WASHINGTON – To celebrate the historic desegregation of Little Rock Central High School,Congress is considering legislation to authorize a commemorative coin honoring the first nine black students to enter the school.
September 2007 marks the event's 50th anniversary,the first major test of the pivotal U.S. Supreme Court decision,Brown v. Topeka Board of Education.
A Senate committee sent the bill to the full Senate Thursday. It has 69 co-sponsors and could be voted on by the whole Senate as early as next week,according to Andrew S. Gray,communications director for the Senate Banking,Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.
The House bill has 321 co-sponsors,and sponsors say both versions are expected to pass.
The House bill will “hopefully enter the House in the near future,” said James Savage III,senior legislative assistant for Rep. Vic Snyder,D-Ark.,the bill's sponsor.
“This is to honor the important role these students played in the civil rights movement,” said Rodell Mollineau,communications director for Sen. Mark Pryor,who,along with Sen. Blanche Lincoln,both D-Ark.,is the bill's sponsor.
If the legislation passes,500,000 silver dollar coins would be minted during 2007, according to the Senate bill. The Commission of Fine Arts will design the coins once legislation is passed.
Two commemorative coins are issued by Congress each year to mark significant events in United States history. The other 2007 coin will commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown,Va.,colony,according to a press release from Snyder's office.
There will be a $10 surcharge for each coin. A portion of the money will cover production costs,while the rest of the money is slated for renovations and improvements at the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site. The coins are expected to generate $5 million for the center,Mollineau said.
The site had about 29,000 visitors in 2004,said Michael Madell,the site's superintendent. If trends continue,Madell said he expects 40,000 visitors by the end of this year.
With the money that the coin could generate,management hopes to enlarge and renovate the visitor center into an educational facility. The legislation would enable the National Park Service,which manages the site,and the Little Rock school district to begin historic preservation of the school and surrounding area,Madell said.
In September 1957,nine teens attempted to enter Little Rock’s Central High School as the first black students to integrate an all-white high school in the South after the Brown decision. Then-governor Orval Faubus called in the National Guard to prevent the students from entering the school as violence escalated outside. The next day,President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division into Little Rock to escort the students into the school.
Since the modern commemorative coin program began in 1982,the U.S. Mint has raised more than $418 million to fund projects such as building museums,maintaining national monuments like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial,preserving historical sites like George Washington’s home and supporting Olympic programs,according the U.S. Mint Web site.
“The desegregation of Little Rock Central High School was a monumental day in our state's and our nation's history,” Snyder said in a press release. “A commemorative coin issued by the U.S. Mint seems like an appropriate way to honor its 50th anniversary.”