Duke Ellington and His Historic 2009 Solo Act

Updated: May 3, 2021

The first African American to appear solo on a circulating U.S. coin is Duke Ellington. Ellington was voted into this honor by members of the Washington DC community to appear on the 2009 District of Columbia Quarter within the one year “DC and U.S. Territories Quarter Series.” Choice of a prominent African American is an inherent factor within their choice, the vast majority of citizens proposing only three figures: Duke Ellington, Frederick Douglass, and Benjamin Banneker. After the options were narrowed to these three men, thousands of DC residents voted and Ellington won with 36% of the vote, Douglass receiving 33%, and Banneker receiving 31%. The public overwhelmingly desired to include the phrase “No Taxation Without Representation” to emphasize their lack of allotted voting power and representatives in government, a sentiment echoed by Mayor Fenty himself. Seeking to avoid such a controversial statement, Mint Director Edmund Moy chose to include another empowering phrase, “Justice for All.”

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