Got change for a 20?

tubman 20 bill
WASHINGTON — The portrait of Harriet Tubman, the late abolitionist born into slavery in Dorchester County in the 1800s, will replace the picture of the seventh president of the United States, Andrew Jackson, on the $20 bill.

Tubman, known as the leader of the Underground Railroad, will become the first African American on US paper money and the first woman to be depicted on the country’s currency in 100 years. According to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, the portrait of Jackson, who was a slave owner, will be pushed to the back of the currency.

The $5 bill will also undergo a number of changes. The illustration of the Lincoln Memorial on the back will be redesigned to give recognition to “events at the Lincoln Memorial that helped to shape our history and our democracy,” according to the Treasury.

The new image on the $5 bill will include numerous new figures, including civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., who gave his famous “I have a dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.

On the $10 bill, the Treasury building on the back will be changed to commemorate a 1913 march that ended on the steps of the building. It will feature suffragette leaders Alice Paul, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Sojourner Truth.

The last woman featured on US paper money was Martha Washington. She was on a dollar silver certificate from 1891 to 1896. The only other woman ever featured on US paper money was Pocahontas, from 1865 to 1869.

The updates proposed by Treasury Secretary Lew for the three bills will be the most sweeping changes since 1929, when all US paper money was redesigned to feature more standard designs and a smaller size to save printing costs.

Wednesday’s announcement brought to a head an ironic decline in popularity for Jackson, who was one of the fathers of the modern Democratic Party but was often defined by his ownership of slaves, and the “Trail of Tears” campaign that forcibly removed American Indians from their homeland.

“He’s not the poster boy for America, and it’s good to see it changed,” said Bill John Baker, principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, being quoted in the Portland Press-Herald. Baker pointed out that a fourth of the Cherokee nation died after Jackson and his troops forced them onto what became known as the Trail of Tears.

Predictably, not everyone is happy with the selection of a woman, a black woman, and a woman who was raised as a slave, as a portrait on the 20 dollar bill. Said Feminista Jones of the Washington Post, “America’s currency is viewed as a place to honor people of historic political influence. To suggest that black women are part of that club by putting Tubman’s face on the $20 simply would cover up our nation’s reality of historic and lingering disenfranchisement. Of the 104 women in the House of Representatives, only 18 are black, and only one black woman has sat in the U.S. Senate since the nation was founded. Of the 78 women in executive statewide offices, just one is a black woman. There’s no doubt that black women have a political representation problem in America. But putting the face of an admired black American heroine on currency won’t fix it – it will only mask it.”

Harriet Tubman, who was born into slavery in Dorchester County in the early part of the 19th century, escaped and then used the network of anti-slavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad to transport other slaves to freedom. After the Civil War, Ms. Tubman became active in the campaign for women’s suffrage.

Locally, the change in our most popular paper money note is expected to increase interest in the birthplace of Harriet Tubman. It will be especially noticeable in interest and traffic into the new Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument next to the Blackwater National Wildlife Preserve in Church Creek.

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