Three factors make or break a commemorative coin — subject matter, design, and rarity. Sadly, the Little Rock Nine commemorative drops the ball in all three areas, as Jay Turner demonstrates.
Three factors make or break a commemorative coin as a collectible — subject
matter, design, and rarity. It is very rare that any commemorative is desirable
in all three areas. Those that are become almost instantaneous successes. The
Little Rock Nine commemorative, however, will sadly not be revered in any of
the three areas.
been fifty years since the famous event when nine African American students
entered Little Rock Central High School and became the first to desegregate
the all-white student body. This event took place with the landmark Supreme
Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education, in which an earlier ruling
establishing separate schools for black and white students was deemed inherently
unconstitutional. Arkansas had begun preparations for the desegregation
of the schools and to make the transition as smooth as possible, they wanted
to begin with the Central High School in Little Rock. Nine students were
chosen from the black school to begin the desegregation. The students were
chosen based on their academic performance and attendance records.
As school was to start on September 2nd, the governor of Arkansas,
Orval Faubus, called for the state National Guard to join protesting segregationists
in surrounding Little Rock Central High School to prevent the black students
from entering. The Little Rock Nine students would be barred from entry until
a federal judge issued an injunction against the use of the National Guard
and they were finally withdrawn on September 20th. On the 23rd, when the school
was to resume after the weekend, the school was again surrounded by protesters
attempting to prevent the students from entering, but this time the Little
Rock police were there to keep order. The students entered the school quietly
through a side door but once the protestors learned of this, they erupted
in anger. The police, clearly outnumbered by the mob of protesters,
removed the students from school to avoid a riot. It wouldn’t be until
September 25th, and after an order from President Eisenhower, that 1,000 members
of the 101st Airborne Division would escort and protect the nine students
as they entered the school to attend class.
The importance of the Little Rock Nine was not just felt in Little Rock but
worldwide. As these events took place, the media was there filming and
reporting. Americans outside the South watched thousands
of people stop nine students from entering a class and got a bitter taste
of the hate that existed. Europeans witnessed the intolerance found in
America. Russians and other communist countries used this as a tool to
exhibit the flaws and intolerance of the American system. Yet, through
it all, nine students went to school with dignity and in 1958, the first
of many African Americans graduated
from Little Rock Central High School .
The Little Rock Nine and the desegregation of schools is an important part
of American history and certainly worthy of commemoration. Yet in terms of
coin collecting, it is not a popular subject. While this was a tremendous
accomplishment during the civil rights movement, it is also a point of shame
and regret for many Americans. It is not a proud moment for Americans to remember — 1,000
Airborne infantry had to be deployed to keep the nine students from being
harmed, or worse, by an angry crowd when all they wanted to do was attend
Aside from the subject matter, the design of the coin is considered very
poor by many. The challenge is how to depict a subject of this magnitude.
The design chosen, nine sets of feet walking with a butt of a gun in view,
is not an appealing artistic feature to many. The reverse depicts the Little
Rock Central High School building. The design barely does the event justice.
Design concepts that included symbols of education, justice, law, liberty,
and learning were rejected, but one wonders how the use of a different design
might have impacted (if at all) the reception given these commemoratives.
Finally, regarding the scarcity of the coin, while it is a limited mintage,
it does not appear that it will be at all rare. Since the modern coin market
is so hot, very few coins are not being scooped up by collectors and dealers.
Currently a little less than 90,000 of the 500,000 coins have been sold. At
least another 50,000 will be included in Legacy sets. The numbers seem low;
however, the coins have only recently been released. While the coins could
possibly still be low mintage due to low demand, at current levels it seems
unlikely, especially with at least six more months of sales to come.
Rock Nine School Desegregation commemorative may not be desirable to some
based on its design and subject matter. However, it is representative of an
important and poignant time in U.S. history and that is why it is this month’s
Modern Coin of the Month.