Graphic Artist Georg Olden, the Black Man Who Designed a Postal Stamp

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Georg Olden with his design for the postage stamp commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

We’ve been breaking down barriers in just about industry you can think of. However, the graphic arts industry isn’t an industry that comes to mind right away. However, while Chubby Checker was twisting thing up and Wilma Rudolph was slamming them over the net and Cassius Clay was knocking em’ out, George Olden was putting the pen to the paper in art form.

Georg Eliot Olden (yes without the e) was born in Birmingham, Ala., on No­vember 13, 1920. Georg was introduced to cartooning and art while attending the all Black Dunbar High School.

He attended Virginia State College but did not finish. Instead, he took a job at the Office of Strategic Services (now the CIA) as a graphic designer. During this time, he also published cartoons in the National CIO News, The New Yorker and Esquire.

Georg said he removed the “e” from his name so that he would be noticed by magazine editors.

After World War II ended in 1945, Georg’s supervisor recommended him to the vice president of the CBS TV division and at the age of 24 he became the head art director for and one of the first African Americans to work in the newly evolv­ing television industry.

Soon after joining CBS, he was also invited to attend the San Francisco confer­ence that eventually led to the formation of the United Nations.

He was named the of­ficial graphic designer for what would be the U.N. In­ternational Secretariat.

In 1960, he joined BBDO, one of the largest advertis­ing agencies in the nation. In 1963 he left BBDO to join McCann-Erickson, another major advertising agency.

It was here where he became the first African American to design a com­memorative postage stamp for the U.S. Post Office. His stamp was a tribute to the Emancipation Procla­mation at its 100th anniver­sary.

In 1970, Olden was laid off by McCann-Erickson. Georg claimed that his fir­ing was racially motivated to prevent him from ac­quiring a senior executive status. The discrimination case failed. As it turns out, of the 21 people who were let go, 20 of them were white.

Georg then decided to reach out to the Center for Constitutional Rights, which filed a class-action lawsuit against McCann Erickson in U.S. District Court in New York.

These events caused many personal issues for Georg. By 1972, he had separated from his second wife and moved to South­ern California to start his own company.

He lived with his 28-year-old German girl­friend, Irene “Maya” Mikolajczyk. Around this time, Georg made his di­rectorial debut directing an episode of ‘The Mod Squad.’

On January 25, 1975, just days before the class-action suit was set to go to trial, Mikolajczyk shot and killed Georg in possible self-defense.

Having a strong case, she pleaded not guilty, was released on $1,000 bail and acquitted of the charge on May 14, 1975.

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