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Abolitionist Harriet Tubman to Grace the New $20 Bill
Thursday, April 21, 2016 6:35 AM

Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew on Wednesday announced the most sweeping and historically symbolic makeover of American currency in a century, proposing to replace the slaveholding Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with Harriet Tubman, the former slave and abolitionist, and to add women and civil rights leaders to the $5 and $10 notes.

Lew may have reneged on a 10-month-old commitment to make a woman the face of the $10 bill, opting instead to keep Alexander Hamilton. But the broader remake of the nation’s paper currency may well have captured a historical moment for a multicultural, multiethnic, and multiracial nation moving contentiously through the early years of a new century.

Tubman, an African-American and a spy for the Union, would bump Jackson—a white man known as much for his persecution of Native Americans as for his war heroics and advocacy for the common man—to the rear of the $20, in some reduced image. Tubman would be the first woman so honored on paper currency since Martha Washington’s portrait briefly graced the $1 silver certificate in the late 19th century.

While Hamilton would remain on the $10, and Abraham Lincoln on the $5s, images of women would be added to the back of both, in keeping with Lew’s intent “to bring to life” the national monuments depicted there.

The picture of the Treasury building on the back of the $10 bill would be replaced with a depiction of a 1913 march in support of women’s right to vote that ended at the building, along with portraits of five suffrage leaders: Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, and Susan B. Anthony, who in recent years was on an unpopular $1 coin until minting ceased.

On the flip side of the $5 bill, the Lincoln Memorial would remain but as the backdrop for the 1939 performance there of Marian Anderson, the African-American opera star, after she was barred from singing in the segregated Constitution Hall nearby. Sharing space on the rear would be images of Eleanor Roosevelt, the first lady who arranged Anderson’s Lincoln Memorial performance, and of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who in 1963 delivered his “I have a dream” speech from its steps.

The final redesigns will be unveiled in 2020, the centennial of the 19th Amendment establishing women’s suffrage, and will not go into wide circulation until later in the decade, starting with the new $10 note. The unexpectedly ambitious proposals reflect Lew’s tortuous attempt to expedite the process and win over critics who have lodged conflicting demands, pitting mainly women’s advocates against Hamiltonians newly empowered by the unlikely success of their hero’s story on Broadway.

 

Source:  New York Times