As if we needed another example of the current administration refusing to follow through on existing law and-or Obama-era initiatives, it has become clear that Harriet Tubman’s image will not appear on the $20 bill in 2020 after all.
In May 2016, I wrote here about how, after an intense public process, then-Treasury secretary Jack Lew announced that Tubman would be featured on the $20 bill in 2020 to coincide with the celebration of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.
Among other things, Tubman was a women’s rights activist, a veteran and the best-known conductor of the Underground Railroad, the secret network that helped American slaves reach free territory.
The same month, I was interviewed on Wisconsin television, juxtaposed with a grand-nephew of the man currently pictured on the bill, President Andrew Jackson, who argued that it was “disrespectful” to remove Jackson from the bill. (In fact, he was still going to be on the back of the bill).
I countered about how great Tubman was and how terrible the slave-owning President Jackson was. It was my opinion that the news outlet was more interested in what the grand-nephew had to say, because he got more air time.
It appears that security redesigns provide opportunities to redesign bills.
According to Lew, Treasury had plans to add several women to our currency. The $10 bill was eligible for a security redesign and was to include Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul on its back. Marian Anderson, Eleanor Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr. were to appear on the back of the $5 bill — Lincoln is on the front — intermixed with the Lincoln Memorial.
But these decisions were overturned after the 2016 elections. In 2017, when the Treasury website was redesigned, mention of the Tubman bill and these other upgrades were removed.
In May, U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., questioned the current Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, about the bill.
Asked for a yes-or-no answer whether the redesign of the $20 bill would be complete in 2020, he refused. He said a bunch of stuff about being responsible for the security of the currency and seemed to say that the new 20s won’t come out until 2028.
Asked again if the redesign would be complete in 2020, he answered, “We will meet the security feature redesign in 2020. The imagery redesign will not be an issue that comes up until most likely 2026.”
Pressley pressed the fact that there had been an “exhaustive community process,” and reminded him that he had agreed when she asked him if diverse images were important. Mnuchin said he didn’t agree that the images on the currency should be more diverse and said he had not made a decision with regard to the Tubman bill. He repeated that the decision wouldn’t be made until at the earliest 2026.
So, not only does this administration actively roll back initiatives of the previous president but also those favored by the public. The president and his appointees clearly do not realize that they serve at the pleasure of the public and they do not respect women, diversity, voting rights nor the Constitution.
Some have decided to take matters into their own hands. They are ink-stamping images of Tubman over that of Jackson using stamps sold on Etsy. Defacement of currency is illegal, but I understand the urge.
The diversity of our country is our greatest strength. To include Tubman on our currency, especially now, would be very powerful for us.