booker t. washington portrait

BTW Commemorative Coins

to Honor Booker T. Washington and his Ideals Issued from 1946 to 1951

BTW commemorative coin-front BTW commemorative coin-reverse

Between 1946 and 1951, eighteen different coins were made featuring Booker T. Washington. From 1951 to 1954, a dozen coins were struck to honor George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington together.

Coin Description

Front: The bust of Booker T. Washington in the center of the coin. The date at the left. Around the rim, "Booker T. Washington" and "United States of America—Half Dollar—E. Pluribus Unum".

Reverse: At the top, the New York University Hall of Fame with the words below "From Slave Cabin to Hall of Fame—In God We Trust—Franklin County VA". Around the rim, "Booker T. Washington Birthplace Memorial—Liberty".

The History of Commemorative Coins

Congress authorizes commemorative coins that celebrate and honor American people, places, events, and institutions. These coins are legal tender but are not minted for general circulation. Each commemorative coin is produced by the United States Mint in limited quantity and is only available for a limited time.

The first commemorative coin, the Columbian Exposition half dollar, was authorized by Congress in 1892. During the ensuing 62 years, to 1954, the U.S. Mint was authorized to produce commemorative coins for 53 different events, occasions, or individuals.

However, beginning around 1925, many in Congress started to express concerns over bills introduced to "...commemorate events of local and not national interest..."

Eventually, hearings on "objectionable practices and abuses related to the issuance of special coins" were held in 1939, which resulted in Congress finally passing legislation to prohibit "...the issuance and coinage of certain commemorative coins." This ended any further minting or issuance of commemorative coins.

"And now, for the rest of the story..."

However, seven years later (1946), the Act is amended to allow a special one-time minting of an Iowa Centennial Commemorative coin. But the president of the Booker T. Washington Birthplace Memorial Commission, Mr. S. J. Phillips, pressures Congress for legislation to also authorize a Booker T. Washington half dollar, ostensibly to finance a restoration of Booker T's birthplace. However, some claim the idea was to profit through coin sales.

Congress, possibly fearing that voting against the proposal would bring accusations of racism, approves the bill and rushes it into President Truman's hands. It becomes law on August 7, 1946, the same day as the Iowa coin.

Only one other coin was produced: the last coin of the pre-modern commemorative coin program. It was the George Washington Carver-Booker T. Washington half dollar (from 1951-1954) and now you know...the rest of the story.