Progression or Regression? Tubman to replace Jackson on the $20 bill
by Muneeza Sheikh
It’s about time that a moment is taken to truly savor the fact that on April 20, 2016, the U.S. Treasury Department announced that abolitionist Harriet Tubman, an African-American woman who was a born a slave, will be replacing Andrew Jackson, on the new $20 bill.
Not only is the $20 changing, for new faces are expected to propose to include/add women and civil rights leaders on the $5 and $10 notes. This includes significant events such Marian Anderson’s performance in 1939, the African-American singer, who was barred from singing at the segregated Constitution Hall nearby. Sharing space on the note is Eleanor Roosevelt, who arranged Anderson’s Lincoln Memorial performance, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who in 1963 delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech from the memorial’s steps. The new bills are set to unveil in 2020, which marks the most sweeping and historically symbolic makeover of American currency in a century.
Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the United States has been on the bill since 1928, so why change it now? If Jackson was regarded for his war heroics and advocacy for the common man then what makes him short for the title? Some argue that Jackson was not at fault in his practice of owning a few slaves, for at the time it was quite common. Yet, on the other hand, his reputation as a white man notorious for his persecution of Native Americans, and his decision to pass the Indian Removal Act of 1830 is often criticized and looked down upon by many.
Similarly, Harriet Tubman accomplished extraordinary feats in her lifetime. From freeing hundreds of slaves to simply showing courage in the face of hardship, she was a woman of immense strength, integrity, and determination. If this is the case, then why out Tubman on them when her honor and actions elevate her to the $100 bill? However, the fact remains that the $20 is the most often used bill, and if more people are able to see an African-American woman on the bill they are holding, they are more likely to recognize that gender and racial inequality continues to exist, and that something needs to be done about it.
Tubman will be the first woman, aside from the first African-American person, to be honored on paper currency since Martha Washington's brief appearance on the $1 silver certificate in the late 19th century.
However, the public took it to the media to express their reactions, some of which were not so bright.
Rebecca Carroll, WNYC's producer of special projects on race, said Twitter responded to Wednesday's news within minutes, with joy and even new memes. She said the choice of Tubman is a powerful one, but it's also problematic.
"It doesn't actually change anything," she said. "We still don't have equal pay. It doesn't change the wealth gap."
The circulation of these new bills will surely mark an unforgettable moment for a multicultural, multiethnic and multiracial nation advancing slowly but steadily through the early years of a new phase.