Harriet Tubman didn’t take no for an answer.
When an enslaved runaway would get scared during an escape attempt, the 19th century abolitionist would whip out her pistol and explain that there was no turning back.
We shouldn’t turn back either. Nor should we allow efforts by the Trump administration to slow walk the redesign of the $20 bill to include an image of Tubman’s face.
But that’s what’s happening, judging by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s testimony last week before a House financial services committee, in which he claimed the project had been pushed back to 2028 because of security concerns and other priorities.
But Trump has been clear about what he thinks of moving Andrew Jackson to the back of the $20 bill and adding Tubman to the front. He calls it “pure political correctness.”
I call it putting history in context.
Jackson was a white supremacist who not only owned hundreds of slaves, but his record on Native Americans also was abysmal. While serving as this nation’s seventh president, he signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which led to the forced relocation of thousands of Native Americans from their land in the Southeast to make room for white settlers.
Tubman had been enslaved on a plantation in Maryland before risking her life to escape bondage. Once she was free, Tubman returned to the South multiple times to guide other enslaved Africans to freedom along the Underground Railroad.
“I find this a direct affront, not only to Afro-Americans but to women,” said State Rep. Rosita Youngblood (D., Phila.) on Tuesday. “What really bothered me is nobody has spoken out and been outraged about this situation.”
Some folks aren’t waiting. Dano Wall is making Harriet Tubman stamps and selling them on Etsy.com for $20. Consumers can use them to ink Tubman’s face onto $20 bills themselves. There are currently 12,000 people on a wait list for the product and Wall told me that he’s making more as fast as he can. And no, it’s not illegal to stamp U.S. currency as long as it’s not for advertising and the denomination isn’t obscured.
“People can get in touch with their congressional delegation, especially the Black Caucus, and let them know how outraged they are about this,” Youngblood pointed out. “I don’t know if that will change Donald Trump’s mind-set, but it’ll let him know that this now has the attention of the people in this nation.”
“If I had not been watching MSNBC, I wouldn’t have known. If I didn’t know, the everyday person isn’t aware of this,” she said of Mnuchin’s testimony.
I thanked her for reaching out to me about this issue. It’s something I had been watching and had been quietly seething about.
In light of everything else that’s going on, modernizing the $20 bill may seem like a small thing. But it’s another example of how the Trump administration signals to his base where his priorities and allegiances lie.
Our job is to agitate. We need to sign petitions. Alert our representatives. Write letters and make sure the Trump administration knows that we’re paying attention and we see the inaction on this issue for what it is.
And when we get tired of doing all of that and feel hopeless, we need to stop and ask ourselves: What would Tubman do? That should be motivation enough to keep going.