?Liberty, that icon who has graced U.S. coinage since 1793, appears poised to have a new face that reflect the nation’s growing diversity.
During their reviews of designs provided by the U.S. Mint for the 2017 American Liberty, High Relief gold coin and silver medal, the two federal panels that advise the Treasury Department on coinage and medal designs went for the same bold choice. Both panels chose to emphasis the first word of “American Liberty” and to thankfully abandon “traditional” concepts, by selecting a portrait of a woman with distinct African-American features to be the new face of Liberty.
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Mint artists over the years have interpreted the concept of Liberty in different ways, but until recently, all of the renditions of Liberty were influenced by classical Greek and Roman art, with Liberty represented by a white woman. Sure, James Barton Longacre depicted Liberty masquerading as a Native American on his cent of 1859, but his Indian Head cent shows a woman with a classical profile wearing a Native American headdress. Bela Lyon Pratt and James Earle Fraser later depicted authentic male American Indians on their classic coins, but it wasn’t until 2000 that Glenna Goodacre’s Liberty portrait on the Sacagawea dollar showed a female Liberty who wasn’t white.
Not long after the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee and Commission of Fine Arts made their decisions on the 2017 American Liberty designs, some collectors began to object to the panels’ choice for Liberty. A few of those objecting simply said they didn’t like the portrait, but others trotted out that tiresome phrase “politically correct” in voicing their opposition to the idea of an African-American Liberty.
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The entire idea of the American Liberty program was to highlight a changing America, and the proposed 2017 design does a better job of that than the design on the 2015 American Liberty coin. It’s a fact that national demographics are changing. The U.S. Census Bureau said in 2015 that by 2020, “more than half of the nation’s children are expected to be part of a minority race or ethnic group.”
Our nation’s coinage, and its paper money, needs to keep pace with the changing faces of Americans. The new face of Liberty is a welcome addition.