CINCINNATI — A bipartisan act from Congress could patch holes in the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center's budget and jumpstart a mission crippled by COVID-19.
The pandemic knocked out 40% of the museum's attendance over the last two years. However, coins soon to be minted and sold with Harriet Tubman's likeness could bring the museum a boost.
"She was a military leader, a nurse and provided a lot of support to those who made it to freedom," said Woodrow Keown Jr., CEO of the Freedom Center. "It really kind of points out the important role that courageous women have played in (social justice) and I think it's an understated and undervalued role. So I'm looking forward to this getting a broader perspective on the Freedom Center and our mission."
The abolitionist, nurse and military leader known for guiding slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad is synonymous with the Freedom Center's mission. It is why Keown Jr. and leaders of the Harriet Tubman Home in New York pushed for Tubman's coin.
The new law signed by President Joe Biden orders the U.S Treasury Department to mint 50,000 $5 coins made of 90% gold, 400,000 $1 coins made of 90% silver and 750,000 half-dollar coins with Harriet Tubman's image. All will be for sale exclusively through the U.S. Mint in 2024.
While designers are just beginning to decide how each coin looks, the Freedom Center gets some input. Staff hopes to see some representation of the museum.
The museum is the only reason Deborah Weigand and her husband stopped in Cincinnati while on a road trip to Buffalo from Georgia.
"You can't come here and not feel inspired to walk away and do better," Weigand said.
"We're a national brand," Keown Jr. said. "So, we're expecting this coin will be all over the country and hopefully all over the world. We expect this to get a lot more focus, attention and awareness to the Freedom Center and bring more people here to the city of Cincinnati and the state of Ohio."
With the Freedom Center getting proceeds from each sale, Keown Jr. hopes to see seven-figures worth of revenue for the museum.
It should help managers bring more immersive technology to displays and add new ways for visitors to learn about social justice. Also, the museum plans to establish the first social justice exhibition and nationally accredited museum inside the Freedom Center.