For the better part of two decades, Omahan Edgar Hicks has been trying to persuade the U.S. Postal Service to issue a commemorative stamp of Mildred D. Brown — journalist, civil rights leader and co-founder of the Omaha Star, a newspaper of the black community that turned 80 this year.
To do so, he’s enlisted the help of the Mildred D. Brown Study Center and a local stamp-collecting group. He’s even got a U.S. congressman in his corner.
“It’s been a challenge,” Hicks said, “but we’ll get there, I think.”
To the uninitiated, Brown, who died in 1989, was an Alabama-born journalist who covered stories pertaining to black communities. In the 1960s, President Lyndon B. Johnson commended Brown for her coverage of civil rights efforts and riots, and later appointed her as a goodwill ambassador for a trip to East Germany.
Hicks is a longtime admirer of Brown and her work. But his reasons for getting her on a stamp are more personal than that.
The Louisiana-born Hicks has lived in Nebraska off and on for much of his adult life. He first came to Omaha as a young man, to work for Cargill. This was back in the ’70s. He wasn’t in Omaha for long before he headed to Chicago.
Shortly before he left town, he went to a meeting. He doesn’t remember the purpose of the meeting or why he was there, but he does know that the meeting was where he met Mildred D. Brown.
He told her that he was moving. She told him to stop by her office before he left town. At their second meeting, she gave him some words of encouragement and her business card. She told Hicks to look up her brother, who lived in Chicago.
“When I looked her brother up,” Hicks said, “he helped me find a house. He helped me find a bank.
“I guarantee it wasn’t more than one hour of my life I spent with Mildred,” he said. “But I still reflect on how she helped me. I owe her so much, and I never thanked her. I never called her up. It didn’t even dawn on me at the time.”
Hicks is now a board member of the Mildred D. Brown Study Center and mentors boys through 100 Black Men of Omaha. (It was Brown’s mentorship that inspired him to do the good work himself, he said.)
Hicks’ mission to get a Mildred D. Brown stamp is his way of paying tribute to the woman who changed his life. He’s been trying to pay tribute to her for some time now.
The stamp effort goes back to the early 2000s, when Hicks started lobbying to get the commemorative stamp issued. This ended up being a more arduous process than he’d anticipated. And he’s more in-the-know about stamps than most. Hicks has been collecting stamps most of his adult life, and he’s an active member of the Omaha Philatelic Society. (Philately is the study of stamps and postal history.)
Somewhere along the way, Hicks enlisted the help of congressman Don Bacon, R-Neb.
“Edgar approached us with this idea about getting the Mildred Brown stamp made,” said James Wright, Bacon’s deputy district director. “We said that’s great. She was a great civil rights leader and journalistic leader in our community. We thought it would be a nice, uplifting thing.”
But Bacon could only do so much. Congress doesn’t determine which stamps are issued. In fact, there’s a rule against it. Here’s more than you ever needed to know about stamp policy:
Rule 13 of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Oversight and Government Reform states “The determination of the subject matter of commemorative stamps and new semi-postal issues is properly for consideration by the postmaster general, and the committee will not give consideration to legislative proposals specifying the subject matter of commemorative stamps and new semi-postal issues.”
The Postal Service has a group for this very purpose. The Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee has been around since 1957. Appointed by the postmaster general, the group members evaluate stamp proposals, considering “the interests and needs of postal customers, as well as those of the stamp-collecting community.”
The committee recommends to the postmaster general an average of 25 to 30 subjects a year for inclusion in the stamp program.
Last year, Hicks submitted to the committee his proposal for a Mildred D. Brown stamp. Bacon offered a letter of support for the stamp, which Hicks attached to the proposal. They have yet to hear back from the Postal Service.
In the meantime, Hicks is trying to get traction for the stamp, enlisting the support of other groups, calling local media (ahem).
Wright said Bacon would be willing to seek signatures from the Congressional Black Caucus or a broader group of representatives.
“(The campaign) needs some national support,” Wright said. “In order for this effort to be really successful, (Hicks) needs to put a national spin on why other people would care. We know (Mildred Brown’s) story, but we need to raise the significance of it.”
Bacon will discuss the stamp initiative during his 9:45 a.m. opening day speech at the annual Omaha Stamp Show, to be held Sept. 8 and 9 at Metropolitan Community College, 2909 Edward “Babe” Gomez Ave. (Learn more at omahaphilatelicsociety.org.)
And next year, for the first time since 1936, the American Philatelic Society’s annual convention will take place in Omaha. This will make Omaha, however briefly, the stamp capital of the world.
Between now and then, Hicks will be busy — trying to figure out how to properly thank an Omaha icon, who helped him out so many years ago.