Natasha Khazzam, Contributing Photographer

Constance Baker Motley, a lifelong civil rights activist from New Haven, will be honored nationwide as she is featured on a postal stamp.

On Thursday, New Haven’s NAACP branch unveiled the United States Postal Service’s 47th Black Heritage Stamp honoring Motley. The event was held at the Dixwell Community Center, also known as the Q House, and featured performances from several artists including St. Luke’s Steel Band, violinist John Randolph and Shades of Yale. In celebration of Motley’s life and legacy, the event culminated in an unveiling of this year’s stamp which is an intricate portrait of Motley designed by artist Charly Palmer.

“Inspiration. That is the first word that came to mind when I saw the new Black Heritage Month stamp honoring the late and great Constance Baker Motley,” Vanessa Roberts Avery, the U.S. attorney for the District of Connecticut said at the event.

Born and raised in New Haven, Motley left a lasting legacy in the city. After attending James Hillhouse High School, Motley worked for the National Youth Administration before matriculating at Fisk University, a historically Black university in Tennessee. 

After attending Columbia Law School, Motley served as a law clerk for Thurgood Marshall — the first Black Supreme Court justice — where she contributed to landmark cases like Brown v. Board of Education. One of the nation’s most influential civil rights leaders, Motley was the first Black woman elected to the New York State Senate in 1964. She was elected Manhattan borough president in 1965 before becoming the first Black woman to become a federal judge in 1966.

Motley received one of the NAACP’s most prestigious awards, the Spingarn Medal, at the 2003 NAACP National Convention and was an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the nation’s first intercollegiate Black sorority.

Dori Dumas, the president of the Greater New Haven NAACP, noted that events like Thursday’s help to honor trailblazers who “paved the way.”

In addition to celebrating Motley’s life and achievements, the event also touched on New Haven’s history as a center for community and civil rights advocacy.

“It’s amazing to kick off Black History Month this way, and to reflect on the past,” New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker said. “And I think more importantly, as Ms. Dumas said, reflect on the work that we have ahead of us.”

Elicker noted that 2024 marks the 165th anniversary of Hillhouse High School and the 100th Anniversary of the Q House.

Upon its founding, the Q House was intended to foster community life for New Haven’s predominantly Black community and served as a home base for initiatives like Connecticut’s first Black Girl Scout troop, after-school programming and civic forums. The location of Thursday’s ceremony was particularly significant, given that Motley frequented the Q House in her youth.

“This is a historic space, as Constance Baker Motley herself spent many days here,” Dumas said. “It was important that we had it here.”

Several other speakers noted the significance of celebrating Motley in New Haven. Constance L. Royster, Motley’s niece, even referred to the event as a “hometown celebration,” acknowledging the centrality of New Haven to Motley’s work. 

The Q House is located at 197 Dixwell Ave. 

Natasha Khazzam covers housing and homelessness for city desk. She previously covered climate and the environment. Originally from Great Neck, New York, she is a sophomore in Davenport College majoring in history and English.
Kenisha Mahajan covers Cops & Courts for the City desk. She is a first-year in Benjamin Franklin College from Queens, New York majoring in ethics, politics and economics.