Did you know that the image of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt minted on the U.S. dime was sculpted by a Black woman?
Selma Burke told her parents that she was going to be an artist when she grew up. But they knew better. After all, this was North Carolina circa 1915. Convinced she couldn’t “make a living at that,” they insisted that she get a trade. So she settled on nursing. Very soon after graduating from nursing school, Burke headed to New York to pursue her passion. She won fellowships to study sculpting and ceramics in Vienna and Paris, but the start of World War II drove her back to Harlem.
In 1943, she won a national competition to sculpt the bust of FDR. The president even posed for Burke. The bust relief, sculpted on an 3 1/2- by-2 1/2 plaque, was unveiled in 1945 and is still on display at the Recorder of Deeds building in Washington, D.C. After FDR died, the government recast the dime with the president’s profile. FDR’s image was engraved on the coin based on Burke’s bust relief. Since the initials of the engraver, John Sinnock, are etched on the dime, Burke received very little recognition for her achievement. Burke sculpted and taught art for more than 60 years. She died in 1995.