It has been confirmed that one of the greatest conductors of the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman, will replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill. If this decision is actualized, it will be the first time in the history of the United States that a woman would be placed on paper currency, and an African American woman placed on ANY currency.
Is this a day late and a dollar short? Some are questioning the relevancy of Ms. Tubman, a former slave, being placed on a capitalist symbol of her oppression. They opine that it is a disgrace to place someone who fought the institution of slavery to be placed on its reason for being. Others hail this move as an opportunity to honor someone who not only helped free hundreds of slaves, but who, in so doing, influenced the entire direction of the United States. Who would have thought that such a thing could occur on these shores a little over 100 years after the abolition of slavery itself?
Harriet Tubman’s accomplishments were absolutely outstanding. Just think – she risked her life on numerous occasions to help hundreds of people escape from slavery. This was an incredibly brave undertaking, and even today, someone would be hard-pressed to duplicate such a dangerous and delicate feat. She definitely deserves to be honored, even though posthumously. Should the detractors win? Should the great abolitionist be ignored once again because of the thundering voices of opposition? As it so often happens, critics come out of the woodwork once someone else thinks to employ certain measures in an attempt to right historical wrongs. A question can be asked of detractors – what were you, or anyone else, doing to make sure that this great individual received the honor that she so deserved? If we advocate for taking something away, we should be prepared to replace it with something of equal value.
More startling than those who oppose the move to place Harriet Tubman on widely circulated currency because of socio-economic considerations are those who think that she is “too ugly” to be placed on it. This is a preposterous and superficial notion! It is also misogynist – when have you heard that the somewhat non-handsome 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, was too ugly to honor on the widely circulated penny? Or when have you heard of any of the other long-dead male politicians who grace currency and coin judged by their looks? The only reason that something like this can be said of Tubman is because she was a woman. It would not have been said about ANY male, no matter how he might have looked.
The decision to place a woman on our currency started last year when Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew wanted to place a woman on a $10 bill to coincide with the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote. Some of the women in the running included Tubman, Pocahontas, and Princess Diana. At the same time, there was also a clamor to include a woman on a $20 bill. As it turned out, Harriet Tubman, won out over the other contenders on both fronts and will be placed on the $20 bill.
Admittedly, it is ironic that someone who was a victim of capitalist practices would end up on money. But if looked at in another light, that just might be the best place for her to be honored. It can be said that there is a certain victory represented in such a move. Who would’ve thought that a former slave, and a woman at that, would end up on American currency? This alone is triumphant.
Regarding the detractors, we can yawn and agree with them that Tubman opposed our monetary system, but it is also true that she deserves to be honored, and what better way than on a widely circulated symbol of that which held her in oppression? Portraits on American currency represent the best and brightest lights produced by this country, and in that regard, Harriet Tubman certainly qualifies. Until some better honor is brought forth, this one will more than suffice. A luta continua.