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]

Black Lives Matter and the $20 Bill – an Awful American Travesty

Tagline: What happened to the plans to place Harriett Tubman on the US $20 bill?

A previously unreleased conceptual design of a new $20 note that was produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and obtained by The New York Times depicts Harriet Tubman in a dark coat with a wide collar and a white scarf. This preliminary design was completed in late 2016.

Yes, I am a diversity and career development consultant. Yes, I am a competitive adult figure skater. My newsletter subscribers, clients and friends know this about me. But I am also a numismatist. What is a numismatist? A collector of money … not in the sense of hoarding it away, but appreciating the beauty, history and aesthetics of coins and paper money.

So how does this tie to my work as a diversity consultant and all the current focus on racism and “Black Lives Matter” during the recent weeks? Yes, there is actually a very recent sad story of sexism and racism as it relates to our US currency.

First, think about who is all the coins and paper money you see in circulation. All white men! Yes, a long time ago we had the mythical and beautiful “Lady Liberty” from the initial coinage of 1792 until the early 1900s. We also had the Indian head pennies and Buffalo nickels featuring stereotypical American Indian profiles glamorizing the days the “old west,” but denying the injustice of the horrible genocide of Native Americans at the hands of the white settlers. And the American oppression of the native population still continues.

Before featuring only US Presidents on coins, they included the mythical American Indian and Lady Liberty

But these were all replaced with US white male presidents.

So what is this little-known American sexist racist travesty involving the American $20 bill? As an American Numismatic Association Member for almost 40 years and an avid reader of their “The Numismatist” Magazine, I was informed of this tragedy… the derailment of plans to place African-American abolitionist Harriett Tubman on the $20 bill.

The background: Discussions began as early 2013 within the US treasury department on redesign of some of our paper money. At first, the $10 bill was being considered for redesign, but that shifted to the $20 due to the popularity of the Broadway musical “Hamilton.” (Alexander Hamilton is on the $10 bill.) Then a campaign called “Women on 20s” was started to advocate for placing a woman on the $20 bill in 2020 to mark 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment to the US Constitution granting women the right to vote.

After an online voting process, African-American abolitionist Harriett Tubman beat out second-place vote getter former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. President Obama’s Treasury Secretary Jack Lew then announced plans for Harriett Tubman to replace Andrew Jackson on the US $20 bill in 2020.

So then what happened? During the 2016 Presidential campaign, candidate Donald Trump did make this one of his campaign issues, calling the decision to place Ms. Tubman on the $20 as “pure political correctness” while valorizing the current occupant of the $20 bill, seventh president Andrew Jackson.

Then on May 22, 2019, current Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced the pushing back of the $20 bill until 2028, citing the need to prioritize money printing processes to further deter counterfeiting. Many believe (including this blogger) that this was a phony excuse from a sexist and racist administration. There really is no reason why the $20 bill redesign could not occur concurrently with anti-counterfeiting design measures.

Where do we go from here? Back in March, 2019, Senator Jeanne Shaheen introduced a bill to the US Senate to require the Treasury to place Harriett Tubman’s portrait on all $20 bills printed after December 31, 2020, but the bill has yet to receive a vote.

Hopefully a new President will appoint a new Treasury Secretary who can quickly reconsider this and drastically improve on this obscene 2028 timetable. Meanwhile let’s continue a grass roots efforts to fight all forms of racism and sexism in our society, including our failure to recognize the outstanding contributions of women and people of color by not placing them on our money.

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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]