Making Change for a $20

Jill Murphy, YW Boston Special Projects Manager
Harriet Tubman blog (2)

On April 20th, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew announced that there will be a new face on the $20 bill. Until now, Andrew Jackson, a slaveholder and controversial President, has been the sole figure on this currency value.

In a poetic twist, this slaveholder is being booted to the back of the bill, and a former slave, Harriet Tubman, will be taking his place on the front.

This historic change is symbolic of the progress we are making as a nation. This progress, like the bill, has two sides: one to be celebrated, and one to be dismissed. What’s to be celebrated is the fact that those at the top of the change-making ladder have finally sat down and decided to put a woman of color in such a prominent place. People from all walks of life interact with the $20 bill; from senior executives to corner-store clerks and kids playing with a parent’s wallet. This exposure of a woman and person of color being featured on something as ubiquitous as paper currency creates a sense of hope that people will begin to associate women and people of color with the crucial role they have played in our history. But, if it won’t change the minds of some ignorant adults, it’s interesting to think of what this exposure will do for the next generations. Hopefully, the children who become familiar with seeing honored women and people of color as a part of our society to be respected and admired will go on to be citizens who support civil rights.

One of the reasons that people associate ‘White’ and ‘man’ with power and prominence is because they are featured prominently throughout our society. They are the faces of our currency (for now), they are the heads of our companies, the faces you see in our advertisements, and the people who create our laws. But, the former face of the $20 bill was a White man who is known for his heinous persecution of Native Americans and for owning slaves. The Black woman who has after many, many years made her way onto the bill is known for her unwavering courage in creating the Underground Railroad and also for her patriotism as a Union spy during the Civil War. This change to our currency not only represents the shift in our culture and the progress we are making to a more equitable world, but also that it’s far more important to celebrate people for their heroism than a hereditary trait such as skin color. It’s to be celebrated that Harriet Tubman, a woman of color, is getting the respect she deserves. Let’s hope our world sees more of these progressive changes in years to come.