It’s Official: Harriet Tubman on $20 Bill

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Alexander Hamilton to Stay on Front of $10

By Hubert Walker for CoinWeek ....
 

In an announcement made this afternoon, Secretary of the Treasury Jacob "Jack" Lew officially gave word that he has decided to place abolitionist and former slave Harriet Tubman on the front of the $20 federal reserve note after all, replacing president and slaveholder Andrew Jackson. The announcement had been expected since the end of last week, when it became known that Secretary Lew had reversed his earlier decision to place a prominent American woman on the $10 federal reserve note alongside Hamilton.

The $10 bill was chosen because legally it is next in line for a redesign, and the counterfeiting of $10 bills necessitated a revamping of its security features.

This, of course, was not what the grassroots Women on 20s organization was after when it originally launched its social media campaign to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with a woman in time for the 2020 centennial of women gaining the undisputed right to vote in the United States. By May 2015, an important American woman was chosen by popular vote on the internet.

After over 600,000 votes were tallied, Harriet Tubman was selected out of a field of 15, including such luminaries as first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

Lew's announcement today reaffirms in part the group's initial idea, but delays the release of the Tubman $20 note until 2030 - a full decade after the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

Presumably, the Treasury Secretary saw his first decision as a compromise between legal restrictions binding the Department of the Treasury to a specific course of action and wanting to extend the Obama Administration's goodwill towards women in general and women's groups like Women on 20s in particular. He was most likely not prepared for the backlash from fans of the Founding Father--especially those inspired by the surprise hit Broadway musical Hamilton, who identify with Hamilton's multiracial and multicultural "rags to riches" story. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the show's writer and one-time star, even met with Lew at the White House to personally lobby for Hamilton to remain on the ten.

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Which is where he will stay for the foreseeable future. The back of the new design, however, will feature several other prominent women as part of a mural honoring the fight for civil rights in this country. Susan B. Anthony's name has cropped up in discussions of who this might include.

New designs for the $10 and $20--as well as for the $5--will not be finalized and revealed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing until the year 2020. The notes will then be issued over the course of the subsequent decade.
 

For more about the debate over the new designs, listen to CoinWeek Editor Charles Morgan's interview with Barbara Ortiz Howard, founder of Women on 20s, on the latest episode of the CoinWeek Podcast.

 


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