On July 17, companion bills were introduced in the House and Senate authorizing production of commemorative coins to honor the birth centennial of President John F. Kennedy. Since last year (and even earlier), collectors have been watching for a blip on the legislative radar that would signal plans for a Kennedy commemorative; as each month passed with nothing to authorize such a program, they became increasingly vocal in their disapproval. Once Kennedy’s 100th birthday (May 29) was in the rearview mirror, most of the complaints gave way to an unhappy sense of resignation.
The oversight has been all the more glaring in light of this year’s two commemoratives, which celebrated the centennials of the Lions Clubs International and Boys Town. Both of these are worthy and venerable charities, and they certainly deserve the funds generated by their respective commemorative programs. But in terms of significance in the American experience, they pale in comparison to the life of the late President Kennedy. Loved by many, hated by some, and flawed as all presidents inevitably are, Kennedy embodies a critical era in American history. His presidency helped mark a dividing line not just between generations but between eras. On the pre-Kennedy, pre-1960s, pre–Civil Rights side of the line, our nation was seen as one that made war only for unquestionably just causes. Deference to authority was the norm, and a postwar economic boom was fueled by an all-new “consumer” economy. America’s position as a world leader was unquestioned, and the national self-image was as clean and shiny as the five stars on Eisenhower’s shoulder.
Kennedy’s presidency helped usher in a time of self-questioning. Beneath the smiling, prosperous, and heroic surface of America were dark currents that had been denied for decades. Owning up to a history of systemic and often violent oppression of black American citizens was only the beginning. Americans had begun to question what they were told, and advances in communications helped bring to light much that had never been spoken of: the hidden motivations of modern wars, the repercussions of the consumer economy, the toxic cynicism of Wall Street, the things that really go on behind closed doors in Washington. Our ability—and our willingness—to grapple with these issues owes much to the Civil Rights Era and its martyred president.
Perhaps because of all that Congress has had to contend with, both internally and externally, it’s been slow on the uptake with respect to Kennedy’s birth centennial. Better late than never, however. The President John F. Kennedy Commemorative Coin Act was introduced in the House as H.R. 3274 by Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). The bill, which has 57 cosponsors, has been referred to the Committee on Financial Services, whence it will make its slow journey toward—one would hope—becoming law. A companion Senate bill, S. 1568, was introduced on the same day by Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.). It currently has one cosponsor, the ailing Senator John McCain. The text of the Senate bill is not available online at the moment. The text of the House bill calls for Uncirculated and Proof silver dollars and does not currently restrict the design to any particular motif. The coins would be available for sale January 1, 2020; surcharges would go to the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation to support the Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. ❑