Black Lady Liberty Not New
On March 15
the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee recommended designs for the 2017
American Liberty, high relief $100 gold coin and silver medal during a meeting
at the U.S. Mint headquarters in Washington, DC.
mandate was to select an obverse design with a modern version of Liberty that
reflects the racial and ethnic diversity of 21st century America,
and a reverse with a contemporary eagle.
the committee recommended of an African-American woman wearing a crown of
stars, as Paul Gilkes noted, is an homage to the Statue of Freedom that sits at
the top of dome of the U.S. Capitol.
last year, when a multicultural liberty design was recommended, the new designs
set off a firestorm of criticism of the obverse the committee selected.
Once again most
collectors who expressed an opinion said they did not like the design, would
never buy the coin or medal, and that it was all part of a politically-motived
and politically-correct agenda, a parting salvo perhaps from the first
African-American president in history, as some speculated.
notion that this project is politically-driven, or that President Obama is
behind a push for a black liberty, is patently absurd. The mandate to reflect racial and cultural
diversity reflects the fundamental ideals of our nation and is not some kind of
directive from the current administration.
Many of the
comments written about this topic in the past few days, a number of which have
been deeply troubling, have been focused on the fact that Lady Liberty has
always been Caucasian, so why change her race?
But it turns
out that the model used to represent Lady Liberty by Augustus Saint Gaudens for
his celebrated designs for the $20 and $10 gold coins of 1907 and the model for
Adolph Weinman’s Walking Liberty half dollar was actually black and was the same person.
Her name was
Henrietta (“Hettie”) Eugenia Anderson, born in 1873 in Columbia, South
Carolina, who spent most of her life in the part of New York City known as
as the real model for Liberty on these iconic designs by the two most
celebrated sculptors in our history was largely hidden until the 1980’s, and it
is believed that Saint Gaudens wife and only son played a major role in
suppressing that information.
is complex since St. Gaudens may have fused features of Hettie with those of
his muse and mistress, Davida Johnson, and Weinman, as is well known, was strongly
influenced by French artist Oscar Roty’s “Sower” design.
But there is
no doubt, as a number of historical sources confirm this, that Hettie Anderson
modeled for both sculptors (and had an affair with Weinman), that both men
considered her to be a goddess, and that the credit she is due as the model for
the most famous Lady Liberty in American numismatic history is even today not
history, and that they have been embracing a Liberty based on an
African-American model all these years without realizing it, perhaps more
collectors will wait and see how the design strikes up, and views on the design
may change when people see the coin, which is exactly what happened last year.