Graphic designer Georg Olden broke a race barrier in the art world on this day in 1963. The award-winning artist became the first Black designer of a postal stamp, which celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Olden was born November 13, 1920 in Birmingham, Ala., and attended Dunbar High School in Washington. D.C. He then went on to Virginia State College, dropping out just after the Pearl Harbor attack. He joined the Office of Strategic Services, the organization that precedes the CIA, as a designer, working under a colonel who would later become vice president of CBS’ television division. The colonel brought Olden on and the union was fruitful.
Eventually, Olden, one of the few Black people working in television, lead his own staff but moved on in the early ’60’s. His push for innovation in design work earned him several awards, including being a seven-time winner of the Clio Award, which he designed, and a two-time winner of the Art Director’s Club of New York Award.
The five-cent stamp Olden designed featured a broken Black chain on a blue background with white borders. That same year, Olden joined the firm of McCann Erickson, which let him go in 1970, citing economic downturn. Olden suspected otherwise. In the ’70’s, Olden brought a class-action lawsuit against McCann and just as he was making headway with the case, a live-in girlfriend shot him dead in February 1975.
The girlfriend was later acquitted of the charges. Olden was 54.
Olden is the father of author Marc Olden and Georg Olden Jr., a former child actor and real estate professional.
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