Unveiling of D.C. Quarter Spurs Voting Rights Rally

Posted February 24, 2009 at 6:20pm

Tuesday’s unveiling of the new Washington, D.C., quarter at the National Museum of American History came at the perfect time, just an hour before the District’s voting rights bill cleared a major hurdle by passing a Senate cloture vote.

In fact, what began as a simple unveiling quickly turned into a rally for D.C. voting rights.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who stopped by to address the crowd before hurrying off to the Capitol, where the Senate was voting on whether to begin debate on the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act, was greeted with a standing ovation and cheers.

“When it rains, it pours,” she said, explaining that she had to leave the unveiling early. “Somehow it all seems right.”

Let the coin be unveiled, the vote come and D.C. residents have their rights after 200 years, she said as the crowd erupted into cheers.

Norton said it was difficult for proponents to argue for the D.C. coin because initially the quarters had been planned to feature the 50 states. The House of Representatives had agreed to support the idea of a D.C. coin, but the Senate resisted. In the end, the coin was approved and released into circulation last month.

Norton said she hopes the coin helps Americans see a different side of the District. “We are not just a place where you come to see the monuments,” she said. “This is a hometown of 600,000 citizens who pay their taxes like everybody else … that’s who we are.”

The D.C. government solicited design submissions for the quarter from the public and received some 300 entries. Three finalists were selected, and a public vote was taken to choose the winner. The winning coin features jazz musician Duke Ellington sitting at a piano. It is only the second coin in U.S. circulation to feature an African-American.

“Like many great Americans who succeed in what they love doing, Duke Ellington was equal parts talent, hard work, passion and perseverance,” said Edmund Moy, director of the U.S. Mint. “When Americans look at this coin, they will remember the man and his art, as well as the place where both were born and nurtured — the District of Columbia.” Once again the crowd, which included students and senior citizens, erupted into cheers.

Edward and April Ellington, children of the musician, were on hand to celebrate, as were students from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, a D.C. public school. The school’s jazz band performed, and Ellington School alumna Sylver Logan Sharp closed the ceremony with a song.