Jason Nichols: Harriet Tubman belongs on $20 bill – Congress should make Trump put her there in 2020

The people whose images are emblazoned on our currency are supposed to be those who have contributed to our society and made us the great nation that we are today. However, everyone pictured on U.S. paper money is an elite white man.

Recognizing that the majority of Americans are not part of that demographic, the U.S. Treasury Department announced in 2016 that it planned to replace President Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill with an extraordinary and courageous black woman who embodied America’s ideals – Harriet Tubman.

Under Treasury Department plans, Jackson – who was a slaveholder – would remain on the back of the $20 bill. Tubman – who was born into slavery but escaped and then led others to freedom – would be pictured on the front of the bill.


Plans called for the Treasury Department to begin printing $20 bills with Tubman’s likeness in 2020. The timing was designed to honor the enactment of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote. In addition to fighting for the preservation of the United States, the abolition of slavery and equal rights for African-Americans, Tubman worked to help women gain voting rights.

All seemed to be going well with plans to integrate our currency until Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced May 22 that the new bill featuring Tubman likely wouldn’t be printed until 2028.

Mnuchin said the delay was necessary to give designers time to put new security features into the redesigned $20. Speed, apparently, is not one of the strengths of the designers.

Somehow, Mnuchin announced that redesigned $50 and $100 bills would come out beforehand.

President Trump earlier expressed opposition to replacing Andrew Jackson – his favorite president – with Tubman on the $20 bill, calling the move “pure political correctness.” Trump directed that a large portrait of Jackson be hung in the Oval Office soon after taking office and has called Jackson “an amazing figure in American history.”

The delay in putting Tubman on the $20 bill prompted an angry response from Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and John Katko, R-N.Y. They called for congressional passage of the Harriet Tubman Tribute Act to require the $20 bill honoring Tubman to be redesigned by the end of 2020.

“The Administration’s decision to drag their feet and delay the redesign of the $20 until 2028 is unacceptable,” Cumming said in a statement. “Our currency must reflect the important role women, and especially women of color, have played in our nation’s history.”

There is no American in the history of our country who is a better symbol of what we say we stand for than Harriet Tubman. She was willing to die not only for her own freedom, but for the freedom of others.

There is no American in the history of our country who is a better symbol of what we say we stand for than Harriet Tubman. She was willing to die not only for her own freedom, but for the freedom of others.

Of course, as well all know, the Founding Fathers (no Founding Mothers allowed) conspicuously denied women equal rights with men. And the founders consigned black people to subhuman status – allowing people who look like me to be bought, sold and owned as if they were cattle, pigs or horses.

The truth is that Tubman was truer to American ideals than our slaveholding so-called founders and early leaders – among them, Andrew Jackson.

Tubman represents bravery, patriotism and a commitment to liberty. She overcame a serious disability that would qualify today as a traumatic brain injury after being beaten with a piece of iron by a cruel and cowardly overseer when she was barely a teenager.

Tubman was abused by slaveholders throughout her childhood. It was through true grit that she freed herself and hundreds of others, guiding enslaved people in the dead of night to freedom on what became known as the Underground Railroad. She was called Moses because she guided her people to escape bondage for freedom, just as the biblical figure did.

Tubman lived a life of service, including risking her life to work with the U.S. military as a spy and scout against the insurgent Confederacy during the Civil War. She was the first woman in American history to lead a military raid, which resulted in the liberation of 700 enslaved people in South Carolina.

Most importantly, Tubman’s life was spent advocating for and protecting the most vulnerable. Even when she retired on a plot of land in upstate New York, she took in less fortunate families and helped care for them.

Andrew Jackson could not be more different from Tubman.

When one looks at President Trump’s history, it’s understandable why he resists efforts to put Harriet Tubman onto the $20 bill and instead prefers his hero Andrew Jackson.

Jackson held an estimated 300 Africans in slavery during his life, between his cotton-producing Tennessee plantation and one in Mississippi. He was known to have enslaved people whipped simply to make them work harder and be more productive.

Jackson put advertisements in newspapers for runaways to be caught and brutally punished. He bought and sold enslaved Africans, which undoubtedly separated parents from children and husbands from wives.

Jackson is also infamous for signing the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which precipitated the Trail of Tears and led to the widespread division of families. Over 4,000 of 15,000 Cherokees who were forced off their land east of the Mississippi River died as they were required to march to Oklahoma and endured hunger, disease and exhaustion.

President Jackson was also known for paying very little attention to Congress and sharply criticizing lawmakers who opposed him. Remind you of anyone?

President Trump has long defended monuments to slaveholders, without regard to the brutality of the institution or the individual, or the feelings of black Americans whose ancestors were enslaved. He has reportedly used an expletive – “s---hole countries” – to describe the nations of Africa.

As a disabled black female war veteran, Tubman was a member of groups that have all drawn criticism from our current president.

Trump has had harsh words for some African-Americans, describing them as “low-IQ” individuals. He has criticized some women for their looks, calling them “dogs” and “pigs.” He mocked a disabled reporter while campaigning for the White House. The president, who never served in the military, has praise for veterans as a group but continues to criticize some – most notably, deceased senator and war hero John McCain.

Furthermore, Harriett Tubman broke the law by escaping slavery and freeing others who were enslaved. She illegally led them to states where slavery was not allowed in search of better lives.

Trump has made a crusade of railing against people fleeing poverty and persecution who come to the U.S. in violation of the law. He has said they are “invading” our country and include rapists, murderers, drug dealers and other criminals in their ranks.

Harriet Tubman’s gift to America and the world was that she recognized that men and women had certain inalienable rights – even if this country did not yet recognize them as having any human rights because of the color of their skin.

Despite all of her service to her country and humanity, Harriet Tubman – like many veterans – was always financially insecure. She obviously was never paid when she was enslaved on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and struggled financially from then on. Putting her face on U.S. currency would be a statement that unpaid black people held in slavery are owed a great debt of gratitude by our nation.

It’s understandable why Trump is much more enamored of Andrew Jackson than Harriet Tubman. The similarities between the two presidents far exceed any similarities between Trump and Tubman.


But it’s long past time for women and African-Americans to be recognized for their many contributions to America since the days when we were a collection of 13 British colonies.

Reps. Cummings and Katko are right. Harriet Tubman belongs on the $20 bill in 2020. By all rights, she should have been on our currency long ago.