US Coins

Congress approves legislation for astronaut commemorative

Christa McAuliffe, a teacher from New Hampshire who died when the space shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986, will be honored with a commemorative silver dollar if S. 239 becomes law. The measure was sent to the president for his signature.

Public domain images.

The Christa McAuliffe Commemorative Coin Act is one step away from becoming law. With both chambers of Congress having passed the measure, it was in the hands of the president for his consideration. As of Oct.  4, no action had been taken.

The measure is just one of several numismatically themed bills to have passed one or both chambers since Congress ended its summer recess.

S. 239, the Christa McAuliffe Commemorative Coin Act, passed in the Senate by voice vote on July 9. The House of Representatives took up the measure Sept. 19, also passing it by voice vote. 

The bill would authorize a 2021 commemorative silver dollar honoring McAuliffe, the New Hampshire educator who along with six others died when the space shuttle Challenger exploded on Jan. 28, 1986. 

The coin is to depict an image of McAuliffe on the obverse and a design on the reverse that depicts her legacy as a teacher. 

Surcharges raised (if all statutory requirements are met) from the sales of the coin would go to the “FIRST robotics program for the purpose of engaging and inspiring young people, through mentor-based programs, to become leaders in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.” FIRST, or For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, was founded in 1989 to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology. 

The Senate bill was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., on Jan. 28. A House version, H.R. 500, was introduced Jan. 11. 

Paul Laurence Dunbar

Eleanor Norton, D-D.C., introduced H.R. 4332 in the House on Sept. 13, to create a commemorative coin program honoring Paul Laurence Dunbar, an African-American writer whose poetry and plays gained recognition in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

The legislation seeks three coins for 2021 — a gold $5 half eagle, silver dollar, and copper-nickel clad half dollar.  

The child of two freed slaves, Paul Laurence Dunbar was an Ohioan, born in 1872 in Dayton. Dunbar began his literary career at an early age, writing for and editing his high school’s literary magazine. At 16, his poetry was published in the Dayton Herald newspaper and by 18, he was writing for and editing Dayton’s first African-American newspaper. 

Though his desire to study law was stymied by poverty, by the mid-1890s, Dunbar was widely published and giving public readings of his work, gaining positive reviews in national publications. He toured England in 1897 giving readings. He died in 1906.

The text of H.R. 4332 describes Dunbar as “one of the first influential African-American poets in American literature...” Any proceeds from sales of the coins will be donated to the Dunbar Alumni Federation, an organization founded in 2002 to provide financial support to students and graduates of Dunbar High School, a high school in Dayton named for the writer

No substantive action has been taken on the legislation since its introduction. 

Congressional gold medals

Three bills authorizing congressional gold medals passed the House Sept. 19.

Passing the House were H.R. 1396, the Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act; H.R. 3589, the Greg Lemond Congressional Gold Medal Act; and H.R. 550, the Merchant Mariners of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act. 

H.R. 1396, introduced Jan. 15 by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, has 302 House co-sponsors, 201 Democrats and 101 Republicans. It seeks separate congressional gold medals for specific female African-American mathematicians and engineers who worked for NASA during the space race (Katherine Johnson, Dr. Christine Darden, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson), and one recognizing all the female computers, mathematicians, and engineers at NASA from the 1930s to 1970s. 

H.R. 3589, introduced by Mike Thompson, D-Calif., on June 27, would, if enacted, present a congressional gold medal to famous cyclist Greg LeMond. 

LeMond won the 1986 Tour de France, “ascending the fabled Alpe D’Huez, defeating the field by more than 3 full minutes, becoming the first American and the first non-European to win cycling’s most prestigious race,” the bill states.

The Merchant Mariners of World War II would receive a single congressional gold medal if H.R. 550 passes. It was introduced by John Garamendi, D-Calif., on Jan. 15. “The United States Merchant Marine ... was integral in providing the link between domestic production and the fighting forces overseas, providing combat equipment, fuel, food, commodities, and raw materials to troops stationed abroad,” according to the legislation. 

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