Tub­man is still a good call for new $20 bill

The Calvert Recorder - - Community Forum - Our Opinion

Don’t drop your wal­let over this, but it seems the ques­tion of whose face will be on the $20 bill has turned po­lit­i­cal.

About a year and a half ago, Jack Lew, who was sec­re­tary of the trea­sury un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, pledged that abo­li­tion­ist and Mary­land na­tive Har­riet Tub­man’s face would adorn a new $20 bill by 2020. Tub­man would be re­plac­ing Amer­ica’s sev­enth pres­i­dent, An­drew Jack­son, whose im­age with its wild hairdo as been fea­tured on the cur­rency since 1928.

But late last month, Steven Mnuchin, the new trea­sury sec­re­tary ap­pointed by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, didn’t sound as keen on the idea of switch­ing out the $20 bill. In a CNBC in­ter­view Aug. 31, Mnuchin im­plied his de­part­ment has big­ger fish to fry. “The No. 1 is­sue why we change the cur­rency is to stop coun­ter­feit­ing,” he said. “So the is­sues of what we change will be pri­mar­ily re­lated to what we need to do for se­cu­rity pur­poses … Right now, we’ve got a lot more im­por­tant is­sues to fo­cus on.”

Could part of Mnuchin’s lack of en­thu­si­asm for Tub­man’s im­age on the $20 bill have any­thing to do with the pres­i­dent’s ad­mi­ra­tion for Jack­son? Trump hung a por­trait of “Old Hick­ory” in the Oval Of­fice, and has tweeted about Jack­son’s legacy a hand­ful of times. Ear­lier this month, a cou­ple of con­gress­men be­gan the push on a bi­par­ti­san bill to stir up the talk of Tub­man again. Rep. Eli­jah Cum­mings (D-Md., 7th) and Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion to rekin­dle the push for Tub­man. “Too of­ten, our na­tion does not do enough to honor the con­tri­bu­tions of women in Amer­i­can his­tory, es­pe­cially women of color,” Cum­mings said. “I am proud … to honor Har­riet Tub­man’s role in mak­ing Amer­ica a more free and more equal so­ci­ety.”

We sup­ported the idea when Lew first pitched it last year, and we re­main be­hind the new nudge in the House now. No of­fense to Jack­son, but Tub­man’s face on the $20 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 over the next decade to lead dozens of African-Amer­i­cans — many of them fam­ily mem­bers — to free­dom in the North.

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. Ad­di­tion­ally, she was an early pub­lic sup­porter of women’s suf­frage.

Her im­age on the $20 bill would be the first time an African-Amer­i­can has been so hon­ored — and would be the last time a wo­man had been fea­tured on U.S. pa­per cur­rency since Martha Wash­ing­ton ap­peared on the $1 sil­ver cer­tifi­cate in the late 1800s. Prior to that, Poc­a­hon­tas’ im­age was on the $20 bill for four years af­ter the Civil War, ac­cord­ing to the Trea­sury De­part­ment.

Cum­mings and Katko’s leg­is­la­tion is also in­tended to kick­start the process for Tub­man in time to hit the 100th an­niver­sary 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.

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