$20 bill – still another struggle for Harriet Tubman

By Rahsaan Thomas

Donald Trump’s election raises questions as to whether Harriet Tubman’s face will grace the new $20 bill, the Philadelphia Tribune reports.

After listening to the voices of thousands of Americans, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew decided last year to replace the images of Andrew Jackson, who owned slaves, with Harriet Tubman, who freed slaves, on the $20 bill, according to The New York Times.

Trump appointee Steven Mnuchin replaced Lew as treasury secretary. Mnuchin now has final approval on whether the bill redesign with Tubman’s image happens. No one asked him how he felt about the currency’s facial changes during his confirmation hearing, nor has his office commented on the issue, leaving uncertainty, according to a Philadelphia Tribune article.

Trump criticized the decision to put Tubman on 20 dollar bill during his campaign, calling it “pure political correctness,” according to the Tribune.

Trump has also said, “I think Harriet Tubman is fantastic. I would love to leave Andrew Jackson and see if we can come up with another denomination, maybe we do the $2 bill or another bill. I don’t like seeing it,” according to an NBC “Today Show” interview mentioned in the Tribune story.

Jackson founded the Democratic Party and is known for his military expertise. The seventh president also passed the Indian Removal Act of 1830 that resulted in the upheaval of Native American tribes from their land in Oklahoma and gave it to White settlers, according to womenon20s.org. Thousands of Indians died during the migration called Trail of Tears due to exposure, disease and starvation, according to the web site.

Also, Jackson favored hard money — gold or silver coins — over central banking and its paper money system, making him an ironic choice, the site reported.

Tubman escaped slavery in 1849, leaving her family behind. However, she made at least 19 trips back to the South to get her family and hundreds of other slaves out via the Underground Railroad, the Times story reported. Tubman also acted as a spy, scout and nurse for the Union Army during the Civil War. After the end of slavery, she turned her home in Auburn, New York into the Home for Indigent and Aged Negroes.

The currency redesigns planned by Lew, starting with a new $10 bill, were set to be revealed in 2020, which is also the 100th anniversary of the 19 Amendment prohibiting the denial of women’s voting rights.

The $10 bill is supposed to keep Alexander Hamilton, due to the popularity of the Broadway hit of his namesake, on the front and add portraits of five civil rights leaders on the back: Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul among a depiction of a 1913 women’s voting rights march, reported the Times.

The reverse of the planned new $5 note would depict the 1939 performance of Marian Anderson, an African-American classical singer, singing at the Lincoln Memorial after she was barred from singing at the segregated Constitution Hall nearby. Accompanying Anderson would be Eleanor Roosevelt, who arranged the Lincoln Memorial performance, and Martin Luther King Jr., who gave his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech at the memorial, the Times added.

“The whole country should be reflected in the history that we show in our currency,” said Lew, according to the Tribune.

If allowed to proceed, the bills honoring America’s diversity would go into circulation later on in the decade.


  • BES

    That should read: “I would be more inclined to view the former as an iconic hero of the American people.”

    I think that clarifies what I view as the difference.


  • BES

    Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the women’s suffragists, yes. I can see good, compelling reasons why these should be iconic American figures.

    With all due respect, I’m not convinced about Marian Anderson, and I definitely don’t think Hamilton should be kept in that category merely for being a Broadway hit. There needs to be a better reason for the choice.

    There’s a difference between a hero who commits his or her whole life to doing what is right for humanity, and a hero who courageously pursues his or her vocation in the face of adversity. Both are heroic in their own right, but I would be more inclined to view the former as an iconic hero of the American people.


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