We Shall Overcome: Commemorative Civil Rights Act Silver Dollar

The United States Mint recently announced that the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 will be commemorated with the release of a brand-new silver dollar.

In a 1963 civil rights speech, President John F. Kennedy asked for legislation that would give all Americans the right to be served in public facilities such as hotels and restaurants, in addition to better protection for the right to vote. The idea was debated in the legislature, but the bill stalled due to segregationist senators who threatened to prevent the bill from being put to a vote.

Everything changed, however, with the assassination of Kennedy in November 1963. New president Lyndon Johnson used his first speech to press Congress to ratify the bill, saying, “No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy’s memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long.” Despite the continued opposition of many southern senators, the bill was passed and President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law on July 2, 1964.

These new silver dollars issued to commemorate the passage of the bill were designed by Justin Kunz and engraved by Phebe Hemphill. The obverse of the coin shows three people holding hands at a civil rights march with one of them holding a sign that reads “WE SHALL OVERCOME.” The year of issue as well as the words “LIBERTY” and “IN GOD WE TRUST” also appear on the face of the silver dollar.

Designed by Donna Weaver and engraved by Jim Licaretz, the reverse of the coin depicts three flames intertwined to symbolize the freedom of education, freedom to vote and freedom to control one’s own destiny. Weaver said that she was inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s quote: “They get the fire hose. They fail to realize that water can only put out physical fire. But water can never drown the fire of freedom.” Additional inscriptions on the back of the coin include the words “CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1964, SIGNED INTO LAW JULY 2, 1964, “E PLURIBUS UNUM,” “ONE DOLLAR” and “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.”

Each coin is composed of 90% silver and 10% copper, with a silver weight of .7736 troy ounces. The reverse of the coins features multiple finishes, including different levels of polishing and frosting texture — techniques that were perfected last year at the Philadelphia Mint, which will be producing all of the new silver dollars. According to the U.S. Mint, “this is the first time the United States Mint has used this combination of finishes.”

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