Harriet Tubman vs. Andrew Jackson…on Our Money

NOT an episode of “Epic Rap Battles of History”


Images courtesy of Tribune News Service.

Composite image featuring elements from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Z Goodman, Staff Reporter

If you hadn’t noticed, the seventh president of the United States, Andrew Jackson, is on your twenty dollar bills. Jackson served two terms and was president from 1829 to 1837. In 1928 the former president was chosen to be featured on all United States twenty dollar bills. However, that will soon change. Harriet Tubman, former slave and abolitionist has been selected to be the new face of the twenty dollar bill.  This move is part of a broader initiative by the Treasury Department to feature female and other more recent, non-presidential Americans on future designs of American currency.

As most school children know, after Tubman finally escaped from slavery in 1849, she risked her own safety by returning to plantations several times and leading more slaves to freedom in the north.  (Biography). “The changes are part of an effort by the Obama administration to put a woman on paper currency and [Treasury Secretary] Lew said that along with Tubman becoming the face of the $20 bill, images of women and civil rights era leaders will also be added to bills.” (ABC News).

The changing of the bill has attracted much positive attention. Many people agree that it was time for this change to happen, because the supporting women in necessary. Media voices such as Gloria Steinem,  Ellen Degeneres, and Katie Couric have all expressed their support of the changing of the face on the bill. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said “I cannot think of an American hero more deserving of this honor than Harriet Tubman.” Actress Uzo Aduba showed her excitement through a tweet stating, “Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. Well done, National Treasury. Well, well done.”

On the other hand, there were people who did not support the dollar bill change. Some feminists (WHO???) disagreed with the adding of Harriet Tubman’s face on the bill by saying “If having Harriet Tubman’s face on the $20 bill was going to improve women’s access to said bill, I’d be all for it. But instead, it only promises to distort Tubman’s legacy and distract from the economic issues that American women continue to face. While adding representation of women to an area historically dominated by men can be encouraging and boost women’s morale, the symbolism risks masking inequalities that are far more important.”

The point of Harriet Tubman being completely against the American capitalist system (which she saw as the primary force behind slavery)  was also argued in the Washington Post, although the WaPo editorial board praised Secretary Lew– “Executed appropriately, these more artistically intricate bills promise to be not only more reflective of America’s diversity, but also beautiful.”

Emily Martinez, sophomore at IRHS, agreed, saying “It’s great what they’re doing [the Treasury Department]!”

Reactions to the news were not all positive; racists reacted pretty predictably to this change by tweeting things like “Removing a white from $20 bill to replace with a mudskin is an act of #WarOnWhites. Wake up, white man.#HarrietTubman” and “Harriet Tubman should have been on the $20 Food Stamp.” (U.S. Uncut). Meanwhile, Donald Trump continues to flirt shamelessly with such people by making comments that Tubman would be more suitable for the $2 bill, a denomination that is widely shunned by banks and businesses and was last printed in 2003–although perhaps Trump assumed, like many uninformed people, and contrary to actual fact, that the two dollar bill was defunct.   [Ed. side note: you can get them locally as change from the Black River Drive-In theatre near Fort Drum.]

Other ignorant internet memes immediately sprang up citing Tubman not being a president, apparently completely unaware of the fact that Benjamin Franklin, whose face is on the $100 bill, was also never president.

Due to security concerns, the new design may not appear until 2020–the US $20 is the most counterfeited piece of currency in the world–or not at all if someone like Trump appoints new Treasury secretary.