The US commemorative coin series paused in 1939 after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed into law the bill that put a stop to the issuance of any commemorative coin approved prior to March 1, 1939; the bill was signed on August 5, 1939. (Public Law 76-278) Limited new commemorative coin proposals were introduced post-1939, but none gained the support of Congress until 1946.
In that year, two proposals for commemorative half dollars were proposed and approved. One marked the 100th Anniversary of Iowa's Statehood, the other honored Booker T. Washington (BTW).
In May 1946, companion bills "to commemorate the life and perpetuate the ideals and teachings of Booker T. Washington" were introduced in the House and Senate. Carter Glass (D-VA) was the sponsor of the Senate bill (it was introduced on his behalf by Alben William Barkley (D-VA)); Thomas Granville Burch (D-VA) introduced the House bill. Burch's bill was referred to the House Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures; Glass' bill was sent to the Senate Committee on Banking and Currency.
The bills called for up to five million (!) half dollars to support the Booker T. Washington (BTW) Birthplace Memorial in Franklin County, VA. Prior to its pursuit of a commemorative coin, the Memorial group had been organized and had already purchased 240 acres of land that encompassed BTW's place of birth and where he spent the early days of his childhood. In contrast to the collector-friendly provisions that had been put in place for commemorative coin proposals during the mid-1930s, the BTW bills allowed for the coins to be struck at multiple US Mint facilities, did not limit the year(s) in which the coins could be struck and did not include an expiration date. Through in the extremely high mintage request, and it was a recipe for collector abuse!
The Senate bill was put aside in favor of the House version. The House Committee held a Hearing to review the BTW bill, along with two others (Iowa Statehood Centennial and Will Rogers). At the Hearing, a statement by the Treasury Department was read to open the BTW discussion; it voiced its opposition to the bill.
The Hearing was attended by several public advocates for the bill, including Sydney J. Phillips, President of the Booker T. Washington Birthplace Memorial, Inc.; Dr. Emmet J. Sc
ott, Secretary of the Memorial; Mrs. Portia Washington Pittman, daughter of BTW, Booker T. Washington III, BTW's grandson, and several others. Phillips and Scott provided extended information about the Memorial group and its planned projects in honor of BTW. In addition to his position as Secretary of the Memorial, Scott also served as BTW's personal Secretary for 18 years.
Members of the Committee were very supportive of the bill and the projects outlined by the Memorial representatives, making many positive and complimentary comments regarding Booker T. Washington, his work and the his belief in the potential of African-Americans to be productive members of the nation's economy.
The Treasury Department's position was essentially ignored by Committee members. After the Hearing, the House bill was reported favorably by the Committee without amendments. The Report included the following statement: "The committee, in making this report, is fully cognizant of, and in general accord with, the attitude of the Treasury Department regarding the promiscuous issuance of commemorative coins in commemoration of events of local or minor importance and the resultant abuses possible or attendant thereto. Therefore, it feels that every bill of this nature should be carefully considered and judged solely on its individual merits.
"After full hearings and careful consideration, the committee is convinced of the worthy objectives of this legislation and has unanimously reported the bill favorably with the recommendation that the bill do pass."
From there, the bill took an unusual step forward. Instead of being brought up directly in the House for consideration, a House Resolution from the Rules Committee was presented that called for the coin bill to be considered immediately following the adoption of the Resolution. The Resolution limited debate on the BTW coin bill to one hour, restricted discussion during this hour to the coin bill and required potential amendments to be considered under the 5-minute rule (which limits those wishing to speak for or against an amendment to five minutes unless a request for additional time is granted).
Following the reporting of the Resolution, multiple Representatives took the opportunity to stand and voice their support for the coin bill. Enthusiastic support was the common theme among those who spoke, and the Resolution was soon approved. With the Resolution agreed to, the BTW coin bill was immediately brought up for consideration - it was passed by unanimous consent. The passed bill was then sent to the Senate for its consideration.
Once received in the Senate, it was referred to its Committee on Banking and Currency. A week later, the Committee reported the bill favorably and without amendment. Two days later, the bill was passed in the Senate via unanimous consent. The bill moved briskly at every stage! It was signed into law by President Harry S. Truman on August 7, 1946; ~1.7 million BTW half dollars were struck by the Mint in December 1946, ~1.01 million in Philadelphia, ~0.500 million in Denver and ~0.2 million in San Francisco. The program was off and running!1946 Booker T. Washington Birthplace Memorial Half Dollar
For more about Congress' efforts to curb US commemorative coins:
- Probibiting Certain Commemorative Coins
- Regulating US Commemorative Coins
For more posts about the BTW half dollar, and other of my posts about commemorative coins and medals, see: Commems Collection.