Uncovering America's Heritage... Coin by Coin
Booker T. Washington Memorial Half Dollar (1946–51)Using my detective skills, I, Inspector Collector, have discovered the first coin that ever featured an African American. Let me introduce it to you.
It's the Booker T. Washington Memorial half dollar. It honors this famous educator who was born a slave in Virginia in 1856.
Why does December make me think of this coin? Because it was on December 18, 1865, that the United States ratified (officially approved) the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which ended slavery in the United States. Bravo!
This change to our Constitution states that, forever after, "neither slavery nor involuntary servitude... shall exist within the United States." And because of this amendment, Booker T. Washington was free to carry out his work, which benefited not just African Americans but our whole country.
His most famous deed was founding the Tuskegee Institute in 1881 to train African Americans to become teachers and businessmen. Later on, Mr. Washington created the National Negro Business League as a way for African Americans to help each other in business.
He also started some newspapers for the African American community. Famous throughout the world, this man of many talents also became an advisor to Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.
This coin not only honors an African American, but it was also designed by an African American: Isaac Scott Hathaway. The sale of this commemorative coin raised money to pay for a memorial to Booker T. Washington.