A Black Lives Matter and an American Coinage Travesty – blog 2: A KKK-sponsored coin

A close up of the bas-relief on Stone Mountain, and view from a distance.

As a diversity consultant and numismatist (a collector of money,) I am now finding some interesting connections between our nation’s money and our diversity as a nation. In my last blog, “Black Lives Matter and the $20 Bill – an Awful American Travesty,” (do use the link and read it), I recounted the very sad story of how the approved plans to place African-American abolitionist Harriet Tubman on our $20 bill got derailed.

In this blog, I am going to share the history of one of our commemorative half dollars that has a disturbing connection to the horrific racist group the Ku Klux Klan, abbreviated the KKK. I was recently catching up on some of my back magazine reading and read this story in one of my 2018 Numismatist Magazines. If it were not for my interest in coin collecting and reading this story, I would have never known about the sordid history of Stone Mountain and it’s world record size bas-relief carving.

When the World’s fair was held in St. Louis in 1892 on the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival into America, the US produced its first two commemorative coins; the Columbus half dollar and the Isabella quarter. Since that time, the US has issued numerous commemorative coins to celebrate historic milestones, or as fundraisers for projects. Most often, these commemorative coins are sold to the public for a premium over their face value.

This blog summarizes the history of the 1925 Stone Mountain half dollar, and you can read the complete detailed story using this link to Coinweek’s online article “The Birth of the Klan Half Dollar.”

The beginnings:  The story starts in 1909 when the Atlanta, Georgia chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) floated the idea of carving into nearby Stone Mountain a relief to honor fallen Confederate soldiers. Coincidentally, the KKK found its second birth and resurgence when a group of 34 white men met atop Stone Mountain on Thanksgiving Day 1915, with many of the men wearing the white bed sheets and pointed caps most associated with the klan.

The plans turn into action: One of the men present, Sam Venable, was the owner of Stone Mountain and later deeded the north face to the UDC to actually execute the carving project. The UDC hired renowned sculptor Gutzon Borglum (who also designed the carvings on Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota) to design a Confederate battle scene for the face of the mountain. Some KKK-ers actually wanted members of the klan in their robes to be carved into the scene, but Borglum prevailed with a plan that featured Confederate leaders Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson. After meeting some of these southern leaders, sculptor Borglum himself joined the KKK and authored a horribly racist and anti-Semitic essay.

1.3 million of these “Stone Mountain” half dollars were minted

Plans stalled during World War I, and restarted after 1920. The work was expensive, so in 1923 project leaders started to advocate for a creation of a commemorative coin that would be sold for a premium to raise funds for the project. Borglum stopped his work on the mountain carving to work on designing the coin. Congress passed the legislation, the billed was signed by President Coolidge, and 1.3 million coins were minted in 1925.

The Completion: Various conflicts resulted in the firing of Borglum, and the carving work on Stone Mountain stopped for several decades, not to be completed until 1965. Over the past decade, the carving has been a great source of conflict, and will likely be even more so in today’s debate about memorials that arose from the motivation to promote white supremacy.

Three quick interesting closing points:

1) Isn’t it a disgrace that our US Treasury Department could produce a commemorative coin to aid a project of the Ku Klux Klan, yet recently scuttled plans to honor Harriet Tubman on our $20 bill?

2) Recently Richard Rose, President of the NAACP, called Stone Mountain “the largest shrine to white supremacy in the history of the world.”

3) One line from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s famed “I have a dream speech” included, “Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.”  (See page 6 of the speech)

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Blog author Stan Kimer is a diversity consultant and trainer who handles all areas of workplace diversity and with a deep expertise in LGBT diversity strategy and training, Unconscious Bias and Employee Resource Groups. Please explore the rest of my website and never hesitate to contact me to discuss diversity training for your organization, or pass my name onto your HR department.  [email protected]

Divided We Stand – Racism in America from Jamestown to Trump – A book review

David R. Morse, author and President / CEO of New American Dimensions

As a diversity consultant with a deep expertise in LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) diversity, about half my clients do engage me for all areas of diversity and inclusion, which includes race. Even though the diversity discipline has evolved from the initial areas of gender and race to now include LGBT, generational, cognitive, the differently-abled, and more; racial issues certainly need to continue to be front and center. (see my blog “The Various Growing Types of Diversity.”)

Though a good number of white people believe that the racial discrimination of the past is eradicated, the black community for the most part, as well as statistical realities, would indicate otherwise. And racial tensions continue to rage as we have seen in the disproportionate number of black men and boys killed by police, the black lives matter movement, and the increased number of race related hate groups becoming active in the United States. (see my blog “Facing the Truth – Racism Still Persists in the USA.”)

I have recently read a most fascinating book which places racism in the United States in a much broader historical perspective since the very beginnings of our nation’s founding. In “Divided We Stand,” David R. Morse provides a full historical account of the many forms of racism that has been a part of our country’s history. It is important to own this part of our history, and by understanding history, we can all work together to build a more just society.

The sections of this fascinating book full of interesting accounts and data include:

“Divided We Stand” is a fascinating book detailing various types of racism throughout the USA’s history.

• The early struggles within white mostly Anglo-Saxon America in terms of integrating waves of immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Italy and Jews.

• The long African-American history from the days of slavery until today, including the doctrine of the “superior” Caucasian Race and the Jim Crow laws of the early 20th century.

• The history of Hispanic Americans starting with the treatment of the population already in the areas of the Southwest “conquered” by the USA up through the debate that continues to rage about illegal immigration.

• The history of Asian-Americans, their treatment and oppression during the gold rush days of California and the building of the western railroads, our government’s agreements with Japan, up to many who view Asians as the “model minority.”

• Scholarly discussion on the science around genetics and race, and then closing with the landscape of race relations in the USA today.

This book certainly made me aware of so much more of the history and dynamics behind the multiplicity of racial issues in our diverse country from its very beginning. And hopefully by understanding this history, we can all unite more rigorously to build a stronger country from our profound and unique blend of diversity.

I highly recommend this book!

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Direct LINK to order: https://www.amazon.com/Divided-We-Stand-America-Jamestown/dp/1941688489/

Author David R. Morse is President and CEO of New American Dimensions (link), a market research company focused on Hispanic, African American, Asian American and LGBTQ Americans.