Harriet Tubman currency decision seen as slight to women of color for some in Northwest Indiana


Harriet Tubman will just have to wait to appear on the $20 bill, though the decision, by U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, leaves some area residents dumbfounded.

Andrew Jackson, the nation’s seventh president, currently graces the bill. Former Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, who served in the Obama administration, made the decision to replace him with Tubman, and the Tubman redesign was initially scheduled to coincide with the 100th anniversary next year of the passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote.

Now the bill won’t be rolled out for nearly a decade.

Last month, Mnuchin said that the delay was prompted by the decision to redesign the $10 bill and the $50 bill for security reasons to make it harder for the bills to be counterfeited. Those bills will now be introduced before a redesigned $20 bill. The new bill is not expected to come out until 2028, which means a final decision for the redesign will not be announced until 2026.

That’s disappointing representatives from Northwest Indiana who see the decision as a slight against women, and women of color in particular.

“It was such a day of celebration, a time of celebration, when President Obama announced Harriet Tubman would be featured on a $20 bill,” said Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, adding she thought it was a great decision because it would open up conversations about who Tubman was.

“It’s a long time now with really no good reason,” she continued. “I think it’s a slap in the face to history and everything she represented,” including women and African-Americans.

Tubman, who was born on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, escaped from slavery to become a leading abolitionist and helped other slaves escape through the Underground Railroad.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, has urged Mnuchin to reconsider the delay because of Tubman’s many achievements, and said in a letter to Mnuchin that Tubman dedicated her life to “selfless service to others and to the cause of freedom.”

“Her unbelievable acts of heroism, courage, and sacrifice have more than earned her rightful place among our nation’s most pivotal leaders. She deserves this honor,” Hogan wrote.

The change, Freeman-Wilson said, is an easy gesture and a symbol, but a significant one.

“Who argues with this? Who says, ‘I don’t want to see Harriet Tubman on a $20 bill’?” she said. “It’s unfortunate. We have to do better. We absolutely have to do better.”

Every denomination of U.S. paper currency has a man’s face on it because men were in the room making the decision, said Julie Storbeck, president of the Northwest Indiana chapter of the National Organization for Women.

She derided President Donald Trump’s suggestion to put Tubman on the $2 bill instead.

“If it takes 12 years to change the picture on the $20 bill but you can change the picture on the $2 bill in two seconds, something else is going on here,” she said, adding it’s an attempt to erase Obama’s entire legacy.

Despite the fact that women, including women of color, are half the population of this country, Storbeck said, they don’t appear in this country’s history or on its paper currency.

“Of course there needs to be a woman there and Harriet Tubman makes sense,” she said, adding Tubman’s legacy went beyond the Underground Railroad. “She was a spy during the Civil War. She led a spy network. She wasn’t just one person. Se was an escaped (slave) who went into Confederate territory and recruited people to work for the Union Army. Who does that?”

Tubman, Storbeck said, deserves to be the face not just put out to the country but to the world on the $20 bill.

U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Gary, also weighed in on the matter.

"I am disheartened by the current Administration’s action to prolong the rightful recognition of an American hero who embodies the strength, hope, and conviction of our nation, and who selflessly led the fight for women’s and racial equality," he said in a statement to the Post-Tribune.