(Image Courtesy of Women on 20s)
By Sherah Ndjongo
It’s official: the twenty dollar bill will have a new look. Recently, on April 20, it was revealed by Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew that the most significant renovation of the U.S. currency since 1929 will occur now that it was decided Harriet Tubman will replace the seventh President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, on the front of the $20 bill. Jackson will still appear on the back of the bill, however, being placed next to the image of the White House. Tubman, who was selected by a popular vote and was a choice highly backed by the online group Women on 20s, is the first African-American and woman in over 100 years to be featured on the face of U.S. notes. The last female highlighted on U.S. currency was Martha Washington, who was on the $1 silver certificate starting from 1886 up until when the certificates were declared no longer in use.
Born sometime between 1820 and 1825 to enslaved parents in Dorchester County, Maryland, Harriet Tubman rose above her circumstances to become a well-known abolitionist in the United States of America prior to the Civil War. Being one of nine children, she observed firsthand as her father was freed and watched as many of her siblings were being sold, which resulted in her family separating. It wasn’t until 1848 that Tubman built up the courage to escape to Philadelphia largely with the help of the Underground Railroad, a complex secret network of safe houses in the North that led to freedom.
Eventually, Tubman would go back to Maryland with the intention of rescuing both her family and strangers and successfully doing so. She used her impressive judgement, quick wit, disguises, and well-thought-out tactics to always keep her pursuers trailing far behind her. What’s more impressive is that she managed to never lose a passenger as a “conductor” for the dangerous path to freedom known as the Underground Railroad. Later, with her vast knowledge of the geography and transportation systems of the South, she was able to help the Union army as a spy, scout, and even a cook as well as a nurse for the wounded. Union soldiers heavily relied on Tubman to guide them in unfamiliar territory since she could make her way through the area without being spotted and without leaving a single trace. In 1863, the abolitionist became the first woman to ever lead a military expedition when she led an armed raid that was responsible for 700 slaves escaping in South Carolina.
In her later life, Tubman became an education advocate and used her voice to call for giving freed slaves the right to vote in addition to helping the elderly and the poor. Furthermore, she put in just as much effort into supporting the fight for women’s equality and suffrage. When she passed away in 1913, she was buried as “General Tubman” with military honors, making her one of the first African American women on record to serve in the military.
Back to 2016, Jacob J. Lew also reported alterations in appearance for the $5 and $10 bills. Abraham Lincoln and Alexander Hamilton will continue to be on the front of them, but the real difference will be on the backs that will now feature various iconic women and civil rights leaders. The new $10 bill will have leaders of the 1913 suffragette movement that fought for the right of women to vote in public elections and to run for electoral office grace it. These remarkable women will include Alice Paul, Sojourner Truth, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony. Additionally, the $5 bill will display historical events that have to do with the Lincoln Memorial like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s notable 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech and the brave African American classical singer Marian Anderson’s 1939 performance at the venue after she was forbidden to sing at the segregated Constitution Hall.
The completed designs of the new bills will be available to the public in 2020 in honor of the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment that permitted women to vote. The new currency, beginning with the $10 bill, will be accessible later during that decade.