Who is Harriet Tubman and why is she on my $20 bill?

April 20, 2016

What’s happened?

The $20 bill is getting a facelift and long-dead U.S. President Andrew Jackson will have to find a new home.

Jackson’s likeness (complete with well-coiffed hair) will soon be replaced with an image of Civil War abolitionist Harriet Tubman.

Tee-shirt vendor Casildo Caballero looks at the new $20 bill in New York, October 9, 2003 after federal officials spent the first one buying three shirts from him, in Times Square. The first U.S. currency note with colors in it other than green and black went into circulation on Thursday and in a nationwide promotion billed "The New Color of Money: Safer, Smarter, More Secure" government officials said the newly-designed $20 note with subtle background shades of green, peach and blue would be more difficult to counterfeit. REUTERS/Chip East CME/GN - RTR4LH8

Tee-shirt vendor Casildo Caballero looks at the $20 bill in New
York, October 9, 2003. REUTERS/Chip East


But who is Harriet Tubman?

Tubman was an anti-slavery crusader best known for her role as a ‘conductor’ of the Underground Railroad.

This was a network of helpers, safe houses and secret paths that allowed many slaves to escape to ‘free states’ in the 1850s.

Born into slavery in 1822 on a Maryland plantation, Tubman grew up working in the cotton fields.

She escaped in her late 20s – and then returned approximately 13 times, ferrying more than 70 enslaved African Americans to freedom.

In the U.S. Civil War, she supported the Union forces as a scout, spy and nurse.

Anti-slavery crusader Harriet Tubman is seen in a picture from the Library of Congress taken photographer H.B. Lindsley between 1860 and 1870.  The U.S. Treasury has decided to replace former President Andrew Jackson with Tubman on the U.S. $20 bill, and will put leaders of the women's suffrage movement on the back of $10 bill, Politico reported on Wednesday.  REUTERS/Library of Congress/Handout via Reuters  THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - RTX2AVQ2

Anti-slavery crusader Harriet Tubman is seen in a picture from the Library of Congress taken by photographer H.B. Lindsley between 1860 and 1870. REUTERS/Library of Congress/Handout via Reuters


Why is she on the $20 bill?

Tubman is regarded as one of the United States’ leading abolitionists, struggling for civil rights and the end of slavery and putting her own life at risk time and again. President Barack Obama called her an ‘”American hero,” in a 2013 proclamation that created the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument.

The decision to put Tubman on the bill comes after a long debate. The Treasury originally said that a woman take over the $10 bill from founding father Alexander Hamilton, but Hamilton’s growing celebrity status — due largely to a Broadway musical about his life — propelled an effort to keep him there.

The $10 bill will now stay unchanged and Tubman’s $20 will be the first U.S. paper currency wearing a female face in more than a century.


And if that isn’t enough, her recruitment is served up with a helping of cosmic justice

Twitter users shared an anecdote from Tubman’s first biographer Sarah Hopkins Bradford.

In Bradford’s story, Tubman asked a prominent abolitionist for funds to rescue her father, who was on trial for helping slaves to escape. When she was refused, Tubman staged a sit-in to raise the money.

The sum she was after? Twenty U.S. dollars.


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