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Stone Mountain Half a Reminder of Institutionalized Racism

By Robert Grand 

Great art is timeless, but also inevitably tied to the time in which it was produced. Many coins are miniature works of art and as such, reveal the ideals and prejudices of the time in which they were minted.

Today, as we struggle with issues of social justice, and particularly as we examine the role of civil war monuments and what they signify to Black Americans (indeed all Americans), it may be instructive to examine a coin issued in 1925 known as the Stone Mountain commemorative half dollar.

On the obverse (heads), the coin depicts Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee on horseback. On the reverse (tails), there is an eagle and the words “Dedicated to the valor of the Confederate soldier.” The money raised from the sale of the coin was to be used to finance carving the figures portrayed on the coin on the side of Stone Mountain in Georgia near Atlanta.

The project quickly became controversial. Besides the financial irregularities that occurred in the sales of the coins, there was the fact that the coin was promoted to Congress as being not only a memorial to Confederate bravery but also as a memorial to President Harding, who had recently died. This made the proposed coin more palatable to Northern congressmen, and thus the coin was authorized. (The reverse design was later altered by order of then-President Coolidge, and no mention of Harding was on the coin as issued.)

The artist of the coin was Gutzon Berglum. He was hired to sculpt the figures of Jackson and Lee on Stone Mountain. Mr. Berglum, however, was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and espoused “Nordic Superiority.” He was clearly a racist and was ultimately fired from the monument project, which was finally completed in 1964. He was later hired to sculpt Mt. Rushmore!

The coin reflects the times, and it is a reminder of just how institutionalized racism was in 1925. The question is, in our hearts, where are we today?

 

This “Viewpoint” was written by Robert Grand, a collector from Springfield, Mo.

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3 Responses to Stone Mountain Half a Reminder of Institutionalized Racism

  1. Mint Master says:

    Dear Mr. Grand, The actual dedication on the Stone Mountain half dollar reads “MEMORIAL TO THE VALOR OF THE SOLDIER OF THE SOUTH”, not “Dedicated to the valor of the Confederate soldier” as you state in your article. After reading this quote I found it impossible to continue reading your article. Please do enough research to at least get the inscriptions on the coins you are writing about correct.

  2. hyatt62 says:

    All my life I’ve lived within 50 miles of Stone Mountain, Ga. and I’ve seen numerous people from all around the world visit the park. I have never heard of anyone being less than happy with their visit. I also collect silver and gold coins. I have been a collector for most of my life, but now that I’m retired I have really thrown a good part of my life into all the aspects of coin and bullion collecting. I spend 5-8 hours a day researching, buying, selling and dealing with precious metals, especially US silver coins.

    As far as this particular coin being controversial, I’m not old enough to comment about the feelings of the people in Georgia or the nation. In my experiences as a 55 year resident of Georgia and being a multi generational family member of Heard County Georgia. My family has owned farm and property before the founding of Heard County. I have ancestors buried here that are veterans of every US war since the Revolutionary war. Yes, including the War between the States as well. We have never taken glory in any war and especially not that war, as so many people enjoy to write about.

    Let me get back to the point. The 1925 St. Mountain half dollar was issued as a commemorative coin and I do not remember hearing anything controversial from my ancestors that lived here during the time the writer brings up this issue. In fact it was a popular issue. Have 10 times the mintage of earlier years and more than 1.3 million minted during a time when 50 cents is like $50 today. My ancestors like most people living here were poor farmers. Not plantation owners like the media represents. My point is that poor people donated to the cause of buying this commemorative coin. We are proud of our state Capital building with its actual 24K gold covered dome. We’re proud of St. Mountain, Macon, Savannah, Atlanta, Columbus and many things. However we do not relish in the glory of any of these places to the point where people are as uncomfortable as the writer of this article wants us to be.

  3. hyatt62 says:

    All my life I’ve lived within 50 miles of Stone Mountain, Ga. and I’ve seen numerous people from all around the world visit the park. I have never heard of anyone being less than happy with their visit. I also collect silver and gold coins. I have been a collector for most of my life, but now that I’m retired I have really thrown a good part of my life into all the aspects of coin and bullion collecting. I spend 5-8 hours a day researching, buying, selling and dealing with precious metals, especially US silver coins.

    As far as this particular coin being controversial, I’m not old enough to comment about the feelings of the people in Georgia or the nation. In my experiences as a 55 year resident of Georgia and being a multi generational family member of Heard County Georgia. My family has owned farm and property before the founding of Heard County. I have ancestors buried here that are veterans of every US war since the Revolutionary war. Yes, including the War between the States as well. We have never taken glory in any war and especially not that war, as so many people enjoy to write about.

    Let me get back to the point. The 1925 St. Mountain half dollar was issued as a commemorative coin and I do not remember hearing anything controversial from my ancestors that lived here during the time the writer brings up this issue. In fact it was a popular issue. Around 10 times the mintage of earlier years and more than 1.3 million minted during a time when 50 cents is like $50 today. My ancestors like most people living here were poor farmers. Not plantation owners like the media represents. My point is that poor people donated to the cause of buying this commemorative coin. We are proud of our state Capital building with its actual 24K gold covered dome. We’re proud of St. Mountain, Macon, Savannah, Atlanta, Columbus and many things. However we do not relish in the glory of any of these places to the point where people are as uncomfortable as the writer of this article wants us to be.

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