Design a Medallion Commemorating This WWI Hero and Win $1,000

Artists can submit designs for a silver ‘coin’ to commemorate Albany's Sgt. Henry Johnson.


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Albany resident Sgt. Henry Johnson was an African American WWI hero. Photos courtesy of Duncan Crary

An Albany-based coin shop is offering $2,000 in prizes to artists who design a new medallion to honor African American World War I hero Sgt. Henry Johnson.

The winners will also receive a medallion during Henry Johnson Day in June.

Ferris Coin Co. is offering two prizes of $1,000 each to the winning designs for the front and back sides of a 1.5-inch (39 mm) coin-shaped silver medallion. The deadline for submissions is April 17.

"It is our hope that through this competition and the medallion it produces, more Americans learn the story of Sgt. Henry Johnson and his sacrifices to this nation," said Geoffrey Demis, co-owner of Ferris Coin. "With humility, we contribute to the efforts of generations who have worked tirelessly to keep Sgt. Johnson's legacy alive and to see his valor given the recognition due."


Sgt. Henry Johnson enlisted in the first African American unit in the U.S. Army in WW1.

On June 5, 1917, Albany resident Henry Johnson enlisted in the first African American unit in the U.S. Army to engage in combat in World War I. In May 1918 Johnson heroically fought off a German raid in hand-to-hand combat, saving the life of a fellow soldier. For his bravery, Johnson received France's highest award for valor, becoming the first American to receive this distinction. Sgt. Johnson returned to Albany in 1919. Despite having been wounded 21 times, he received no honors from his home country and no pension. He died, destitute, in 1929, in his mid-30s. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Sgt. Johnson was finally recognized by the United States government for his service to his country when he was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart in 1996 and the Distinguished Service Cross in 2002. In 2015 he was awarded the National Medal of Honor — the nation's highest military honor — by President Barack Obama.

"The story of Sgt. Henry Johnson is both inspiring and devastating," said Jim Naughter, co-owner of Ferris Coin Co. "He was a highly decorated hero abroad, but he died destitute in his own country without receiving the full honors and support he was due in his lifetime. I imagine that contradiction might provoke a bold statement from some of the artist contestants."

The submission deadline is April 17. Contestants must be 18 or older to qualify. For official rules, design requirements, and answers to frequently asked questions, visit: www.ferriscoin.com/henry-johnson. Send questions to contest@FerrisCoin.com.

Entries will be evaluated by an expert jury composed of esteemed professional artists and a representative of the 369th Veteran's Association.

Five hundred silver coin-shaped medallions will be available for purchase this summer. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the 369th Veteran's Association Inc., Albany District, a 501(c)3.

On June 5, the City of Albany will celebrate its second annual Henry Johnson Day, marked by a ceremony that includes the bestowing of the Henry Johnson Award for Distinguished Community Service. The new medallion will be granted as part of the award, and Ferris Coin Co. will donate 10 silver medallions to be presented to the winners of the Henry Johnson Award for the next decade.

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