Harriet Tubman and the $20 Bill

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Editor’s Note: Bringing you another perspective and another guest blogger. This piece was originally the author’s Facebook post regarding the conversations surrounding the announcement that Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the $20. Thank you Froianna!

By Froianna

I’ve seen people critical of putting [Harriet] Tubman on money because money is bad and was used to oppress her people. I’ve also see people complain that this is a token gesture. And of course there are the people who think this is just PC run amok. And I think all of the miss the point as to why the Women on the 20 movement started, and when discussing this, it is important to remember this started as a movement among the people, this is not something the treasury did out of the goodness of their hearts. A lot of pressure was put on them by a group of women to start putting women on 20s. We had to fight to get this little bit of recognition. And there were good reasons for fighting for it.

And the reason is because we have been written out of history. Women have a rich history of contributing to the US, but you wouldn’t know that by reading school history books. People who are immersed in reading history, like me, might find it shocking that the average person doesn’t know who Harriet Tubman was, or Jane Addams, or Wanda Mankiller, or Ida B. Wells. I was talking to Andy about this and he said he’d had no idea who Harriet Tubman was until news about the new 20 came out, and he was blown away by her life.

For liberal progressives immersed in history this can seem shallow. But change starts with knowledge and acknowledgement that wrongs were done, which considering how whitewashed school history is, has not been happening.

And the consequences of not knowing about the contributions of these woman, many of whom are minorities, is a popular perception that woman and minorities haven’t contributed to the US. I sought these stories out as a girl because it was important to me to have stories of heroic women. Other girls may not have a mother who knows history or an idea of where to start and might miss on this crucial history. It can be devastating to girls like me who are trying to figure out who they and and who they want to be to think that women haven’t been influential in this country. And even doubly so because they have, they just haven’t gotten the spotlight.

It’s also bad for white boys to think that people of other genders and colors haven’t contributed. Hence why we have efforts to acknowledge these heroines derided as “PC.”

Whether or not money is the root of all evil is debatable, but it’s something we handle each day. Kids see a face on the bills and figure that that person must have done something important to get on there. But when it’s only white men, they conclude only white men have done things worthy of getting on the money, which is a problem. When they see women and minorities, they start to appreciate that women have contributed, that black people have contributed, that Hispanic people have contributed, that Native Americans have contributed.

When kids see women and minorities also being honored on money, they realize that the US truly is a vast nation that differing groups of people have made a contribution to.

Harriet Tubman is a poignant and inspiring figure. Considering in Texas there is a movement to whitewash slavery, to say that people who were enslaved were happy and content with their lot, Harriet Tubman challenges that narrative. If the slaves where so happy, then why did she escape? And then risk her life over and over again to help others escape? Tubman needs to be a visible historical figure because she threatens the dangerous ideas that slavery was not that bad and the Civil War was just about states’ rights.

No, it’s not reparations and it is a symbolic gesture. It’s not going to make everything ok. It was not supposed to. It’s about education. It’s about having role models that are women and minorities. It’s about young girls seeing that they live in a nation were their foremother’s contributions were recognized and appreciated.


A little more about Froianna: I am a second generation feminist, working hard to instill values of equality among genders and races among my two children. Professionally I am a counselor. Learn more about me at https://froianna.wordpress.com/

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