Upon hearing that former slave Harriet Tubman will replace slave owner President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, I felt relieved because for a while there it was supposed to be the $10 bill and Alexander Hamilton who got replaced, and that would have been a travesty.
Hamilton’s story of rising up from being born out of wedlock and soon orphaned to becoming a Founding Father of America and one of the most important proponents of the Constitution is nothing short of astounding. Only look at the popularity of the current production of Hamilton to witness how there is a new resurgence of respect for the man who founded our nation’s banking system, the Federalist Party, and the U.S. Coast Guard.
Jackson’s slave owning and brutal relocation of Native Americans – known as the Trail of Tears – is nothing to honor or celebrate. Despite having served as 7th President of the United States, there seems to be no other reason to have his face on our currency. There were many other more substantial and deserving presidents: Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt among them.
Harriet Tubman’s rise from obscurity and oppression is even more amazing than Hamilton’s story. Born a slave and constantly abused and oppressed, she made her escape on the Underground Railroad in 1849 to Philadelphia. Instead of enjoying her new found freedom, Harriet risked her own life to go back to the South again and again to help family members and others escape to freedom.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump cited the choice of Harriet Tubman for the $20 bill as “pure political correctness” and said Jackson “had a great history” (leaving uncertainty as to what that ‘history’ of greatness could be). Trump did say of Tubman that she was “fantastic” but suggested that someone come up with a different denomination for her (like the discontinued $2 bill). Could it be that The Donald has delusions of grandeur that one day his mug will appear on that bill instead?
Listening to “talk radio” here in New York as I drove around doing errands today, I heard other people talking negatively about Tubman’s selection and wanting “to keep Jackson” on the twenty. As I have suggested in the past, these same people would probably have no problem if they learned that Kim Kardashian had been chosen as the new face on the bill – but that is the problem with America today where notoriety is mistaken for accomplishment and achievement.
Harriet Tubman is a sublime choice for the $20 bill to replace Jackson, a slave owner who should have never been chosen to be on our currency in the first place. Tubman, because of her life of service and dedication to her country and her people, more than deserves this recognition.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew made the announcement and noted that Jackson will still appear on the back of the bill. The image will probably be that of the statue of Jackson that is found in Lafayette Square near the White House. I find it incongruous that Jackson has to appear anywhere on this currency, but his removal from the front and replacement by Tubman still is monumental and an important step in confronting our American past that, while inconvenient for some, included presidents and other politicians who were slave owners.
As Lew noted, “The life of Harriet Tubman is really one of the great American stories.” He also mentioned that Tubman had not received much compensation for her sacrifice of safety and freedom to help other slaves, but that misses the whole point of what Tubman did. Her dedicated service was not for notoriety or accolades but rather a concerted effort to right wrongs, to save lives, and to fight back against an evil system of oppression.
This development should send Americans and people all over the world a resounding message and signal hope for more changes to come – like isn’t it about time a Native American appears on our currency as well?
While providing long delayed affirmation of Tubman’s glorious efforts, former slave Harriet Tubman will be replacing slave owner Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill – now that is probably more compensation than someone born into slavery could have ever imagined!
Photo credits: CNN