Tubman is still a good call for new $20 bill
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.