In time for Women’s History Month, the $20 bill might see a new face soon; that of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who escaped slavery in 1849.
First announced by the Obama Administration in 2016, the $20 bill missed its facelift in 2020 due to the Trump Administration.
Although there has been a bit of a delay, the newly elected Biden Administration said repeatedly they are pushing the issue for the U.S. Treasury Department to speed up the process. President Joe Biden has made diversity and equity two of his major focus factors, in a strong contrast to former President Donald J. Trump who downplayed the country’s painful history of slavery.
“It’s important that our notes are… reflective of the history and diversity of our country and Harriet Tubman’s image gracing the new $20 note would certainly reflect that,” said White House secretary Jen Psaki. “So we are exploring ways to speed up that effort.”
Harriet Tubman—who was born Araminta “Minty” Ross in the 1820s, was a slave in Dorchester County, Md.
Around the age of 27, Tubman escaped via the Underground Railroad system and became a “conductor” to help free slaves during her 13 trips back and forth through Maryland. Through her and other abolitionists – who were African-American and White – the network of the Underground Railroad and safe housing was established.
This task wasn’t easy. Tubman risked her life and freedom by escaping and freeing other slaves. If she had been caught, she would have faced corporal punishment and also would have been sold back into slavery because of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law.
Slave owner Eliza Brodess posted a $100 bounty reward—which is just a little over $3,300 in current times—to have Tubman and her brothers “Ben” and “Harry” returned to her. Tubman walked almost 90 miles to Philadelphia after her escape. There she took domestic jobs.
According to the National Women’s History Museum in Alexandria, Va. Tubman also served as “a scout, spy, guerrilla soldier, and nurse,” for the Union Army in the Civil War, which makes her the first African-American woman to be in the military.
Shortly after the Civil War ended, Tubman got involved in campaigning for women’s suffrage rights next to Susan B. Anthony – a pioneer of the women’s suffrage movement – and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Women or people of color have never been placed on paper currency.
However, $1 coins have recently displayed the face of Susan B. Anthony, and Sacagawea, the Shoshone woman who traveled alongside Lewis and Clark’s expedition across the Louisiana Territory.
In 2014, former President Barack Obama received a letter from a Massachusetts’ girl pointing out the fact that women should also appear on currency. Obama replied by calling it “a pretty good idea.”
Shortly after, he put an effort into getting Tubman’s face on the $20 bill. Two years after that, in April 2016, Obama declared the face of the $20 bill will be Tubman.
The current portrait of the $20 bill – which is Andrew Jackson – would be displayed on the reverse side, in a scene of the White House.
Former Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in 2019, the department needed to consider extra steps regarding “security features,” such as anti-counterfeit, and told Congress currency changes wouldn’t happen until 2026.
The year 1929 was the last time the U.S. currency received a “face-lift” when Alexander Hamilton replaced Jackson on the $10 bill. Jackson, who moved up, replaced Grover Cleaveland in 1928 on the $20.
Opponents of Jackson have demanded the removal of his portrait from the $20 bill for years due to his supporting the idea of slavery—he had 95 slaves before he became president and brought 14 slaves into
the White House. Additionally, Jackson is connected with another sad American legacy, the Trail of Tears, where tens of thousands of Native Americans from the South experienced violent, forced transfers to designated Indian territories.
Trump called the idea of a new $20 bill “pure political correctness,” and that Jackson “had a great history.” Tubman, however, would look great on a $2 bill, he suggested.
New Jersey Democrat Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, who co-chaired the Congressional Caucus on African-American Women and Girls, said it’s a “basic pattern of bias and hate” regarding the Trump Administration.
The non-profit Community Coalition (CoCo) in South Los Angeles revealed how they felt about the possibility of a new $20 bill.
“Yes, Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill is great, but don’t let it distract from what’s truly needed: $2000 stimulus checks,” the organization wrote in a comment.