Keller great choice for state coin

Published 1:34 am Wednesday, October 9, 2002

By By ROBERT BLANKENSHIP – Managing Editor
– Helen Keller
Growing up in northwest Alabama, only 30 miles south of Tuscumbia, I for one was proud to learn about the new state quarter that is due to be released in March 2003. The coin will feature a true American hero and Alabama icon who symbolizes courage and strength. I cannot think of anyone I would rather have represent our state than Helen Keller.
Born in Tuscumbia in 1880, Keller lost her sight and hearing to meningitis when she was 18 months old. Along with her teacher Anne Sullivan, she learned to talk with her fingers and eventually graduated cum laude from Radcliffe College in 1904.
Together these two women revolutionized the way Americans view those with handicaps. Through Keller's perseverance and Sullivan's dedication, they proved to the world that everyone is capable of learning and reaching their own God-given potential.
As an elementary student, I made several trips to Ivy Green - the name given to the home and estate of Keller. I was too young to appreciate it at that time, but I do remember a feeling of historic importance coming over me as I walked with my classmates through the simple wooden house. That feeling was even more pronounced as we sat around the black water pump where Keller and Sullivan made their historic breakthrough.
The house, built in 1820, only one year after Alabama became a state, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Each summer it is the site of the Helen Keller Festival and "The Miracle Worker" is featured in June and July. The home also serves as a library to Keller's Braille books and hosts her original Braille typewriter.
Growing up to be a human-rights activist, Keller traveled, lectured and wrote books before she died in 1968.
I imagine there are people disappointed with the state coin. After all, there's nothing about football on it. There's no depiction of a houndstooth hat or mention of national championships. While our history in football is something we can be proud of, it is, afterall, only a game. Bear Bryant was a great motivator, but could he have motivated a deaf mute to learn to read and write?
We certainly have no political figures of which to glorify on the state coin. Our most popular political figure is one of the nation's most infamous.
The struggle for civil rights had to be high on many people's lists for the quarter. Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King are both fine ambassadors for that struggle and would have served well on the state coin. But, I do think there was a desire by many to avoid politics. Despite our successes, and shortcomings, in the area of civil rights, it is also important to demonstrate to people in other parts of the country that there is more to Alabama than segregation.
The triumph of Helen Keller really is the best choice for the coin. What Keller and Sullivan did had a direct impact on handicapped people around the world. These two women changed education forever and opened a new world to those who previously were considered invalid by those who knew no better.
Besides, other than Alabama, what state can depict a true "miracle" on their quarter.

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