Who's on Your Money?
By: Parker Olsen
In the first week of the new presidency the Biden Administration announced that it will be working on ways to speed up the change of the 20 dollar bill; their release goal is in 2025. During the ending of Obama’s second term it was announced that Harriet Tubman, a former slave and abolitionist, was slated to replace the 7th president, Andrew Jackson, in 2020. The change was announced during the Trump Administration to be delayed to 2028 due to what they called anti-counterfeiting efforts.
Tubman would be the second woman to be on an American bill since Martha Washington, whose bills have been out of circulation since 1957 according to Mount Vernon, and join just a handful of women to be on any American currency, as some have been on coins. She will be the first person of color on a bill. Having diversity in our money is a great move, because money should look like the country that uses it. Tubman escaped slavery and later returned as an Underground Railroad conductor, and she is credited with assisting around 70 escape slavery. In the Civil War, Tubman was one of the first black women to serve in the military, she was “a scout, spy, guerilla soldier, and nurse,” in the Union Army according to the National Women’s History Museum. She would go on to work for women’s suffrage alongside other activists such as Susan B Anthony.
Many may wonder, why does it even matter who is on the bill? Why should it need changing at all? Well there are actually a lot of reasons to change who is represented on our money, especially in today’s world of activism for social justice. “I think it would be interesting to see more faces on money such as civil rights activists or scientists,” commented Ethan Minter (12).
Tubman is scheduled to replace President Andrew Jackson, a general turned president who was notorious for his hatred of Native Americans. Jackson had signed the Indian Removal Act which would lead to the Trail of Tears, as the remaining major tribes in the east were sent to reservations. Jackson was also an opponent of The Constitution, as seen by his ignoring of a Supreme Court ruling on Georgia and how it could treat Native Americans. Due to his bad track record with Native Americans, he was nicknamed “Indian slayer.” The removal of Jackson from the 20 dollar bill is quite a good change. Minter mentioned that Jackson committed atrocities that make it very reasonable for his removal from currency.
Some are against putting Tubman on the bill because it is unlikely she would have wanted to be on money. This was a person who was a slave, people who were bought and sold as a commodity for the rich to get richer. The chances of her being proud of being on money now, in a time where African Americans still face an economic disadvantage, are rather low. She likely would not want to be a symbol of capitalism, the system that used her for profit for over a quarter of her life and used others like her for their entire lives.
Nonetheless, this change would be appreciated by most of today’s America. It’s empowering to see people that look like you in positions of power, it means you are being represented and shows that you are not alone, that you matter. The physical currency is not a real position of power, but in a society where money is a major power, money is a strong symbol of power in today’s world. Currently on the dollar bills we have all old white guys, most of which are known for being presidents. Our currency should look like America today, a very diverse group of people of all genders. The current set of bills and coins fails to do so. Changing our money to include people of color and women would be a major step toward focusing on today and could help divert from a hundred years ago when America was completely run by old white men. It’s also worth caring about who is on money because it sparks curiosity for kids who don’t already recognize the faces. We should have those on our money be people we want our youth to know about and look up to.
Most of our money has gone unchanged for quite some time, and it’s time to bring in some new faces. We could take advantage of currency’s platform to educate about women’s suffrage activists or civil rights activists, people like Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Perhaps we could even take inspiration from what other countries do with their currency by depicting scientists and poets or even cultural icons.
There is a US law that does not allow living people to be put on money so changing who is on money could be done purely for a point of teaching about impactful people in the past. This would allow for attention to be brought to a lot of famous people that you never really knew anything about. Let’s transform money into a new teaching tool and educate about people in our history that are important and whose contributions are still impactful today.
Photo Credit: The New York Times, image produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing