On Wednesday, April 20, a textbook-worthy announcement was made: Harriet Tubman will now be on the front of the $20 bill, making her not only the first African American on a dollar bill but also the first woman on the front of a note in over a century with the last occurrence being Martha Washington’s appearance on the $1 silver certificate. Treasury Secretary Jacob L. Lew announced that Tubman, an African American abolitionist and Union spy during the Civil War, would be the face of the new $20 bill that will be in circulation within the next decade. The achievement is a milestone for women and African Americans, and most Americans support the change.
Of all the Civil Rights Movement leaders, people are calling Tubman the most fitting choice for the bill because her life was reflective of the American journey. “America was born from revolution, fighting against tyranny in the name of freedom. Tubman is the personification of that defiant history. She overcame beatings and a debilitating head injury to escape slavery and become the most famed ‘conductor’ of the Underground Railroad, ferrying slaves to freedom,” Edward T. Bowser of Al.com says. In addition to fighting for the rights of thousands of African Americans during and after the Civil War, Tubman symbolizes America’s fight for freedom against Great Britain during the American Revolution, which contributes to the reason behind the change.
Tubman will be taking President Andrew Jackson’s place on the front of the bill while America’s seventh president is moved to the back. There has been controversy surrounding Jackson’s place on the bill for years; while Jackson is known for being a military hero in his time and an advocate for the common man, his injustices often outweigh his achievements for many Americans. Jackson is notorious for owning slaves and expelling Native Americans from their native lands, the exact types of actions that Tubman risked her life to fight against.
However, not everyone is thrilled about the change in icons. Many Americans and politicians are viewing the change as disrespectful and insisting that America does not have to kick one historical figure out to pay respect to the other. Republican Tennessee Representative Phil Roe says, “Andrew Jackson was a great Tennessean and American, and I am extremely disappointed that this announcement appears to be as much an attack on his legacy as it is a celebration of Harriet Tubman.”
Regardless of the backlash, thousands of Americans are celebrating the big step forward for racial equality, including President Barack Obama. Changes are being made to other bills as well, such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech being added to the back of the $5 bill. Lew says, “Our currency will now tell more of our story.” Designs for the new bill will be released in 2020, and the official release of the bills into public circulation will follow closely behind.
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