Tubman on the Twenty

Source: Google Images
Source: Google Images

It would be pretty ironic if an escaped slave and abolitionist replaced a slave-owning President on U.S. currency wouldn’t it? Well guess what, it’s actually happening.


Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced last month that Harriet Tubman will replace seventh President Andrew Jackson as the face of the $20 bill. Tubman will be the first black woman to appear on the front of a piece of U.S. paper currency. Jackson will remain on the bill, but on the back side.


How did this historical turn of events begin? Perhaps not surprisingly, with a young girl who questioned what she wasn’t seeing.


Two years ago, Sofia B. (whose last name is being withheld because she’s a child) a third grader from Cambridge, Massachusetts, did a school project on American historical figures. During the presentations of her fellow students, Sofia realized that there was no woman on any piece of U.S. paper currency.


This revelation drove Sofia to write to President Obama and give her explanation on why there should be women on American paper money: “If there were no women, there wouldn’t be men.”


At the end of the letter, she wrote a list of possible candidates, including Harriet Tubman. After Obama mentioned the letter, social media was abuzz with other suggestions and which bill should receive a makeover.


Sensing how passionate the American people were, Lew invited the public to offer their own ideas last summer. Social media exploded once again and a large number of handwritten notes and emails flooded into the Treasury Department.


In June of 2015, Lew announced a woman would be featured on the next bill due for a redesign, the $10 bill. That meant Alexander Hamilton would be replaced, the star and namesake of a certain musical that is kind of a big deal these days.


The musical’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, petitioned Lew to leave Hamilton alone and that, along with the countless other pleas by Hamilton-loving Americans, made the Treasury Secretary back off. Well, at least from the front.


The back of $10 bill will feature women’s rights activists Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul.


The five-dollar bill will also get a new look. Historic events from the Lincoln Memorial will appear on the back of the bill, meaning Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt will be featured.


Junior and former AP U.S. History student Elizabeth Villa agrees with these changes in our currency and believes there should be even more. “U.S currency should not only have white men because our country is evolving and is becoming more diverse. There are a lot of heroes that should be recognized that are from minority groups.”


But back to Lew. Obviously he found another bill to change and Harriet Tubman’s a great choice that everyone agrees with, right?


Wrong. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump disagreed with the change, calling the move “pure political correctness.” Former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson suggested that Tubman be the face of the $2 bill instead.


Others are ignoring Tubman’s heroic actions, complaining that she is “too ugly” to appear on our money.


Thankfully, there are people who are very much in favor of Tubman, like Presentation’s own social studies  teacher, Emily Cardenas.


“Harriet Tubman rocked. She is often remembered most for her work in the Underground Railroad, but she is much more than that–she was a Union spy, the first woman in our history to lead a military raid, and a suffragist,” Cardenas says.


“I hope that people will look past the surface–African-American! Woman!–and appreciate the greatness of her contributions to our country.”


Villa agrees, saying, “I do think Harriet Tubman deserves to be on the bill because she courageously saved many lives. She’s not praised as much as she should be. But putting her face on a [twenty] dollar bill is a great start.”


Cardenas is all for Jackson being replaced, as well, because “Jackson hated paper money and vetoed the Second Bank of the United States. Of course he shouldn’t be on the $20!”


Others are happy to see Jackson go since he enacted controversial legislation against the Native Americans with the Indian Removal Act, which forced Native Americans to relocate from their land so the U.S. could expand their territory.


More than 4,000 died on the journey of disease, starvation, and exposure to extreme weather.


Cardenas offers some food for thought on this topic. “I think that taking Jackson off the $20 solely because of his enormous mistake with Indian Removal would be a slippery slope to removing any other early political figure whose views we find disagreeable today. We wouldn’t have many figures left if we don’t take the full historical context into consideration.”


Good point.


When will we see all of these changes, especially on the $20 bill? The Treasury hopes to release the design concept for the new bills by 2020, the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage movement. It will most likely take years for all the bills to enter circulation.


But, as many Pres students would agree, Harriet Tubman is definitely worth the wait!