Harriet Tubman Could Be the New Face of the $20 Bill

Harriet Tubman Could Be the New Face of the $20 Bill
Source: WomenOn20s
Source: WomenOn20s

A group campaigning to have Andrew Jackson removed from the $20 bill and replaced with a woman has made its choice of female nominee: Underground Railroad organizer Harriet Tubman.

According to the Women on 20s website, over the course of the 10-week online poll, 256,659 votes propelled Tubman and three others to a final round in which the abolitionist received 118,328 of 352,431 votes, or 33.6%. Tubman beat out fellow historical figures Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks and Wilma Mankiller who received 111,227, 64,173 and 58,703 votes, respectively. In all, 609,090 votes were cast. 

The organization will now move forward with their petition to make Tubman the face of the $20 bill. If successful, Tubman would become the only woman and the only black person to be featured on American paper currency.

Source: Women on 20s

Gaining steam: As the Washington Post reported, the Women on 20s campaign has inspired both House and Senate legislation and even earned a positive endorsement from the president in Kansas City last July.  

"Last week, a young girl wrote to ask me why aren't there any women on our currency," Barack Obama said during the speech, the Post reported. "And then she gave me like a long list of possible women to put on our dollar bills and quarters and stuff, which I thought was a pretty good idea."

However, the decision of who goes on the bill (if there is any change at all) lies with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, whose office received congressional authority to choose the designs on paper currency in 1862. According to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the portraits currently on all paper currency have been in place since 1929.

Tubman is a particularly good pick for several reasons. After escaping from slavery in 1849, Tubman became one of the nation's most prominent abolitionists. She personally helped lead between 50 and 300 slaves in daring escapes from Southern slave-owners via the Underground Railroad and assisted countless others. Tubman also became the only woman to plan and lead a major military raid during the Civil War in June 1863, when she led a small Union flotilla during the Raid at Combahee. Over 700 slaves escaped to the flotilla amid heavy retaliatory fire from slaveowners and Confederate soldiers.

There are several good reasons to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, but the most commonly cited justification is Jackson's role in promoting and approving the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which helped pave the way for tens of thousands of Native Americans to be forcefully expelled to the West via the "Trail of Tears." An unabashed racist who told Congress in 1833 that "[Native Americans] must necessarily yield to the force of circumstances and ere long disappear," Jackson repeatedly refused to recognize any native claim to U.S. land. Maybe it is time to make a change.

Watch the video petition below:

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Tom McKay

Tom is a staff writer at Mic, covering national politics, media, policing and the war on drugs. He is based in New York and can be reached at tmckay@mic.com.

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