Harriet Tubman on the 20 Dollar Bill

Harriet Tubman on the 20 Dollar Bill

Jahir Rojas-Reyes, Journalist

Last week, January 27th, the treasury department under Biden’s administration announced they will resume efforts to put Harriet Tubman on the 20 dollar bill, replacing Andrew Jackson and moving him to the back of the bill. 

“It’s important that our notes, our money, reflect the history and diversity of our country and Harriet Tubman’s image gracing the new 20 dollar note would certainly reflect that. So we’re exploring ways to speed up that effort,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. 

The concept of the bill which was produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing deposits Harriet Tubman in a dark coat with a wide collar and white scarf. The design was completed in 2016. Although it isn’t shown, a statue of Andrew Jackson would most likely be put on the back of the bill. 

The initiative to put Harriet Tubman on the 20 dollar bill was first suggested under the Obama administration and was scheduled to coincide with the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote. This effort was stopped in its tracks when it was postponed until 2026 by the Trump administration. Trump stated in a 2016 interview by Matt Lauer in Today from NBC, “Andrew Jackson had a great history. I think it’s very rough when you take somebody off the bill. Andrew Jackson had a history of tremendous success for the country,” 

Andrew Jackson was first featured in the 20 dollar bill in 1928 when he replaced GW for unknown reasons. . While he was seen as a hero all the way up to the 1960’s, his popularity began to dwindle once the public was educated about his legislation which killed hundreds of natives in the infamous trail of tears. He was also a defender of the institution of  slavery and owned slaves himself.

On the other hand, Harriet Tubman was known for her work against slavery. She helped free many slaves through a trail known as the underground railroad which was essentially an escape route for slaves from their owners before the civil war. She was also a spy for the union and a nurse. It is estimated she helped over 300 slaves to freedom. 

The initiative has seen mixed reactions from the public. Some say this is a great honor for such a prominent African American figure in US history. It’s a step towards the integration of black American history into the US. Some say it couldn’t come at a greater time as the first African American woman was elected as vice president. However, critics argue putting Harriet Tubman on the 20 dollar bill is an insult to her legacy and all she stood for. Imagine having her share a bill with a man who supported the institution she fought so hard against for decades. Income and racial inequality are still rooted in American policy more than a century later. Today, 1 in 1000 black men are killed by police yearly according to the PNAS, this is 2.5 times greater than their white counterparts. More shockingly, police enforcement accounted for the greatest cause of death among young black men from 2013-2018. 

Although it has seen improvement in some categories, income inequality is still a substantial issue in America that disproportionately affects minorities. For every dollar a white male makes, a white woman makes 79 cents, and a  black woman only makes 62 cents. 

Britney Cooper, a professor at Rutgers University and the author of, Eloquent Rage: A Black feminist discovers her superpower, wrote in an article for Time magazine, “Too often America attempts to atone for racism through style and symbol rather than substance. We don’t need America to put Black women on its money. We need America to put its money on Black women.” 

Harriet Tubman was an activist for African American equality and although we’ve seen many improvements over the years, we are still facing the same inequality she did over a century ago. While it may seem like putting Harriet Tubman on the face of a bill would honor her legacy, having her on the 20 dollar bill would be like putting a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound. If we really want to honor her legacy we must make true change in American policy today and open parks, schools, and educational centers to truly honor her and educate future generations about her legacy.