5 reasons why Harriet Tubman is the first black person featured on the 20 dollar bill

Yesterday, the US Treasury Department announced that black abolitionist leader, Harriet Tubman, often referred to as the Underground Railroad Conductor, will feature on front of the 20 dollar bill, replacing Andrew Jackson, whose photo will be relegated to the back of the bill. The decision follows a viral online campaign by ‘Women on 20s’ calling for a notable American woman to appear on the US currency.

‘Women on 20s’ received more than half a million votes in their online poll for a choice of 15 American women, including Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt and Rosa Parks. As it is, Tubman has emerged the top choice of the US Treasury Department for a good number of reasons.

She devoted her life to racial equality

Tubman played a key role in the fight to abolish slavery in America and, as such, is a symbol of equality in the country. Born a slave, Tubman worked as a house servant in her early years and later, in the fields. Once, she ran away from the plantation where she worked for fear of being sold, but returned a year later to free members of her family, thus began her life, finding other slaves seeking freedom and helping them escape.

In a space of 10 years, Tubman risked her life 19 times, embarking on trips to and from the South to free slaves through a network of abolitionists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad, earning her the nickname, “Moses.”

She represents the ideals of American democracy

In announcing the changes to be made to the US currency, Treasury Secretary, Jack Lew, described Tubman’s story as “the essential story of American democracy.” According to him, a lot of what is believed to have changed for the better in America, “is reflected in what she struggled for.”

In what could be described as a juxtaposition of the best and worst of American ideals, Tubman will share the $20 dollar bill with Andrew Jackson, America’s seventh president who, is praised by some for his fight for America’s independence, is also widely criticised for being a slave owner who fought against slave abolition, and for forcing the displacement of thousands of Native Americans.

Tubman represents the achievements of women in American history

One of the major arguments over the redesigning of the dollar bill has been on how the currency will recognise the role of women and minorities in American history. It is said that in her late 80’s, Tubman was an outspoken activist for women’s right to vote. Therefore, along with the image of the 1913 march for women’s suffrage that will be featured on the 10 dollar bill, the image of Tubman on the 20 dollar bill also serve as good representation of the role of women in American history.

Tubman won the most votes

Of the 15 women featured in the online poll, Tubman received the most votes as stated by the ‘Women on 20’ group, “Secretary Lew’s choice of the freed slave and freedom fighter, Harriet Tubman, to one day feature on the $20 note is an exciting one, especially given that she emerged as the choice of more than half a million voters in our online poll last Spring.”

Although this latest announcement by the US Treasury Department is met with a lot of excitement, it has also sparked several debates as per its reflection on how America’s history is to be told or remembered and on the changing dynamics within the American society. According to YahooNews, Both Tubman and Jackson symbolise victory, but over different kinds of oppression. While Jackson represented freedom for the poor white man, Tubman fought for both the freedom of African Americans, and others.

Her victory “indicates both the progress and the challenges still faced in American society…and how Americans now want to remember the history of the Civil War,” said Catherine Clinton, author of the biography “Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom.”

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