Isaac Scott Hathaway was a pioneering sculptor remembered as the first African-American to design a United States Mint Coin. He designed two coins for the United States of America during his lifetime. The first was a commemorative 50 cent piece that featured the educator and author Booker T. Washington. The United States Mint produced these coins from 1946 to 1951. The second was a commemorative 50 cent piece that featured the scientist George Washington Carver. The United States of America produced these coins from 1951 to 1954. President Harry S. Truman authorized and commissioned both commemorative coins to help facilitate and spread the teachings and ideas of these two African-American icons.
Hathaway was born in Lexington, Kentucky on April 4, 1872 and raised mostly by his father, Reverend Robert Elijah Hathaway, after his mother passed in 1874. It was a visit to a local museum that inspired Hathaway to become a sculptor and artist. While visiting the museum with his father, a young Isaac Hathaway wondered why there were no busts of his hero, Frederick Douglass, in the museum. His father informed him that it was due to their not being any African-American sculptors to create these busts. It was then, at an early age, that Isaac Hathaway committed himself to creating busts of famous African-Americans and placing them where the public would be able to view them.
During his lifetime, Isaac Hathaway became an accomplished sculptor and created over 100 busts and masks of prominent African-Americans. In 1915, at what is now known as the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, he became one of the first individuals to teach a ceramics course at Black Institution. Isaac Scott Hathaway established the Ceramics department at Tuskegee University. In 1945, he developed Alabama Kaolin Clay as a medium, and became the first artist on record to “make the clay behave”.
In 1947, he began teaching a course on ceramics at what is now known as Auburn University. This was a significant accomplishment because he was an African-American man teaching a class at an all-white institution in the deep south and receiving compliments from the existing staff and students for his ceramics knowledge and skill. When Hathaway moved to Montgomery, Alabama he became the Director of Ceramics at Alabama State College until he retired in 1963. In 1967, Isaac Scott Hathaway made his transition after receiving many honorary degrees, doctorates, and fine arts awards from the various colleges and universities where he helped introduce ceramics as a field of study.
The Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock, Arkansas now host the largest known collection of artwork, papers, sketches and other documents by Isaac Scott Hathaway.
Below you will find a slide show that features seventeen images and videos about Isaac Scott Hathaway.
This interview is a recreation performed by students at Auburn University of a 1939 interview that the Federal Writers’ Project did with Isaac Scott Hathaway.