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Booker T. Washington Half Dollar

The Booker T Washington half dollar was the first coin minted in the United States that featured an African American. The Booker T Washington half dollar was minted as a commemorative coin from 1946 to 1951 and as a regular coin from 1951 to 1954. Read on for more about Booker T. Washington and his commemorative coin.

About the Booker T Washington Half Dollar

The Booker T Washington Half Dollar was minted as a traditional series commemorative coin. This means that is was sponsored by a private organization and was not meant for circulation. Traditional series coins are meant to be fundraisers. The Booker T. Washington Half Dollar was sponsored by the Booker T. Washington Birthplace Memorial Commission "to perpetuate the ideals and teachings of Booker T. Washington, and to purchase, construct and maintain memorials to his memory." The BTW Commission wanted to restore the farm and the original log cabin that was his birthplace.

The front side of the coin has an image of Booker T. Washington with the words UNITED STATES OF AMERICA inscribed above it and the name BOOKER T. WASHINGTON inscribed below it. On the left side of the coin is the year and value, HALF DOLLAR, and the right side of the coin is E PLURIBUS UNUM. Across the middle on the back side of the coin are the words FROM SLAVE CABIN TO HALL OF FAME. Above it is a picture of New York City’s Hall of Fame colonnade and below it is a picture of a generic slave cabin. Inscribed around the edges of the coin are the words BOOKER T. WASHINGTON BIRTHPLACE MEMORIAL with the word LIBERTY at the bottom. To the left of the cabin are the words IN GOD WE TRUST and to the right of the cabin are the words FRANKLIN COUNTY VA. Mint marks, which identify the US Mint that produced the coin, are found right below the cabin. These marks would be D for the US Mint in Denver, Colorado, or S for the US Mint in San Francisco, California. No mint mark means it was made at Philadelphia.

Sales of the Booker T. Washington Half Dollar were not as good as expected. To say the coin was not well received would be an understatement. The coins were made at the US Mints in Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco and almost 1.8 million were produced the first year. Mintage decreased dramatically the next years and in following years. Since sales were slow, many coins were released into circulation or melted down. The BTW Commission had hopes that many African Americans would purchase these coins but that did not happen. There was not enough money made from the sale of these coins to pay for the original intention of restoring his birthplace.

Booker T. Washington

Booker Taliaferro Washington was born into slavery in 1856 in Virginia. He strove to better himself and attended the trade school Hampton Normal and Industrial Institute. Still wanting more education, he went to the Wayland Seminary in Washington, DC. and came back to Hampton as a teacher to Native Americans.

When the US government decided to open the Tuskegee Institute, Washington was selected as its director. The school grew and soon a permanent building was in place. The school and Washington gained fame for their achievements over the years. Booker T. Washington preached the need for practical education for African Americans all his life. He died on November 14, 1915 having made his mark on American society.

Besides running the Tuskegee Institute that trained African Americans as teachers and businessmen, Washington also created the National Negro Business League. He was the first African American to ever visit the White House. President Theodore Roosevelt invited him. He was granted an honorary master’s degree from Harvard University and an honorary doctorate from Dartmouth. Another first was naming the Liberty Ship after him, the first ship named after an African American. He was also the first African American honored with a postage stamp.

One hundred years after his birth, the house Booker T. Washington was born in was designated as the Booker T. Washington National Monument. Schools across America have been named to honor him. The Booker T. Washington Monument was erected on the campus of Tuskegee University in 1922. It is called Lifting the Veil. The inscription reads, “He lifted the veil of ignorance from his people and pointed the way to progress through education and industry."