Message to Trump: Why Tubman, Not Jackson, Belongs on $20 Bill

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Tubman statue in Harlem. Photo: Wikipedia

The face of money has furthered racial divisions in America. The legacy of the Obama Administration is at the heart of the discussions. Instead of the ongoing vitriol with Black people, President Trump could make friends by replacing Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman on the face of the $20 bill.

America’s seventh President, Andrew Jackson, has been featured on the front side of “the twenty” since 1928. Harriet Tubman and President Andrew Jackson lived on opposite sides of the American experience. Tubman, a Black woman, escaped slavery to become a conductor on the Underground Railroad, risking her life to lead enslaved Africans to freedom. Jackson was the son of Scots-Irish immigrants and had enslaved Africans at The Hermitage plantation. He was elected president as a war hero, but became known for policies that led to general deaths of Native Americans.

“Dead Presidents” is what some Black folk call America’s currency. Some say: Putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill is a disgrace to what she fought for, as the ultimate “co-opt” of the Black Struggle. That Harriet Tubman didn’t fight against that system of capitalism to be put on that same system’s $20 bill. Others find it insulting to Tubman’s legacy and ironic that the abolitionist icon --she fought the oppressive American system based on enslaved Africans-- would now become a symbol of it.

Jackson’s face on the twenty remains a monument to “White supremacy.” The seventh president engineered genocide and should be vilified, not honored. Jackson's actions led to the mass deaths of Native Americans when he ordered their “relocation” in “The Trail of Tears.” Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act forced 50,000 Cherokees, Choctaws, Muscogee-Creeks, Chickasaws, and Seminoles off their ancestral lands.

According to Charlotte L. Dicks’ "Black History" volume on Harriett Tubman, “she was a warrior, leader, guerrilla fighter and military commander.” Her contributions were great in the struggle to abolish slavery.

Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in Maryland in 1820; her birth name was Araminta Harriet Ross. As a child, she was “hired out” to do domestic work. While working in her early teens, Tubman defied an overseer’s order to restrain another field hand, and blocked a doorway so the man could escape. When the overseer threw a two-pound iron weight at her, it broke her skull and left her with lifetime seizures and narcolepsy.

Tubman fled plantation bondage arriving in Philadelphia in 1849. A well-organized Underground Railroad had been functioning for 50 years when Tubman joined. She became a “conductor” and went on 19 missions to the South. So determined was she that she threatened to shoot anyone who tried to turn back.

Tubman was so successful that the Southern slavers offered a $40,000 bounty for her capture. Frederick Douglass had enormous respect for Tubman. Another ally was White abolitionist John Brown, who advocated armed struggle to destroy slavery. Tubman helped him recruit supporters. Brown found Tubman’s knowledge of support networks and resources to be important contributions to his 1859 raid at Harpers Ferry.

This is an opportunity for the Trump Administration to show leadership toward overcoming racial inequities and understanding of racial and cultural sensibilities. At present it’s unclear if President Trump plans to reverse the Obama Administration’s currency decision to honor Tubman. During his campaign, Trump said replacing Jackson with Tubman is “pure political correctness" and that Tubman should be featured on the $2 bill.

Money is the medium of America’s economy. Most Black folk say Harriet Tubman deserves to be on the “twenty dollar” bill more than Andrew Jackson.

Since he became president, Trump’s not addressed the issue. But, Trump did put a portrait of Jackson in the Oval Office. The decision will be made by Steven Terner Mnuchin, the 77th and current U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. The Treasury Secretary is the principal economic advisor to the President and plays a critical role in policy-making. To date, Mnuchin has failed to endorse plans to redesign the $20.

Ms. Tubman’s face on American money won’t change Black folks’ condition in this country. Yet it's an important historical recognition of a legendary American.

Blacks could lobby Trump’s Treasury Department by contacting Secretary Mnuchin through: 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20220.

Phone (202) 622-2000

William Reed is publisher of “Who’s Who in Black Corporate America” and available for projects via Busxchng@his.com

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