After less than a week in office, President Joe Biden is speeding up previously stalled efforts to place the portrait of abolitionist and Underground Railroad leader Harriet Tubman on the front of the $20 bill.
On the front of the bills, Tubman’s portrait would replace former President Andrew Jackson, a slave owner. His image would remain on the back, according to the designs being floated. The designs were in the loop before Donald Trump was elected.
The initiative to have Tubman on the bill was launched during the Barack Obama administration. Trump, who has been vocal in his admiration for Jackson, pushed the effort back. Now Biden, who served as Obama’s vice president, is bringing it back to life.
“I was here when we announced that,” Biden said about the stalled initiative, according to a New York Times report. “It was very exciting and hasn’t moved forward yet, which we would have been surprised to learn at the time. The Treasury Department is taking steps to resume efforts to put Harriet Tubman on the front of the new $20 notes. It’s important that our notes … reflect the history and diversity of our country. And Harriet Tubman’s image gracing the new $20 note would certainly reflect that. So we’re exploring ways to speed up that effort. But any specifics would, of course, come from the Department of Treasury.”
There was major excitement in 2016 when the initiative was announced, and some controversy later over Tubman being chosen as the first Black person to appear on a U.S. note.
Former TV judge Joe Brown, an accomplished U.S. lawyer, said he believes that a Black man is more deserving of being pictured on the $20 bill than Harriet Tubman.
But now Black America seems to be fatigued. On social media, many called for more concrete action such as reparations.
“WE DON’T NEED MORE SYMBOLISM, WE NEED REPARATIONS FOR ADOS!!!! Ya’ll make my head hurt,” one person tweeted.
“Why are we Constantly getting these small gestures over actual policy?” Reparations for ADOS now tweeted. “This isn’t doing any uplifting or advocating for the advancement of Black people. This is an outrage! We are tired. Do you see that we are not advancing in tech not advancing in health! Stop this!”
Another added, “Looks like more bait and switch from the Biden administration. They will put Mrs. Tubman on the $20.00 bill and say look what we did for ADOS / Black Americans. Then call it reparations. Just like $1400.00 checks look like $2000.00 checks”
Several on Twitter thought putting her on a $20 bill was an insult to Tubman. “Harriet would prefer that we get our 40 acres with due interest rather than her face on a paltry twenty dollar bill. Physical currency will be obsolete very soon. I don’t remember the last time I actually had $ in hand. This is not an honor; rather an insult to her legacy!”
“This is not great news to me,” Critical Side Eye, EdD tweeted. “REPARATIONS is the only great news that a Black politician could possibly deliver right now. I respectfully & wholeheartedly REJECT this type symbolism, given the wealth position of Black Americans that descend from chattel slavery, as Harriet did.”
Others said they thought such an acknowledgment has value. “An argument and I hear you, but to me, it’s about EVERYONE having to think about the legacy we’ve had in this nation, the good and ugly. Kids have to ask: who is this? I don’t know if I associate people on bills with capitalism but I do know who they all are.”
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White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the Treasury Department will speed up the process of adding Tubman’s portrait to the front of the $20 bill.
No women have been depicted on U.S. bills since former first lady Martha Washington was featured on the $1 silver certificate from 1891 to 1896. Native American Pocahontas was part of a group image on the $20 bill from 1865 to 1869, Reuters reported.
Other women, including Native American interpreter Sacagawea, suffragist Susan B. Anthony, and author Helen Keller have been featured on U.S. coins.
“Harriet Tubman deserves to be ‘where the money resides!’” the NAACP tweeted.