Cincinnati’s Freedom Center helps unveil designs for Harriet Tubman commemorative coins

The United States Mint released its first look at designs for three commemorative coins celebrating the legacy of freedom fighter Harriet Tubman. Cincinnati’s National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and Harriet Tubman Home in Auburn, N.Y. will receive some financial benefits from the sale of the coins.

Leaders from the Freedom Center and the Harriet Tubman Center joined U.S. Mint Dir. Ventris C. Gibson for the reveal of the designs at the New Orleans Hilton Hotel Riverside last week.

“I am honored to announce the designs of the coins for the 2024 Harriet Tubman Commemorative Coin Program,” said Gibson, the first African American director of the Mint. “These beautiful designs celebrate the life, achievements and legacy of an extraordinary woman, and add to the Mint’s rich history of telling our nation’s story through numismatic art.”

Harriet Tubman coin design.
One of the Harriet Tubman coin designs

Remembering a trailblazer, freedom fighter

Tubman is the most famous figure from the era of the Underground Railroad, a secretive network that helped enslaved individuals liberate themselves in the first half of the 19th century.

Born into slavery as Araminta “Minty” Ross in 1822 on a plantation in Maryland, Tubman self-liberated in 1849 by into the free state of Pennsylvania. She returned to Maryland 13 times over the next decade, leading 70 enslaved people to freedom in Canada.

By 1850, as many as 100,000 enslaved people had escaped through the Underground Railroad to free states, like Ohio, or even as far as Canada, per the Freedom Center.

The museum’s data suggests as many as 40,000 freedom seekers made their way across the Ohio River. Cincinnati had the third-largest African American population of any city in the U.S. in 1850. Those figures are a major part of the reason the Freedom Center is in the Queen City.

Tubman didn’t cross into southwest Ohio herself, said Dr. Jacqueline Hudson, an exhibit content developer at the Freedom Center. But she told Spectrum News that she feels Tubman “set the bar” for future generations to continue her legacy of “(fighting) against social injustice to provide inclusive freedom for all.”

On Aug. 3, 2022, President Joe Biden signed into law H.R. 1842, otherwise known as the “Harriet Tubman Bicentennial Commemorative Coin Act.” It aimed to honor the 200th anniversary of Tubman’s birth.

“(We) are proud to continue in honoring Ms. Tubman’s legacy here at the Freedom Center,” Hudson said shortly after the singing of H.R. 1842.

Harriet Tubman coin design.
The passage of the coin plan aimed to honor the 200th anniversary of Tubman’s birth.

Much more than a coin

The Harriet Tubman Coin Act calls for the minting of a limited number of three types of coins — 50,000 $5 gold coins, 400,000 $1 silver coins and 750,000 half-dollar coins.

Each design features Tubman’s likeness on one side and an image representing a different period of her life on the other. One depicts her time as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, while another represents her leadership as a humanitarian during that latter part of her life. 

The third highlights her service as a military leader during the Civil War, including leading the Combahee River Raid in South Carolina that freed more than 700 enslaved people.

Freedom Center staff consulted on the design of the coins with input from the Commission of Fine Arts.

The coins will be available for purchase in 2024 through the U.S. Mint. Some proceeds from those sales will support the missions of the Freedom Center and the Harriet Tubman Home.

Tubman bequeathed her land to the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, which established the Harriet Tubman Home, Inc. to be the stewards of her legacy. The reveal of the coin design took place church’s “Women’s Home and Overseas Missionary Society Quadrennial Conference.”

Woodrow Keown, Jr., president and COO of the Freedom Center, believes minting Tubman’s likeness on the coins has the power to “encourage people to learn more about this extraordinary leader who had such a profound impact on American history and culture.”

“Harriet Tubman is one of the most revered figures in American history and now she is being rightly enshrined among our nation’s pantheon of heroes,” he added. “She will soon be indelibly etched into our collective heritage as a triumphant, resilient champion of freedom that reflects the true diversity of those who have contributed so significantly to our nation’s democracy.”

The Freedom Center plans to host programming later this year and throughout 2024 to celebrate Tubman’s lasting legacy. Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble is lead sponsor and is collaborating on those efforts.

“This is a historic moment that will go well beyond the coin collecting community as these coins become an ongoing piece of her legacy to ensure freedom and justice for all,” Keown added.

Harriet Tubman coin design No. 3.
The Freedom Center is planning programming surrounding the release of the coins.