Ahead of the curve: Harriet Tubman on the $20

I took some great pleasure from the large number of folks who expressed confusion at the decision to pick the $10 for revision.

harriet_tubman20As you’ve likely heard, the redesign of the United States currency involves putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. While most people thought it was a swell idea, naturally there has also been all sorts of backlash.

One thread, which I shan’t link to, was an attack on political correctness. “Why can’t we have money the way we’re used to?” Why, she wasn’t even a President! Neither were Alexander Hamilton ($10) or Benjamin Franklin ($100).

But the path to get Tubman on the $20 actually predated any government initiative. A non-profit group called Women On 20s was campaigning in early 2015 to get a woman on that popular denomination. I wrote about it on March 15, 2015, including the organization’s reasons for booting Andrew Jackson, in addition to the Trail of Tears: “He was a fierce opponent of paper money and the central banking system, and would probably be horrified to see his face on our national currency.”

Five weeks later, I explained why Harriet Tubman is my choice for the $20 bill. She won the Women on the 20 online poll, announced around May 10, barely beating out Eleanor Roosevelt, who I also seriously considered.

So I was disappointed to hear Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announce in mid-June 2015 that the US is changing the face of the $10 bill. Because of my close personal relationship with Alexander Hamilton, I opposed that choice.

Moderators finished the Republican debate in mid-September by asking the candidates which woman they would put on the $10 bill.

The Rand Paul: Suffragist Susan B. Anthony

Mike Huckabee: His wife, Janet [living people cannot appear on U.S. currency]

Marco Rubio: Civil rights activist Rosa Parks

Ted Cruz: Put Rosa Parks on the $20 bill and keep Alexander Hamilton on the $10 [props to Cruz for picking the $20!]

Ben Carson: His mother, Sonya [still alive]

Donald Trump: Rosa Parks

Jeb Bush: Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher [God save the PM]

Carly Fiorina: “We shouldn’t change the $10 dollar bill or the $20 dollar bill. I think, honestly, it’s a gesture. I don’t think it helps to change our history. What I would think is that we ought to recognize that women are not a special interest group. Women are the majority of this nation, we are half the potential of this nation and this nation will be better off when every woman has the opportunity to live the life she chooses.” [Sisterhood is powerful.]

Scott Walker: American Red Cross founder Clara Barton

Chris Christie: First Lady Abigail Adams

John Kasich: Nobel Peace Prize-winner Mother Teresa [it needs to be an American]

These were some lame answers.

Oddly, I took some great pleasure from the large number of folks who expressed confusion at the decision to pick the $10 for revision. “I thought they had picked the $20,” I read fairly often. People conflated an online campaign by the nonprofit with government action!

Fortunately, the Hamilton musical, which started previews on July 13, 2015, and opened on August 6, became a phenomenon, eventually winning the Pulitzer Prize. The Treasury Department started looking at the $20 bill, and ended up planning to redesign the $5, the $10 AND the $20 bills.

This is what I wrote on December 30, 2015: “This is a prediction, based on nothing but a gut feeling, and the unexplained postponement of the $10 redesign. Obama decides that the $10 won’t be replaced after all, because, in his feisty last year, he wouldn’t do that to old Alex. Instead, he dumps Jackson, opponent of the banking system. He suggests a woman, a black woman, maybe Rosa Parks, but I’m hoping Harriet Tubman.”

Not sure how much, if anything, the President had anything to do with the process. Still, every once in a while, things work out the way *I* want them to. Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill! Allow me to enjoy the moment.

Of course, many people think it’s fairly irrelevant. I mean, “Who uses cash, anyway?” (Actually, I did this past weekend, when my chip-technology embedded credit card failed to work at the grocery store. Fortunately, they STILL accept greenbacks.)

Oh, I like this from Samantha Bee: “Andrew Jackson Was ‘Trump With Better Hair'”.

women_on_20s

Literally, while I was writing this

[I received an email from Women On 20s:]

Without your help, a woman front and center on the widely circulated $20 bill and female representation on two other bills would not have been possible and we THANK YOU for all your support…

We are pleased to claim VICTORY and so should you. We think of this not as a day done but rather a day just beginning that has everyone seeing with new eyes and new hope. You proved we can work together to make a difference and shake up the status quo. The new TRIFECTA — the $5, $10 and $20 — will look like more of what has made us a great country and why you stuck with us for the last year.

After more than a year of campaigning to convince the U.S. Treasury to replace the portrait of Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with the face of a female American hero, Women On 20s is celebrating your historic game changing influence. Now, the Treasury Department acknowledges the importance of accelerating production on the new $20 bill, and plans to reveal its design in time for the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in 2020. Hallelujah! What’s more, we have been assured that Treasury has a commitment from Federal Reserve Board chair Janet Yellen to fast track the $20’s issuance into circulation. What usually takes 10 years per bill is going to happen so much sooner because Women On 20s will make sure Treasury knows you care.

Whether you voted for Harriet Tubman or not, we hope you’ll agree the freed slave and freedom fighter is an excellent choice to replace the slave trader Andrew Jackson on the $20. She provided critical military intelligence to end a brutal Civil war and later fought for women’s rights alongside the nation’s leading suffragists. Whatever obstacles she faced, she kept going. There was no stopping her. She’s an inspiration and now the whole world will know her story. So, let there be no stopping us from making this and the other currency changes a reality.

[Oh, yeah, and then the pitch for money.]

Once again, thank you and help us keep this dream on track for the celebration of women’s inclusion in our democracy in 2020.

xkcd is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. i hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

6 thoughts on “Ahead of the curve: Harriet Tubman on the $20”

  1. WE have had similar campaigns for more women to be represented on our banknotes. But tell me, are you various denominations still exactly and confusingly the same size? That’s the issue the Treasury should get to grips with, or would the right-wingers complain that it was simply pandering to blind and limted-vision radicals?

  2. Yes, the money’s the same size, SP. And yes, the nutsos would h=find it too European to change!

  3. Well, I’ve heard some people complain that different sizes, especially if some of the notes were sized up, wouldn’t fit standard wallets, and so, people would have to buy new ones.

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