Sorry Mr. Jackson, Tubman on the $20 is real.
To quote the great Maya Angelou, “in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” Despite America’s diversity, the faces that are prominently featured on the most popular currency in the world reflects a uniform collection of individuals that fail to represent America’s beauty or strength.
So, in 2015, I decided to do something about it, authoring the Woman on the Twenty Act, which directed the Treasury secretary to create a panel to recommend a woman be placed on the $20 bill. I didn’t stop there. I spoke out on the House floor to demand answers, and met with Treasury Department officials, including then-Secretary Jack Lew.
The Obama administration and Secretary Lew responded. Following a 10-month public engagement campaign, it was announced that Harriet Tubman would be the face of the new $20 bill and that the backs of the $5 and $10 would feature Martin Luther King, Jr. and the suffragists, respectively. In the announcement, Secretary Lew said the decision was bigger than simply who was on one bill, but that “with this decision, our currency will now tell more of our story and reflect the contributions of women as well as men to our great democracy.” The proposed timeline also guaranteed that the American public would be able to see concept designs for the new $20, $10, and $5 bills in 2020, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the 19th Amendment.
Yet, under the Trump administration, those plans abruptly changed. When asked about following through on Treasury’s well-laid plans to place Tubman on the $20 bill in a 2017 committee hearing, former Secretary Steve Mnuchin refused to commit to the redesign. No doubt afraid of catching the ire of his boss, who routinely discounted and disparaged people of color throughout his presidency. Instead, Secretary Mnuchin continually ducked and evaded addressing the matter when pressed, further claiming the decision would ultimately rest with his successor. Despite his efforts, I was persistent.
In response, I spearheaded further legislative and public affairs efforts to ensure Harriet Tubman would be the face of the newly redesigned $20. I reintroduced the Woman on the Twenty Act with a bipartisan group of more than 100 co-sponsors to require no $20 bills be printed unless Harriet Tubman was prominently featured on them. I even led a diverse group of 30 members of Congress to the very doors of Treasury to hold a press conference on the steps and protest the inaction by the previous administration, leading calls for “it’s time to put a woman on the twenty.”
But there is renewed hope for a woman on the twenty. With President Biden’s appointment of our first female Treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, coupled with the new administration’s bold plans for racial equity and the start of Black History Month next week, now is the time to press on and put a woman on the $20 bill.