In Douglass We Trust

In Douglass We Trust
Douglass 1

Provided by Michael Nighan

In Discovering Frederick Douglass, we looked at how Frederick Douglass and his legacy marks Rochester, especially as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth.  Today, Michael J. Nighan offers another lesser known example of Douglass’ historical impact.  Of note, Michael owns a Douglass Twenty Dollar note.

In Douglass We Trust

Frederick Douglass has been honored on monuments, has had bridges, streets and parks named after him, has been the subject of numerous books, and has been depicted in plays, movies and even on postage stamps. But perhaps the most unusual form of recognition he’s received was to be featured on a $20 bill.

Back in 1990, Derric Price, an African American investment banker in Chicago, was looking for a way to promote the retention of consumer dollars within the black community. His idea was to create a special currency that would encourage residents to make their purchases at neighborhood businesses rather than at “big box” or chain stores.

Working from the concept that, “the only color of freedom is green”, Price set up the African American Face Reserve Obligation (A.F.R.O.) which printed special currency in denominations of $1.00, $5.00, $10.00 and $20,00, featuring likenesses of historical and cultural icons; Booker T. Washington, Louis Armstrong, George Washington Carver, and Frederick Douglass. Designed to resemble US currency, in Douglass’ case, his portrait appeared on the front of the $20 bill, with a drawing of Cedar Hill, his home in Washington, DC, on the reverse.

Douglass 2

Provided by Michael Nighan

AFRO Dollars were to be available at designated banks (exchanged on a one-one basis for US dollars) but would only be usable at participating neighborhood businesses. Each business, in return for the increased sales they were expected to garner, would pay Price a commission of 2.90% on purchases, out of which he would donate back 1/3 for a community trust fund to finance civic improvement projects, and as venture capital for small businesses. In addition, consumers using AFRO dollars would earn “loyalty points” which could be redeemed for gifts ranging from food items to luxury automobiles.

By early 1991 Price claimed to have printed $70,000,000 in AFRO currency and to be successfully signing up Chicago banks and businesses, with plans to expand the project nationwide and to have over a billion AFRO dollars in circulation by the end of the year. However, for various reasons (not the least being the fact that AFRO dollars could be easily counterfeited) the program failed to get off the ground and the already-printed currency was either destroyed or ended up as collector’s items.

However, refusing to be permanently discouraged, Price announced last December that he has dusted off his program and plans to roll it out in a digital cash format, to be called AFRO Dollar Mobile Cash. Unfortunately, as no physical currency will be utilized, Douglass and the others will have to be content with making an occasional appearance on eBay.

douglass coin

In 2017, the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site Quarter was minted. Non-digital, of course. [Photo:]

POSTSCRIPT: As evidence of Nighan’s Douglass‘ boni fides, today (2/21/18) he added a correction to the City feedback page:nighan


Discovering Frederick Douglass

About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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