 2013 Jamie Foxx March on WashingtonOprah March on Washington 2013

Yes, what’s so refreshing about this stamp, and the disclosure, is how much the March on Washington and the Civil Rights movement didn’t need Jackie Robinson to drive the train or otherwise “get in the way.” Accordingly, its painfully fascinating to see how much the fundamental rituals of today’s public culture, from governance to activism to commemoration, are devoid of people who emit shine simply as doers, who aren’t laudable for their recognizability, who aren’t relevant by virtue of status derived from something else.

When you look at the wire photos of these 2013 March on Washington speakers, the power of the stamp grows that much stronger. In ‘63, MLK didn’t need Sammy or Bob or Marlon to supplement his wattage. And 50 years later, he and the movement don’t need Jackie either.

Credit to Sid Monroe, a familiar presence in the photo-Twittersphere @MonroeGallery, for directing me to this photo.

(photo 1: Steve Schapiro (via Corbis) via Michael Beschloss/Twitter. Stock Photo ID:42-18150832 Date Photographed:August 28, 1963. caption: Jackie Robinson Joins in the March on Washington. Jackie Robinson Marching with more than 200,000 others in the March on Washington demonstrations. The throng marched to the Mall and listened to Civil Rights leaders, clergyman and others addressed the crowd, including Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. stamp:  illustrator – Greg Manchess. Art director – Antonio Alcalá via USPS. inauguration screenshot: BagNewsNotes via MSNBC. photo 2, 3 & 4: Alex Wong/Getty Images. caption 2: Actor Forest Whitaker speaks during the Let Freedom Ring ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial August 28, 2013 in Washington, DC. The event was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  caption 3: Actor and singer Jamie Foxx speaks during the Let Freedom Ring ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial August 28, 2013 in Washington, DC. The event was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. photo 4  caption: Talk show host Oprah Winfrey (L) speaks during the Let Freedom Ring ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial August 28, 2013 in Washington, DC. The event was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.)

Actor and singer Jamie Foxx speaks during the Let Freedom Ring ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial August 28, 2013 in Washington, DC. The event was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. (August 27, 2013 – Source: Alex Wong/Getty Images North America)

Talk show host Oprah Winfrey (L) speaks during the Let Freedom Ring ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial August 28, 2013 in Washington, DC. The event was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. (August 27, 2013 – Source: Alex Wong/Getty Images North America)

Actor Forest Whitaker speaks during the Let Freedom Ring ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial August 28, 2013 in Washington, DC. The event was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. (August 27, 2013 – Source: Alex Wong/Getty Images North America)

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Zimbio edit: http://www.zimbio.com/pictures/iLoJMOIBGh6/Washington+DC+Marks+50+Years+Since+MLK+Dream/rHfM9RA0Dhs

I can’t leave it go there, however — not with a mandate of visual analysis, without going the other way. In other words, now that we know that male figure is based, in some part, on the baseball star and civil rights pioneer, it’s only natural to consider this latest commemorative in terms of the other USPS commemorative Jackie Robinson stamps.

etc. etc.

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