Editorials

Put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill already | Editorial

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has for months played coy with the idea of putting abolitionist, Civil War spy and suffragist Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill.

He’s thrown out a variety of vague excuses not to commit to a plan that was put in place by the Obama administration to replace Andrew Jackson with the Maryland native’s portrait as part of an overhaul of U.S. currency, but abruptly pushed to the side after President Donald Trump took office.

Mnuchin has stuck to talking points that focus largely on the treasury department’s priority of making new paper bills resistant to counterfeiting and not on whose face adorns U.S. money.

But the face of our country’s currency does matter. Those who appear on bills should represent key figures in history whose life stories exemplify what the country stands for, and Tubman would fill a glaring gap in the story our currency tells.

There’s no reason changing the person honored on the $20 bill can’t be done independently of any security upgrades.

Consequently, we can’t help but wonder whether there are other reasons why Mnuchin is stalling on a choice that was made with much thought by the Obama administration and extensive input from the public.

Tubman received the most votes among 15 women in a survey created by the group “Women on $20s,” who pushed for female representation among a sea of white male faces that now appear on monetary bills. Tubman would be the first woman and African American on U.S. paper currency.

It doesn’t help that Mnuchin’s boss has said having Tubman on the bill is about political correctness and that President Trump has also also shown allegiance to Jackson, despite the fact the seventh president owned slaves and marginalized Native Americans, including signing the law that took away land from the country’s indigenous people.

Tubman is the antithesis to Jackson and more representative of what the country should be celebrating. Jack Lew, the treasury secretary under President Obama, described it well when he said hers was “the essential story of American Democracy.”

Indeed, her life was one of inspiration and perseverance during a time when she and many like her were viewed as little more than somebody else’s property — a woman who escaped slavery at the age of 27 and then helped others to do the same.

Nicknamed Moses after the prophet who led Hebrews to freedom from Egypt, she made the dangerous journey back to her native Dorchester County in Maryland 13 more times to help nearly 70 family, friends and other slaves escape as leader of the Underground Railroad. During the Civil War, Tubman guided gunboats containing black Union soldiers across swampy rivers to free 750 more people.

If the Trump administration won’t do the right thing, we hope that the U.S. Congress will instead. Maryland U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings and his colleague from New York, Rep. John Katko, have introduced for the second year in a row legislation that mandated the treasury department place Tubman on Federal Reserve notes printed after Dec. 31, 2020. Congressional members should make it a priority to pass this legislation.

Tubman’s image on the $20 bill would be a nice addition to those accolades.

This editorial was first published in the Baltimore Sun.

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