Why we could soon see Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill

Andrew Jackson $US20Costin Constantinescu/ShutterstockAndrew Jackson could be on his way out.

It’s all about the Tubmans, baby — or at least it could be if the campaign to get the female abolitionist on the $US20 bill is successful.

For 10 weeks the grassroots organisation Women On 20s has asked the public to vote for a pivotal woman in American history to be represented on printed US money.

More than 350,000 people cast their votes during the final round last week, and with almost 34% of the vote, Harriet Tubman edged out former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt as the people’s choice for Andrew Jackson’s replacement.

If Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew agrees to the replacement, Tubman would be the first woman and the first black person to be the face of an American paper currency. Lewis and Clark expedition guide Sacagawea and women’s suffrage advocate Susan B. Anthony have been featured on the relatively unpopular US dollar coins.

Women on 20s executive director Susan Ades Stone tells Business Insider, “This is a way to literally pay respect to women that is long overdue and can be seen as a step in the right direction toward greater gains in gender and racial equality.”

Known as “Moses” to her followers and as “General Tubman” to abolitionist John Brown, Tubman was perhaps the most influential conductor of the Underground Railroad, a network of routes of passage for slaves seeking freedom that lead to the North and Canada.

After escaping slavery in Maryland by fleeing to the North, Tubman later returned to the South 19 times on missions to escort more than 300 people out of bondage.

“I was a conductor of the Underground Railway for eight years,” she famously said of her role. “I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.”

Harriet TubmanWikimedia CommonsHarriet Tubman in 1880.

During the American Civil War, she joined the Union Army as a laundress, cook, and nurse and was eventually recruited as a Union spy. In June 1863 she helpedCol.James Montgomery lead a raid at Combahee River in South Carolina that freed about 750 slaves and distinguished her as the first woman ever to lead a military expedition.

After the war she advocated for education, the vote for freed slaves, and women’s equality and suffrage.

Some have been vocal in opposition to Tubman’s election, claiming that having her likeness on US currency would be an offence to her legacy. Others worry it would send a signal that we’ve achieved a post-racial society, which we haven’t.

One Washington Post blogger believes putting Tubman on the $US20 bill won’t fix the problematic political underrepresentation of black women, but will instead mask it.

Ades Stone says Women on 20s strongly disagrees with these sentiments.

“Tubman sought freedom for herself and all others — men, women, black, and white — to participate in a capitalist society and earn fair wages,” she tells Business Insider.

She says the group doesn’t believe putting Tubman on the $US20 bill would mask the underrepresentation of minorities or further enable systemic wage inequality. She hopes to have the opposite effect.

“A main goal of Women on 20s is to have an exemplary woman featured prominently on our currency so that we will be reminded every day of women’s value, immense capabilities, and contributions.”

Harriet Tubman, Women on 20sWomen on 20sWhat the $US20 bill could look like.

As to claims that someone like Rosa Parks would be a more relevant choice, Ades Stone says that the date someone fought for the common values of freedom and equality seems irrelevant. “The more important message is: the modern quest for progressive change has deep roots and still has room for growth.”

The campaign to represent women on American currency has generated a ton of support including that of President Barack Obama and US Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Illinois), who introduced legislation to feature a woman on the bill in their respective chambers of Congress.

And voters shared numerous heartfelt reasons for choosing Tubman.

“I am not a descendant of slaves, but I certainly don’t think you have to be to be grateful to live in a US that is better off because of her hard work and sacrifice,” writes one voter on the organisation’s Facebook page.

Women on 20s have presented President Obama with a petition asking him to instruct Lew to circulate these bills in time for the centennial of women’s suffrage in 2020. The group is also asking supporters to join a “Virtual March” to the White House by sending messages of support on social media with the hashtag #DearMrPresident.

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