It’s dripping with irony, isn’t it? Harriet Tubman just pushed Andrew Jackson to the back of the buck.
An image of the escaped slave and fearless “conductor” of the Underground Railroad, along which she led more than 300 blacks out of bondage, will supplant that of Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill. She will be the first woman to be given such a vaunted position since Martha Washington’s image briefly was on the $1 silver certificate in the 19th century.
Mr. Jackson was a war hero, owner of slaves, eradicator of Native Americans, seventh president of the United States and — until Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew’s announcement on Wednesday — a guy with a lock on the front of the $20 bill. He’ll be moved to the back, smaller, but still acknowledged, if not necessarily celebrated.
Actually, it was the $10 bill, graced by an image of Alexander Hamilton, that was due for a redesign. Too bad President Jackson didn’t have a smash-hit of a now Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play to give him more currency, pun intended. Basically, Mr. Hamilton’s new fans told Mr. Lew, “Don’t touch the 10-spot.” After he saw the play, he, indeed, thought better of it.
The 10-month redesign process ended up an exercise in the very democracy and inclusiveness that some during this heated political season are content to tear asunder.
Again, such irony.
Presidential candidate Donald Trump, for instance, pronounced it “political correctness,” his simplistic, knee-jerk response to those things that acknowledge the reality of this country’s history and the stage being set for what should be a future that embraces all who call themselves — or hope to call themselves — Americans.
In this way, Harriet Tubman, nurse and spy for the Union Army, supporter of women’s suffrage and, of course, the “Moses” who led more than 300 enslaved people to freedom, is the perfect symbol of American yearning and triumph. And she was the choice of an overwhelming number of women’s groups and others who lobbied for her selection.
And the choice of Ms. Tubman is only the beginning. Mr. Lew has creatively turned the $5, $10 and $20 into compact history lessons.
For instance, though Mr. Hamilton will remain the face of the $10 bill, there will be a vignette of suffragists — including Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Sojourner Truth — on the back.
On the back of the $5 bill will be Marian Anderson, the African-American contralto denied the stage at Constitution Hall in 1939; Eleanor Roosevelt who intervened on her behalf, resulting in Ms. Anderson’s historic concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial; and, to complete this particular arc of history, civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., who delivered his visionary dream for this country on those same steps 24 years later.
We applaud Treasury Secretary Lew’s embrace of a fuller sense of American history.