What Would Happen if…..Harriet Tubman was on the $20 Bill?


                                                                                                                                    By: Kevin Mensah

         -A prototype design of a new $20 bill crafted in late 2016 by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

          It is Black History Month. A slave and a slave master on the same bill? Woohoo, what a story!

 What is the Plan?

 Jacob J. Lew, Obama’s last Secretary-Treasurer, suggested the idea. A portrait of Andrew Jackson, the seventh U.S. president (1829–1837), has appeared on the front of the $20 bill since 1928. The White House is featured on the reverse side. In April 2016, Obama announced that Tubman would be replacing Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill, and that Jackson would be moved into a scene of the White House on the opposite side. Obama originally planned to publish Harriet Tubman on the $20 but after his transfer of power, it was delayed under the Trump administration. 

Trump’s Secretary-Treasurer, Steven Mnuchin, announced during a 2019 congressional hearing that the redesign would be delayed until 2028. Mnuchin mentioned the main reason was to limit counterfeiting efforts. Trump proposed Tubman would be a better candidate for the $2 bill because it is not widely circulated. In June 2019, the Treasury said an investigation would be conducted to provide an answer to the delay in the production of a new $20 bill. 

Black and Female Representation

Martha Washington is the only woman whose portrait has appeared on a U.S. currency note. She appeared on the face of the $1 Silver Certificate of 1886 and 1891, and the reverse of the $1 Silver Certificate of 1896.  One of the few affiliations with black people in U.S currency is when the signatures of four African American men who served as Registers of the Treasury. Their names were Blanche K. Bruce, Judson W. Lyons, William T. Vernon, and James C. Napier. Their signatures were present on multiple silver certificates. Taylor Morton, a past treasurer of the United States, signature appeared on the $1, $5, and $10 bills between September 1977-August 1979. 

No portraits of African Americans have ever appeared on paper money, but commemorative coins were issued in the 1940s depicting the images of George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington, and a recent innovation of a Jackie Robinson coin.

  What do they Both Represent?

 Harriet Tubman was a wanted runaway slave who eventually became a conductor of the “Underground Railroad”, a nurse, a Union spy, and a women’s suffrage supporter. Her courage and love for her people were deeply manifested when she underwent 13 missions to rescue approximately 70 enslaved people, including family and friends, using the network of safe houses referred to as the “Underground Railroad”. During his first term, President Biden is making an effort to get this marvelous lady on the cover.

For decades the $20 bill has been bashed by critics for featuring the 7th president Andrew Jackson for his lead role in the “Trail of Tears”. 100,000 Native Americans were driven out of Mississippi to undergo a journey to Oklahoma between 1830 and 1850 by the United States government known as the Indian removal. The Trail of Tears spans over 5,043 miles long and covers nine modern states: Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Georgia, Illinois, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. This resulted in the death of 4,000 Native Americans who died from cold, hunger, and disease.

 Jackson was also a notorious slave owner who owned as many as 161 enslaved people, utilizing them as a bridge to his fortune. Jackson actively supported and participated in the institution of slavery. Not only did he own slaves himself, but he regularly opposed abolitionists, believing them to be a threat to national unity. Jackson’s support of slavery is a flaw in relation to his representation of the “common man” during the 1800s.

          Redesigns of U.S Currency 

Jackson replaced Grover Cleveland on the $20 bill in 1928. In 1929, Alexander Hamilton was placed on the front of the $10 bill, replacing Andrew Jackson. The secretary of the Treasury is given the authority, and therefore has the right over the design of bills, including the portraits displayed. The only portrait the secretary is legally required to print on a bill is George Washington, on the $1 bill. By law, no living person can be on a bill.

        The Disposal of Old/Damaged Currency

Bills that get worn out are taken out of circulation and used to be thrown into landfills. The estimated lifespan of a $20 bill in circulation is 7.8 years before it is replaced due to wear. In the past, the Federal Reserve resorted to sending the shredded cash to landfills, but now 90% of the money is recycled which is healthier for the environment. If the old $20 bill becomes legal tender, it still can be used legally without completely terminating the $20 bills with the face of Andrew Jackson. All U.S. currency till this day remains legal tender, regardless of the date it was issued.

          How Long Will it take?

Making an entirely new bill is a thorough process, usually taking six-months, or maybe even 2 years. Artists must compose the dollars precisely. Next, security experts contribute by adding anti-counterfeiting measures such as watermarks and special inks. Bank officials need to plan how much of each denomination is necessary and transfer the money to the banks.

“We’re exploring ways to speed up that effort,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki, the 34th White House press secretary under the Biden administration told reporters, Monday after being asked if the new administration would pick up the Obama-era initiative.

“It’s important for the bills to “reflect the history and diversity of our country,” Psaki said, “and Harriet Tubman’s image gracing the new $20 note would certainly reflect that.

What do you think? Is having a slave master, and Ex-slave on the $20 bill a step forward to provide racial inclusion in America. Is it a good idea to put the 1st black female on a form of American currency? What are your views? I hope you will educate yourself more about the impacts of black in society during February. Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for the next What Would Happen…if? 

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