Black abolitionist leader Harriet Tubman will appear on the front of the $20 bill, relocating the slaveholding former president Andrew Jackson to its rear, and founding father Alexander Hamilton will remain on the face of the $10 bill.
The changes were announced Wednesday by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew as part of a historic overhaul of U.S. currency aimed at addressing America’s legacy of slavery and gender inequality. They came after a viral online campaign to feature a woman on the currency and, later, a push to preserve Hamilton’s place by historians and fans of the hit Broadway musical bearing his name.
Lew called Tubman’s story “the essential story of American democracy” and the power of an individual to make a difference, adding that “so much of what we believe has changed for better for this country is reflected in what she struggled for.”
The saga over how U.S. currency would recognize the role of women and minorities has been fraught since the Treasury’s announcement last summer that it would seek to feature a woman on the $10 bill, the next in line to be redesigned with additional features to guard against counterfeiting and to assist the blind.
The choice involved questions of who, on millions of pieces of paper currency, would represent the achievements of women and minorities in American history, and which historical figures to displace to make room for them.
In the hotly anticipated unveiling, Lew described other changes to the $5 and $10 bills. Fans of Hamilton had worried that an announcement last year by the Treasury that it would put a woman on the $10 bill would displace the father of the modern U.S. economic system. But the new $10 bill will now recognize the role of women by featuring on its back an image of the 1913 march for women’s suffrage that ended at the Treasury Department. It will also honor women’s suffrage leaders such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Sojourner Truth.
The back of the new $5 bill, which features Abraham Lincoln on the front, will honor the civil rights movement with depictions of Martin Luther King Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt and black opera singer Marian Anderson, who famously sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939. Treasury hopes to release the design concept for the new bills by 2020, the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, but it could take years more for all the bills to enter circulation.
“It is just absolutely beautiful to replace Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman, because where Jackson represented the worst side of American history, Tubman represents the best ideals of American democracy,” said Kari Winter, a professor who studies slavery and dissent at the University at Buffalo. “She really represents the highest ideals of community, working for the common good, thinking about others beside yourself, risking everything for justice.”
Tubman, who was born a slave in Maryland about 1820, will be the first African American and first black woman whose picture appears on U.S. currency. She helped bring dozens of slaves to freedom in her lifetime through the network of abolitionists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. She escaped when she was in her 20s but returned to secretly help her family members and dozens of other slaves escape to freedom. Tubman suffered from fits and seizures, the result of physical trauma received when she was a slave, according to Catherine Clinton’s biography of Tubman, called “Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom.”
Later in life, she served as a Union Army spy during the Civil War, where she aided the North by scouting terrain and recruiting slaves as soldiers. Before her death in her late 80s or early 90s, she was an outspoken activist for women’s right to vote.
The last woman represented on U.S. notes was Martha Washington, on the $1 silver certificate, while several other women have been featured on coins.
Though it had been contemplating a change for years, Treasury was moved in part by a viral campaign in early 2015 to put a woman’s portrait on the new $20 bill in 2020 — to mark the centennial of women’s suffrage. The group “Women on $20s” received more than 600,000 votes for a choice of 15 American women, including Rosa Parks and Eleanor Roosevelt. Tubman received the most votes.
Almost everyone celebrated Lew’s decision to feature a woman. But, for some economists and historians, there was a vociferous reaction against the choice — never clearly stated but widely assumed — to relocate Hamilton from the front of the $10 bill. They noted ruefully that Hamilton was the mastermind behind America’s financial system, while Jackson, the seventh president, was a fervent opponent of a nationally integrated economic system whose tenure included a violent campaign against Native Americans.
Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/04/20/u-s-to-keep-hamilton-on-front-of-10-bill-put-portrait-of-harriet-tubman-on-20-bill/