Last year, Jacob Lew, who was the Secretary of the Treasury at the time, announced that Harriet Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill.
He didn’t come to the decision quickly or independently. A massive grassroots campaign aimed at putting a woman on the $20 bill selected Harriet Tubman, the American abolitionist, humanitarian and Civil War hero.
The plan was that a change could be implemented in time for the 100th anniversary of woman’s suffrage.
Harriet Tubman Was Selected to Be the New Face of the $20 Bill
When he announced the change last year, Lew wrote:
The decision to put Harriet Tubman on the new $20 was driven by thousands of responses we received from Americans young and old. I have been particularly struck by the many comments and reactions from children for whom Harriet Tubman is not just a historical figure, but a role model for leadership and participation in our democracy. You shared your thoughts about her life and her works and how they changed our nation and represented our most cherished values. Looking back on her life, Tubman once said, “I would fight for liberty so long as my strength lasted.” And she did fight, for the freedom of slaves and for the right of women to vote. Her incredible story of courage and commitment to equality embodies the ideals of democracy that our nation celebrates, and we will continue to value her legacy by honoring her on our currency. The reverse of the new $20 will continue to feature the White House as well as an image of President Andrew Jackson.
2020 would be a poignant date for finally getting a woman on a bill, as it will be the 100th anniversary of the constitutional amendment that gave women the right to vote. And, many thought that it was high time that U.S. currency better reflect our nation’s diversity and history. Martha Washington was briefly featured on the $1 silver certificate during the 1880s and 1890s, and Pocahontas was a part of a group image on the $20 bill during the 1860s. But, no other women have ever been depicted on U.S. paper currency, and the only people of color portrayed were Pocahontas and Lakota Chief Running Antelope.
“As I said when we launched this exciting project: after more than 100 years, we cannot delay, so the next bill to be redesigned must include women, who for too long have been absent from our currency,” Lew wrote in last year’s announcement.'The next bill to be redesigned must include women, who for too long have been absent from our currency.' - Jacob LewClick To Tweet
Lew also announced other changes at the time. Jackson’s image would still be featured on a redesigned reverse side of the $20 bill. Also, the reverse sides of the $5 and $10 bills would be redesigned to feature depictions of such historic events as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. Lincoln and Hamilton would remain on the front of those bills.
“Of course, more work remains to tell the rich and textured history of our country,” Lew wrote at the time. “But with this decision, our currency will now tell more of our story and reflect the contributions of women as well as men to our great democracy.”
The New Treasury Secretary Says It’s Not a Priority
Last week, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that this matter isn’t a priority.
“Ultimately we will be looking at this issue,” he said during an interview with CNBC. “It’s not something I’m focused on at the moment.”
Mnuchin went on to explain that changes to the currency are focused on stopping counterfeiting. “So the issues of what we change will be primarily related to what we need to do for security purposes,” he added.
“People have been on the bills for a long period of time. And this is something we will consider. Right now, we’ve got a lot more important issues to focus on,” Mnuchin concluded.
But the matter is far from settled. Last week, Reps. John Katko (R-N.Y.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) introduced a bipartisan bill that if passed would require the treasury to put Tubman on the $20.
“Harriet Tubman is a hero who bravely led countless Americans to freedom and opportunity, courageously fought for her country, and was an outspoken advocate for women’s suffrage,” said Katko, per The Hill.
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