A woman — specifically Harriet Tubman — will replace President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced on April 20.
That news was celebrated by most. To take an iconic figure of 19th-century white supremacy off and replace him with a courageous Black female who was an abolitionist, a soldier for the North during the Civil War, and an advocate for women’s rights.
But it turns out, the plan is not to remove Jackson from the bill, but instead to do a split with Tubman on one side and Jackson on the other.
This is unacceptable. As a slave owner, putting Jackson on the other side of Tubman’s bill is particularly disgraceful. It’s as if Tubman will never be rid of a slave owner on her back, not even in her grave.
Lew’s open letter had much to say in praise of Tubman, but is baffling in its lack of an explanation of his deliberate decision to keep Jackson on our currency.
“The decision to put Harriet Tubman on the new $20 was driven by thousands of responses we received from Americans young and old. I have been particularly struck by the many comments and reactions from children for whom Harriet Tubman is not just a historical figure, but a role model for leadership and participation in our democracy. …
Looking back on her life, Tubman once said, ‘I would fight for liberty so long as my strength lasted.’ And she did fight, for the freedom of slaves and for the right of women to vote. Her incredible story of courage and commitment to equality embodies the ideals of democracy that our nation celebrates, and we will continue to value her legacy by honoring her on our currency. The reverse of the new $20 will continue to feature the White House as well as an image of President Andrew Jackson.”
Despite this glaring oversight, placing Tubman on the $20 bill is an honor long overdue.
And now it appears we’ll have to wait just a bit longer. The new $20 bill won’t see widespread circulation until 2030 or beyond, government sources reveal. That’s more than 14 years away.
The good news is that the new $10 bill will come out sooner, in 2020, in part to mark the 100th anniversary of the constitutional amendment that gave women the right to vote. The first U.S. treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton, will remain on the front. But the back of the bill “will honor the 1913 march and the leaders of the suffrage movement — Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucretia Mott — who were instrumental in the passage of the 19th Amendment.”
The back of the $5 bill will also be redesigned to include opera singer Marian Anderson, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
It’s a step in the right direction. Perhaps, in the not too distant future, a U.S. note will feature an Asian face.