There’s no early release when it comes to postage stamps, the Rev. Anthony Steele and his Tacoma congregation have learned.
Members of Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church held an unveiling Tuesday of a stamp honoring Bishop Richard Allen, a founder of the AME church network.
Steele said the congregation was so excited about the stamp they tried to buy it before the official release.
But the U.S. Postal Service was serious about the deadline, which meant Steele had to wait for the doors to the University Place Post Office to open at 8 a.m. to get his stamps.
“Of course, we’ve tried to buy it early,” Steele said with a laugh. “But they won’t sell them to you. Some of the guys, they’ll show it to you, but they won’t sell it to you.”
Tuesday, more than 50 people packed the foyer of the church at 1223 Martin Luther King Jr. Way on a sunny morning to mark the unveiling of the Richard Allen forever stamp.
“We are here to mark the day of the unveiling of a stamp — not just any stamp — the stamp of a slave in a country in which he was enslaved,” declared Spencer Barett, presiding pastor of the AME Church in the Pacific Northwest, to applause and amens. “We have come a long way.”
Irma Brown came to the ceremony at her church bundled up in a gray coat.
“It’s a historic event because this isn’t something that happens every day,” said a beaming Brown. “There are lots of stamps out there, but this is a stamp of someone we grew up knowing about. We know (Allen) is a great person and it is an honor to be here today.”
Friend and fellow church member Rosemary Tureaud agreed.
“It is an honor well deserved,” she said. “(This) honor today is miraculous … considering he started out as a slave.”
Steele said Tacoma’s Allen AME church chose to hold an unveiling of its own in part because it’s the only church in the state named after the religious figure.
An unveiling was also held Tuesday at the Mother Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia, where Allen was the first pastor in 1794.
“It is really a stamp dedicated to not just him, but I believe to a church that’s always been at the forefront of social justice,” Steele said.
According to the AME church website, Allen was born as a slave in 1760 and bought his freedom 29 years later. He became the first black deacon at St. George’s Methodist Church in Philadelphia.
Seeing racial discrimination there, he and other black Methodists left and he started Bethel AME.
Allen, who sued and won the right for his congregation to exist independently, helped form the AME denomination that today has churches across the world.
His stamp is the 39th in the Postal Service’s black heritage series, according to Allen AME. The church network began its effort in 2012 to get the stamp produced, Steele said.
Proposals are sent to a committee that reviews possible stamp subjects and makes recommendations to the postmaster general, who has the final decision on which stamps are made.
Steele said he thinks the AME effort was helped in part by the tragedy last year at the AME church in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine people were shot and killed during bible study.
“Not just having a tragedy, but also how we responded to the tragedy,” Steele said.
Unity, forgiveness and peace were themes throughout the church after the shooting, he said.
Steele said Tacoma’s ceremony encouraged businesses and residents to use Richard Allen stamps in February during Black History Month. They can be bought at post offices or ordered online.
Steele emphasized it’s a stamp for everyone.
“All it says is: ‘We’re together,’” he said. “It’ll mean a lot for a white guy standing at the post office, at the counter saying, ‘I want some Richard Allen stamps.’ That in and of itself: Winner.”