By Lauren Victoria Burke (NNPA News Wire Contributor)
On April 20, the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced that Harriet Tubman will be on the $20. Several members of the Congressional Black Caucus spoke to the NNPA News Wire about the historic tribute to Tubman.
One of the most important heroes in American history, Harriet Tubman was an abolitionist and spy for the Union Army and a leader of the Underground Railroad. The “railroad” was a network of abolitionists, activists and other associates created in the early 1800s and utilized until shortly before the Civil War to lead an estimated 100,000 Blacks out of slavery. Tubman was born into slavery in Maryland and escaped to Philadelphia in 1849. Starting with her relatives, she traveled by night to guide people to northern free states and into Canada. She would later become involved in the women’s suffrage movement. Tubman died in 1913 in upstate New York.
“It is so fitting and appropriate that this woman, this fighter, this warrior for freedom be on the $20 bill,” legendary civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) told the NNPA News Wire as he walked off the House floor after voting on April 20.
“I’m going to start carrying more twenties now,” a happy Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) told the NNPA News Wire when asked about the Tubman recognition. “It’s appropriate. I think it shows how times are changing and evolving. We’re reaching back in history to grab some people who made the world a better place. She’s certainly deserving,” Richmond added.
“I’m straight out of Racine, Wisconsin the place where the runaway slaves went so I think she is a dynamic heroine for all Americans,” said Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wisc.). “Long overdue, long overdue. I am so proud,” added Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).
“The good news is that Harriet Tubman never owned slaves. I think that distinguishes her from a number of the other much heralded American heroes,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) with a smile and a touch of sarcasm regarding the decision.
Treasury Secretary Lew also announced changes to other denominations. The reverse side of the new $10 bill will feature the historic suffrage movement and honor Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Alice Paul. Lew also announced plans for the reverse of the new $5 bill to honor Marian Anderson, Eleanor Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr.
“The fact that this will be the first person of color is tremendous and that it will be a female is even more noteworthy,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) told the NNPA News Wire on April 20, “I was one of the folks who went on the letter that started the whole process,” Thompson added. “I’m excited about that.”
Thompson signed a letter dated July 30, 2015 to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew asking that a woman be featured on the $20 instead of the first proposed $10 bill. The letter got the ball rolling in what would become the decision to chose Harriet Tubman for the $20 bill.
Black Caucus member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) joined Republican Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) in 2015 to introduce the Harriet Tubman Tribute Act to require the Secretary of the Treasury “to place Harriet Tubman’s likeness on a Federal Reserve Note by 2017. It would appear with last week’s announcement that someone at Treasury was listening.
In his open letter regarding the currency changes, Treasury Secretary Lew stated that “the Bureau of Engraving and Printing will work closely with the Federal Reserve to accelerate work on the new $20 and $5 notes, with the goal that all three new notes go into circulation as quickly as possible, consistent with security requirements.”
Lauren Victoria Burke is a political analyst and contributing writer for NNPA News Wire. Burke also speaks on politics and African American leadership. She can be contacted at LBurke007@gmail.com and on twitter at @LVBurke.