“Our currency will now tell more of our story,” a succinct and accurate description Treasury Secretary Jack Lew made as he announced the addition of Harriet Tubman, among other alterations, to U.S. currency.
The announcement Lew made Wednesday explained Tubman would take over Andrew Jackson’s spot on the $20 bill, a move that is at the very least a start in acknowledging that profound individuals in the nation’s history are not all white men.
It is obvious Tubman is a suitable fit, being that she was an African-American slave who went on to serve as a nurse and spy for the Union during the Civil War. Her story is one that rewards her visage being placed on U.S. currency, and she is more deserving than some who already have the honor.
Many news outlets have detailed Jackson’s background as a slave-owner. Add that to his position on Native Americans, and his being booted off the bill becomes easy to swallow. During his presidency, Jackson took a firm stance on wanting to remove Native Americans and sought the Indian Removal Act.
Jackson showed flashes of greatness in the War of 1812, but his follies — both as a citizen and president — make him a suitable face to see removed from U.S. currency in favor of showing other greats from the nation’s history.
According to NPR, the activist group Women on 20s was responsible for the push toward placing Tubman on the $20. The call for Tubman is a clever choice, as she will become the first African-American to be represented on paper currency in the U.S. in addition to her being the first woman in 100 years to do so, according to Fox News.
Hearing those numbers is alarming. Women should have already had their day on the dollar. Granted it will only mean seeing a different face on the bits of paper stuffed in wallets, it is the symbolic power of becoming an icon at stake here. By placing Tubman’s face on paper bills where we see men such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln places her in a stratosphere reserved for the greats of the young nation’s history. It extends a feeling of belongingness to those beyond white males and instills a sense of pride in those who call this diverse country home.
An amusing aside of the news is that Lew had been planning on changing the face of the $10, but it went to the wayside as the critically lauded Broadway musical “Hamilton” made for a large fan base of the nation’s first Treasury Secretary. It is for the best given Hamilton’s inspiring story as a West Indian immigrant who infiltrated politics and became a Founding Father.
However, there will be changes to the back of Hamilton’s bill, as rendering of a 1913 march in support of women’s rights will replace the Treasury Department, according to the New York Times. Additionally, the $5 bill will feature Marian Anderson, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Eleanor Roosevelt.
All of this appears to be small steps to make up for a history of U.S. currency focused on white men. Yet, this no time to be cynical; this is a positive push forward. There will be a generation who will grow up seeing Tubman’s face daily — casually, at that — perhaps spurring a slight erasure of the notion of “other” that some carry in this country.
Adam Mathieu is a senior majoring in studio art.