*Remember when there were plans to put Harriet Tubman’s face on the front of the $20 bill?
It was more than five years ago when news broke that the famed abolitionist and activist would replace former President Andrew Jackson as the new face of the $20. As it stands now, Jackson still occupies the $20. And Tubman’s family is making it known how disappointed they are that more of an effort has not been taken to honor Tubman in this way.
“Our family has three nonagenarians — Women in their 90’s,” Michele Jones Galvin, Tubman’s great-great-great-grand-niece, told Spectrum News. “When this was talked about right out of the gate in the Biden Administration, they thought it would happen in their lifetime. We are hoping that is done.”
The journey to having a Harriet Tubman $20 bill started on April 20, 2016, when then-Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced in an open letter to the American people that Tubman would be the first woman to have her face on the front of U.S. currency, replacing Jackson.
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Tubman, a former slave, is best known for her work in freeing slaves by helping to ferry dozens of slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad.
The switch from Jackson to Tubman was supposed to happen in 2020 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.
So what happened?
According to Spectrum News, the Obama administration’s efforts to make the switch happen were halted by the Trump administration. Former President Donald Trump made no secret of his opposition to the move, calling it “pure political correctness” during an interview on the campaign trail in April 2016.
“Well, Andrew Jackson had a great history, and I think it’s very rough when you take somebody off the bill,” then-candidate Trump said in an interview with NBC News. “I think Harriet Tubman is fantastic, but I would love to leave Andrew Jackson or see if we can maybe come up with another denomination.”
Fast forward to 2020, with then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin saying a new $20 bill would not be released until at least 2030. Mnuchin ultimately put the task in the hands of a future Treasury chief who would he said would make a decision about putting Tubman on the bill.
From there, Congressional Democrats called foul, triggering an investigation from the Treasury Department’s internal watchdog. Despite the outcry and investigation, the probe found no evidence of wrongdoing by Mnuchin.
In January, the issue of the Tubman $20 resurfaced. At the time, the Biden Administration said it would look into ways to accelerate the effort to get Tubman on the $20.
“The Treasury Department is taking steps to resume efforts to put Harriet Tubman on the front of the new $20 notes,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a press briefing on Jan. 25, 2021. “It’s important that our money reflect the history and diversity of our country.”
At this time, 11 months later, it is unclear where those efforts stand.“Biden has offered to put that into process and it has not happened. The family is really disappointed with it. We don’t know what’s taking the time,” a frustrated Galvin said.
“Our thought is, if, in fact, you can send man to the moon, and you can do all kinds of things, we should have the technical ability, and the technical expertise to do what needs to be done,” she added.
In a statement to Spectrum News, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing said that there is “no change to the expected for [the bill’s] 2030 release date.”
The spokesperson cited security against counterfeiting as the basis for redesigning currency. The $20 is third in line to be redesigned, behind the $10 bill and $50 bill, respectively.
“The $50, $20, $5, and $100 notes will follow the $10 for redesign, pending any new developments in counterfeiting threats or technology issues,” the spokesperson said. “The $20 note has been the third denomination slated for redesign since 2013.”
Tubman’s family is not alone with their frustration over the $20 bill issue. Lawmakers are also fed up with the delay, as New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen voiced to the Washington Post in an interview earlier this year.
If we can put a helicopter on Mars, we ought to be able to design a $20 bill in less than 20 years,” Sen. Shaheen said. “It’s all about commitment.”
“If they want to get it done sooner, they can,” New York Rep. John Katko, a Republican, told Spectrum News. “They just need to prioritize it.”
For more details surrounding the lack of action on the Harriet Tubman $20 bill, click here.