Harriet Tubman to grace new $20 bill

The decision caps a public campaign asking for a woman to be placed on American paper currency and months of deliberation by the Treasury to replace either Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill or Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill.

"With this decision, our currency will now tell more of our story and reflect the contributions of women as well as men to our great democracy," Lew said in a letter to the American people.

The decision also speaks to the diversity of the U.S., says Lonnie Bunch, the founding director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture.

"For me, having Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill really says, first of all, that America realizes that it's not the same country that it once was — that it's a place where diversity matters," Bunch told All Things Considered. "And it allows us to make a hero out of someone like Harriet Tubman, who deserves to be a hero."

In a statement, the Treasury also announced that the new $20 note will keep an image of Jackson, who was a slaveholder, on the back. The new $10 bill will keep Hamilton on the front but in the back feature "an image of the historic march for suffrage that ended on the steps of the Treasury Department." Leaders of that movement — Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul — will be honored in the image.

As we've reported, last year, an unofficial contest by the activist group Women on 20s gave the nod to Tubman to take Jackson's place on the $20 bill. The campaign then sent a petition to President Obama.

As we reported: "We'll note that Tubman's appearance on the $20 bill would have a special historical resonance: That's the same amount she eventually received from the U.S. government as her monthly pension for her service as a nurse, scout, cook and spy during the Civil War, as well as for her status as the widow of a veteran."

The Treasury also said that a new $5 bill will honor two important American events that happened at the Lincoln Memorial: Marian Anderson's 1939 performance on the steps and Martin Luther King's 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech.

The Treasury did not say when the new bills will enter into circulation but said the final concept designs of the new $20, $10 and $5 notes will be unveiled in 2020.

Harriet Tubman was born in 1820 in Dorchester County, Maryland. Harriett was born a slave, her parents named her Araminta “Minty” Ross. She changed her name in 1849 when she escaped. She adopted the name Harriet after her mother and the last name Tubman after her husband.

She was the most famous conductor of the Underground Railroad. In a decade she guided over 300 slaves to freedom; abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison thought she deserved the nickname “Moses”. She worked hard to save money to return and save more slaves. In time she built a reputation and many Underground Railroad supporters provided her with funds and shelter to support her trips.

After the Emancipation Proclamation she returned to Auburn where she lived the rest of her life. She opened her doors to those in need. With donations and the proceeds of her vegetable garden she was able to support herself and those she helped. She raised money to open schools for African Americans and gave speeches on Women’s rights. Her dream was to build a home for the elderly and in 1908 the Harriet Tubman Home for the Elderly was inaugurated.

She was deeply religious and according to her it was her religious beliefs that gave her courage rescue friends and family over and over again. She became active in the A.M.E. church, where her husband was a trustee. In 1908, the A.M.E. Zion regional conference voted to take an annual collection for the maintenance of what was now called the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged. Tubman herself was the only female member on a board of trustees dominated by pastors. She died in 1913, with her last words being, “I go to prepare a place for you.”

The presence of women activists on paper currency -- before it's replaced with a digital equivalent -- calls attention to the contributions of women who helped make America great. Women didn't just watch history unfold, they made it. It's fitting that Harriet Tubman, who fought for freedom and liberty for many should be the first woman to be featured on a bill in more than 100 years.

 

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