Black History: Art contest to design coin for black WWI veteran (The Triangle Tribune)

Art contest to design coin for black WWI veteran

Originally posted on The Triangle Tribune: The Voice of The Black Community.

ALBANY, NY – One of the nation's oldest rare coin shops is seeking artists from across the nation to design a silver coin-shaped medallion honoring African-American World War I hero Sgt. Henry Johnson.

Ferris Coin Co. of Albany, New York, is offering two prizes of $1,000 each to the winning designs for the obverse and reverse sides of a coin-shaped silver medallion. The deadline for submissions is April 17.

"It is our hope that through this competition and the medallion it produces, more Americans learn the story of Sgt. Henry Johnson and his sacrifices to this nation," said Geoffrey Demis, co-owner of Ferris Coin. "With humility, we contribute to the efforts of generations who have worked tirelessly to keep Sgt. Johnson's legacy alive and to see his valor given the recognition due."

On June 5, 1917, Albany resident Henry Johnson enlisted in the first black unit in the U.S. Army to engage in combat in World War I. In May 1918, Johnson heroically fought off a German raid in hand-to-hand combat, saving the life of a fellow soldier. For his bravery, Johnson received France's highest award for valor, becoming the first American to receive this distinction. Sgt. Johnson returned to Albany in 1919.

Despite having been wounded 21 times, he received no honors from his home country. He died, destitute, in 1929, in his mid-30s. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Johnson was finally recognized by the U.S. when he was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart in 1996 and the Distinguished Service Cross in 2002. In 2015 he was awarded the National Medal of Honor – the nation's highest military honor – by President Barack Obama.

Though this contest is not affiliated with the U.S. Mint in any way, it is modeled after the mint's longstanding tradition of coin design competitions to recognize important figures and events in the nation's history.

"What we are commissioning is not a 'coin' in the official sense, because it will not display a currency denomination," said Demis. "It will not be legal tender, but it will resemble a coin and it will be made from pure silver, which is why we're calling it a silver 'coin-shaped medallion.'"

Contestants must be 18 or older to qualify. For official rules, design requirements, and answers to frequently asked questions, visit: Send questions to

Drake NixFerris Coin