The Nation and the World

Biden administration accelerates initiative to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill

Janet Yellen, the new Secretary of the Treasury, is resuming the redesign of adding Harriet Tubman on the face of the twenty-dollar bill, an effort that had been halted during the Trump administration. According to White House press secretary Jen Psaki, “It’s important that our money reflect the history and diversity of our country.”

Harriet Tubman was an American abolitionist and political activist. Tubman escaped slavery and helped many others do so as well, using the Underground Railroad, a network of antislavery activists’ safe houses. Tubman also served as a spy for the Union Army during the American Civil War and was the first woman to lead an armed military operation, called the Combahee Ferry Raid.

In 2016, President Obama’s Treasury Secretary, Jacob Lew, announced plans for currency redesign. These plans included replacing Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the United States, with Harriet Tubman, a former slave and 19th-century abolitionist, on the face of the $20 bill. Lew also had plans to redesign the back of the $10 bill to include portraits of suffragists, including Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, and Susan B. Anthony. 

In 2019, the Trump administration froze this initiative because President Trump mocked the new currency idea as “pure political correctness” and later suggested that Tubman be put on the rarely used $2 bill. Mr. Trump, “a fan of Jackson,” also stated that adding new security features to the currency was a more pressing matter than a redesign.

Andrew Jackson was a slave owner while he was president from 1829 to 1837. In the so-called Indian Removal, President Jackson forced 100,00 Native Americans to relocate from their ancestral homelands to the west of the Mississippi River, land that had been deemed “Indian Territory.” This Indian Removal became known as the Trail of Tears as the relocated people suffered disease and starvation while traveling to their designated reserve. Thousands of Natives died before reaching their destination or died shortly after from disease.

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