Tubman’s a good call for the new $20 bill
The U.S. Treasury Department announced last month that a coming redesign of the $20 bill will feature abolitionist and Maryland native Harriet Tubman. She will be the first woman and first African American so honored.
No offense to Andrew Jackson, whose image with its wild hairdo has been featured on the $20 bill since 1928, but Tubman is a better call. Jackson was an ironic choice to be on the bill anyway, since he reportedly hated the notion of paper money, trusting more in the “hard” currency of gold and silver.
Here’s why Tubman deserves this acclaim. She was born on the Eastern Shore, in Dorchester County, where she spent nearly 30 years as a slave. She escaped slavery in 1849, but returned to Maryland several times during the next 10 years to lead dozens of African Americans — many of them family members — to freedom in the North, using a system of supporters and hidden passages along the way to avoid detection.
Known as “Moses” by black and white abolitionists alike, she reportedly never lost a “passenger” on the Underground Railroad. She later served as a spy and scout for the Union Army during the Civil War. She also led a raid in South Carolina to free slaves, becoming the first woman to lead an American military operation.
“We are very, very excited,” Bill Jarmon, a member of the Harriet Tubman Organization’s board of directors, said of the $20 bill’s redesign. “This woman went out of her way to prove that if you have a mission you can fulfill it. We want to share with the rest of the world who she was and what she did.”
In 2013, President Obama established the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in her home county. A year later, Congress passed a bill to create Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Parks. The sites contain properties in three counties — Dorchester (2,775 acres), Caroline (2,200 acres) and Talbot (775 acres). The National Park Service acquired that land in seven noncontiguous parcels that were historically significant in Tubman’s life.
“I can think of few people more deserving to be featured on the redesigned $20 bill than Harriet Tubman,” U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said recently. “A Marylander ... a conductor on the Underground Railroad with a 100 percent success rate, a Union scout during the Civil War and a champion of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, Harriet Tubman is one of America’s greatest patriots. Her likeness on the new $20 bill will serve as a constant reminder of the courage and self-sacrifice on which this nation was built. The Treasury Department’s initiative to more accurately reflect the diversity of Americans who played pivotal roles in our history should be applauded.”
The design of the bill is expected to be released publicly in 2020, just in time for the centennial anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted women the right to vote.
Tubman’s efforts against slavery and for women’s suffrage demonstrate her lifelong struggle for equality and justice for all. That courage makes her a fine choice to be celebrated and remembered every time we reach into our wallets to pull out a $20 bill.
Sorry about that, Andrew Jackson.