In recent years John Kraljevich has written on Facebook about various aspects of African-American history for Black History Month, usually in connection with a numismatic object. On February 1st he announced that he's working to pull these stories together into a book due to be published by Whitman Publishing later this year, titled Freedom Will Be Ours. We'll look forward to it!
Yesterday's post discussed Martin Luther King, Jr. medallions. Here's an excerpt - see the complete post online.
For those who wanted to show their loyalty to the ideals of Martin Luther King, Jr., or who wanted to make plain their part in his legacy, a portrait medallion of King was a natural accessory. Most types I've seen show his portrait in profile or three-quarter profile, often with an inscription noting the dates of his birth and death.
Jackson's Martin Luther King medallion seems to have showed up in 1970. His was especially large, nearly four inches in diameter. It showed a very high relief portrait of King facing left and was suspended from a substantial chain with two hangers. The earliest appearance of it I've found was published in the October, 17, 1970 issue of the Wilmington News Journal during a visit to Delaware for an NAACP convention. He wore it on the cover of the September 23, 1971 issue of Jet magazine and at the opening of the Black Expo in Chicago the same week. Perhaps most famously, Jackson wore it on Sesame Street's Episode 402, recorded on February 23, 1972 and on August 20, 1972 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the Wattstax benefit concert, before a crowd of 112,000. Millions more saw it when the Wattstax movie saw wide release.
After a handful of appearances in 1973, including at the Operation PUSH convention in June of that year, Jackson seems to have mostly retired his MLK medallion. Fashion changed, and Jackson changed with it.
But the day Jackson put his MLK medallion back in his jewelry box was far from the end of the King medallion.
Interestingly enough, Hosea Williams made more news with Martin Luther King medallions than Jesse Jackson ever did.
Williams' medals first hit the newspapers late in 1968. The earliest advertisement I've found was from the December 7, 1968 issue of The Pittsburgh Courier, an African-American weekly newspaper.
Official MARTIN LUTHER KING Medallion, the ad read, calling the piece a
magnificently sculptured, heavy metal medallion of Martin Luther King. It was available mounted on a plaque or
on a handsome black-finish chain for neckwear. Williams later stated he had 20,000 of the medals created as an SCLC fundraiser at a cost of 30 cents each. It's not clear how much of the $4.95 sale price went to the organization, but the advertisement did note that the medal was
authorized by the SOUTHERN CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE, which receives a share of the revenue. The three-inch medallions depicted King, in a profile facing right, looking at two large and out of scale holding hands with the inscription I HAVE A DREAM along the lower right border.
An April 9, 1969 article in the Charlotte Observer about a clash between militant and peaceful protestors in Hickory, North Carolina described Golden Frinks, the field secretary for the North Carolina chapter of the SCLC, wearing
a brass medallion dangling from his neck [that] portrayed Martin Luther King and bore the inscription ‘I have a dream.' A photograph of Sala Udin, the Pittsburgh civil rights leader, depicts him wearing one while sitting next to Ralph Abernathy in August 1973.
The market for King medals appeared rather immediately after his assassination. Under a headline proclaiming
Assassination Souvenirs Become Big Business, the August 20, 1968 issue of The Daily Oklahoman reported that
one Washington business venture, operated and managed by Negroes, capitalizes on the sale of medallions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to assist Negro artists and to provide jobs for other Negroes, including salesmen. While many different medals and wearable medallions were created, the SCLC-sponsored medallion seems to have been the only one with a claim of officialdom.
To read the complete post, see:
The men who became the leaders of the next generation were in Memphis that day.
Wayne Homren, Editor
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