Harriet Tubman belongs on the $20 bill

Miyah Powe, Contributing Writer

I first heard that the U.S. government was considering a list of influential American women to replace Alexander Hamilton’s image on the $10 bill in 2015. Among those included on that list was Harriet Tubman. I was excited at the prospect of seeing the face of a woman, no less a black woman, on American currency—a stage currently owned almost exclusively by white men. The only woman to ever appear on American paper money is Martha Washington one hundred years ago, and no black person has ever had their face printed on modern American money.

In 2016, the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew announced that after further consideration, Tubman would go on the $20 bill instead, replacing former President Andrew Jackson. The decision to place Tubman on a new $20 bill seemed fairly set in stone. It would be a new change on the horizon that would thrill and embolden many Americans by reinforcing the notion not only that we are coming closer to achieving gender equality, but also that African-American history was perhaps finally being acknowledged as a legitimate and integral part of American history.

However, Tubman’s place on the $20 bill is now uncertain.

“Ultimately we will be looking at this issue, [but] it’s not something that I’m focused on at the moment,” Current U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin said when asked whether he supported adding Tubman to the $20 dollar bill.

To those of us who have been looking forward to the unveiling of $20 Tubmans, this statement of indifference seems like a slap in the face. Many are angry and disappointed that Tubman might be disregarded after all.

President Donald Trump has expressed that he disagrees with Lew’s decision to switch out Jackson with Tubman, stating that while he thinks that the abolitionist is “fantastic,” to have her replace Jackson on the $20 bill is “pure political correctness.” It is more appropriate, he told NBC’s Today Show, to “maybe come up with another denomination.”

Like U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, Trump suggested that perhaps Tubman can be added to the $2 bill, which is currently not in circulation in the United States. Echoing the sentiment some Americans have that we as a country are on a pointless mission to erase history, Trump said, “Well, Andrew Jackson had a great history, and I think it’s very rough when you take somebody off the bill.”

Jackson, the seventh president of the United States, was an accomplished war veteran, but that does not at all excuse the fact that he was also a cruel slave owner and the man behind one of the most devastating and debilitating blows to the Native American population of America. Jackson is known for signing the Indian Removal Act of 1830, a piece of legislation which prompted the creation of the Trail of Tears, a movement which displaced some 15,000 Cherokee from their ancestral homelands and relocated them to an area West of the Mississippi River. About 4,000 Cherokee died as result of this series of forced removals.

By replacing Jackson with Tubman, the Treasury would not be erasing Jackson and his legacy. His “legacy” is preserved extensively in history textbooks, in museums and monuments dedicated to him, and especially in America’s poverty-stricken Native American reservations that continue to feel the effects of displacement.

It seems quite ludicrous that people are so invested in making sure that Jackson, anti-black and anti-Native American, is not replaced by Tubman, a woman who conceived of the Underground Railroad and executed incredible acts of courage and selflessness which most of us cannot even fathom doing ourselves. Not only did she have the courage to escape the brutal, thankless labor of slavery; she also went back to the South, the very place that stripped her of her liberty and worth, so that others may find their own. The least we can do is print her on our money.

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