A year ago, we announced that freedom-fighting abolitionist Harriet Tubman might replace the racist and genocidal U.S. President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. This week, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew announced it would be so (though Jackson will still appear on the back of the bill doing who knows what). Here’s four reasons this is a big deal.
1) Tubman’s appearance on U.S. currency is subversive
Not only did Tubman escape slavery at age 27, she helped 70 other slaves escape through an abolitionist network called The Underground Railroad afterwards. Nine years later, she helped recruit people to join John Brown’s armed slave revolt on Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. She also worked as a Union nurse and a spy during the Civil War and as an activist for women’s suffrage after the war. In short, she worked against unjust human rights abuses in her time. By honoring her on the $20 bill, it’s almost as if the Treasury is reminding folks to fight for freedom, even if it means going against state and federal laws.
2) The $20 bill is one of the most widely used bills in America
As we’ve stated in the past, there are four times as many twenties in circulation right now than tens; 8.6 billion in total. The $20 bill is the third most widely circulated bill in the U.S. (behind the $100 and $1 bills). This means that Tubman won’t just appear on any old currency, but one of the most popular and the one most distributed by ATMs around the country.
3) More Black people will join her in appearing on U.S. currency
Lew’s announcement this week also revealed that in addition to Tubman, Black abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth will appear on the $10 bill and Black opera singer Marian Anderson (a woman who performed to a crowd of 75,000 people in front the Lincoln Memorial during 1939, a time when many opera halls were still segregated) will appear on the $5 bill alongside Martin Luther King, Jr..
Three people of color on U.S. currency? Amazing! Maybe in the future we’ll get a Native American (beside Sacagawea), an Asian-American, a Latino American and LGBT Americans on our currency too.
4) It’s proof that racial and feminist activism are changing the U.S. for the better
You may recall that Tubman was chosen from 70 women in an online vote through the Women on 20s campaign. The campaign’s success and subsequent appearance of other Black and female activists on other bills shows that the U.S. Treasury and Government finally recognize the important role Black people and women have played in our culture, a role which has become more noticeable through the election of our first Black U.S. President, and soon, the first female U.S. President.