Fifty-thousand proposals for new postage stamps are submitted to the U.S. Postal Service each year.
Only about 25 are chosen, making the odds no better than 1 in 2,000 that someone will be honored on a stamp.
So when word came that five journalists had been selected for stamps commemorating their work, there was great celebration. Now, the stamps are out, featuring:
• Rubén Salazar, a TV and Los Angeles Times reporter killed when covering a 1970 war protest in East Los Angeles.
• Martha Gellhorn, who covered the Spanish civil war in the 1930s and, at the age of 81, the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989. She was married to Ernest Hemingway from 1940 to 1945. She died in 1998.
• George Polk, a CBS News correspondent who was killed in the Greek civil war in 1948. His death, not a battle casualty but an execution-style shot to the head, remains unsolved.
• John Hersey, a World War II correspondent for Time, Life and the New Yorker magazines. He won a 1945 Pulitzer Prize for the novel “A Bell for Adano.” He died in 1993.
• Eric Sevareid, CBS News correspondent, one of “Murrow’s Boys” in the early days of CBS News. He was first to report France’s 1940 surrender to Nazi Germany. He died in 1992.
Of greatest significance to Tucsonans should be Salazar. The campaign to get his image on a postage stamp began – and ended, successfully – in Tucson.
The Mexican-born television and print journalist, who died at age 42, was among the very first Latino journalists to work for mainstream U.S. media.
He was a reporter for the Los Angeles Times beginning in 1959, covering the Dominican Republic, Mexico and the Vietnam War in the 1960s.
In 1969, he became a Times columnist, a first for a Latino. He continued his column but went to work for Spanish-language KMEX-TV in LA.
Salazar was killed when on a TV assignment to cover a war protest that turned violent. A sheriff’s deputy fired a tear-gas canister, hitting Salazar in the head as he and his camera crew took a break in an East LA bar.
His postage stamp was unveiled this week, in Los Angeles on Tuesday and in a ceremony in Tucson at the University of Arizona on Thursday.
It was an inspiring moment for all, but especially for Olga Briseño, director of UA’s Media, Democracy & Policy Initiative and leader of the push for a Salazar postage stamp.
“We did it,” Briseño said in her speech at the Thursday ceremony, repeating the mantra she adopted when word came months ago that the stamp had won Postal Service approval.
“We did it for you, for us, for our children, for those who need to know the story of Ruben Salazar.”
The story is that Salazar fully achieved his potential as a mainstream journalist without losing sight of his personal history. That drove him to recognize the need for reporting on the growing U.S. Latino population as part of a larger need for Latino social reforms.
In a TV interview three months before he died, Salazar said he championed the causes of Latinos because, “someone must advocate for a community that has been forgotten.”
His memory and legacy live on, because the need for advocacy in society for Latinos and many who remain among the forgotten or oppressed is stronger than ever.
Reach Michael A. Chihak at 573-4646 or firstname.lastname@example.org