Harriet Tubman: Behind the face of the new $20 bill
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 4/21/16, 12:15 pm
Former slave and faith-driven abolitionist Harriet Tubman will be the face of the new $20 bill, becoming the first woman to appear on U.S. paper currency since the 19th century, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew announced yesterday. The back of the new bill will feature the White House and an image of President Andrew Jackson, whom Tubman is displacing from the front of the bill.
Lew said the Treasury Department will unveil the new bill in 2020 to mark the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote.
“Harriet Tubman was a woman of faith who wasn’t afraid to act on her beliefs to fight for justice,” said Kristina Arriaga, executive director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, in a written statement. “Her incredible moral and physical courage is an example to all Americans, as is her willingness to act on her Christian faith.”
Tubman was born a slave in Maryland in the 19th century. In 1848, she escaped to Philadelphia but was not content with only her freedom. Considered the Moses of her time, she made 19 trips to the South through the Underground Railroad network and escorted more than 300 slaves to freedom over 10 years. Her willful personality propelled her through the perilous journey: She often had to draw her pistol on nervous slaves who wanted to turn back. But Tubman’s faith in God served as her strength, and she never lost a slave during the countless trips she made.
“I always told God,” Tubman said, “I’m going to hold steady on to you, and you’ve got to see me through.”
During the Civil War, Tubman worked for the Union as a nurse, cook, and spy. She earned the distinction of being the first woman to lead a military expedition, directing the army on a raid to free 700 slaves in 1863. After the war, she continued to serve the elderly and poor and remained a prominent advocate for education and the right for freed slaves and women to vote.
“I’m doing my happy dance today,” Jurnee Smollett, an actress in the TV series Underground, posted on Twitter. “Harriet Tubman will be on the $20 bill! If our ancestors could see us now!”
In addition to the $20 bill, the back of the $10 bill will feature images of women like Sojourner Truth and Lucretia Mott, who contributed to suffrage movement, while the front will retain the portrait of Alexander Hamilton. The back of the new $5 bill will feature Martin Luther King, Marian Anderson, and Eleanor Roosevelt, while the front will retain the portrait of President Abraham Lincoln.
Lew initially planned to put a woman on the $10 bill, but Hamilton supporters protested. The Founding Father is enjoying a renaissance in popular opinion thanks to the wildly popular Broadway musical Hamilton.
“We are delighted that the parties involved in the decision are united in their commitment to the goal of honoring women in this most visible fashion,” said Barbara Ortiz Howard, founder of Women On 20s, a nonprofit that advocates from women’s faces on currency. “It’s high time to get the party started.”