Today’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the 32nd annual federal holiday first honoring the slain civil rights leader, who has appeared on more than 100 stamps worldwide.
King (January 15, 1929–April 4, 1968) was a prime force in the civil rights who was awarded the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize and posthumously the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1977) and Congressional Gold Medal (2004).
Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established in 1983 and first celebrated in 1986. It is annually on the third Monday of January to coincide with actually birthday — January 15 — of the slain civil rights leader. King has been honored on two U.S. stamps and as image is used as the central focal point on a 10-stamp pane dedicated to the civil rights movement.
King was first honored on a U.S. stamp as the second subject of the then-new Black Heritage series (Scott 1771). His stamp, a year after a Harriet Tubman commemorative, was issued January 13, 1979.
King and his “I Have a Dream Speech” are honored on the top-left stamp (Scott 3188a) of the 15-stamp Celebrate the Century 1960s pane of 15, issued September 17, 1999. The dynamic speech — delivered August 28, 1963 from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. — is considered a masterpiece by many. Like the U.S., in 1999, Belgium included an image of King with text from the speech in the background (Scott 1779f).
An artistic stamp-like portrait of MLK is in the center selvage of the 10-stamp To Form a More Perfect Union U.S. pane of 2005 (Scott 3937). MLK does not appear on any of the stamps, but he was linked to all the events depicted, which include the 1955 Montgomery (Alabama) Bus Boycott, the 1963 March on Washington, and the Selma March of 1965.
Nations around the world began issuing stamps honoring King not long after he was assassinated while standing on motel balcony the day after speaking at a rally in Memphis, Tennessee.
The African nations of Cameroun and Rwanda were among the first countries to depict MLK on stamps, with both releases in 1968. Cameroun paired an MLK stamp with those for three other assassinated leaders: Mahatma Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, and Robert F. Kennedy.
The following January, India issued an MLK stamp.
Mali on July 4, 1977, issued a stamp depicting King and the flags of the United States and Sweden. Sweden’s Nobel Prize committee awarded MLK the Peace Prize in 1964. Sweden itself issued an engraved stamp showing King and the Peace Prize in 1986.