"When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven."
—Harriet Tubman, on crossing into the free state of Pennsylvania
There are 274 American women influencers on perhaps the most stunning list of runners-up ever compiled in one place. Some of the women on the Department of Treasury's website were familiar to me (Madame C.J. Walker, Dorothy Parker, Sacagawea) while many of them were not (Ellen Swallow Richards, Rebecca Crumpler). If you have some time to spare, this inspiring list—the culmination of "a robust national conversation" begun by the Treasury last year as it considered which historical woman would be the face of the redesigned $10 bill—is one rabbit hole worth scampering down. I'm already using it as a jumping off point for teaching my daughter and myself a little history. Cue the pre-teen eye roll.
But like I said, this killer compilation includes those who didn't make the cut to be the new face of American currency. Last week, it was announced that Alexander Hamilton would remain on the front of the ten-spot, thanks in no small part to Lin-Manuel Miranda's Pulitzer Prize-wining hip-hop musical, Hamilton, which is on repeat in my home and in my car and in my office. The back of the to-be-redesigned $10 bill, however, will include Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul, all key players in the suffragist movement.
It's not exactly surprising, that five women would crowd the back side instead of the front, considering we still don't earn wages equal to the menfolk. We've got to take our wins where we can get them, I suppose.
The new $10 currency is scheduled to make its debut in 2020, on the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. I hope my heart holds out for me to see the day. Even more exciting is the debut of the new $20 bill in 2030 (why it should take so long is not even a question I'll ask), because (drum roll)...
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced last week that Harriet Tubman has been chosen to replace Andrew Jackson's as the face of the twenty. And she will not be on the back. Harriet Tubman—former slave, leading abolitionist, Union spy and badass—is gonna Rosa Parks that paper and take her place right up front.
Now, if you're not familiar with said badass-ery, there is no shortage of literature to educate. I recently heard from friends, though, that most people don't read anymore. If you fall into this category, if you only have a six-minute attention span, if you need humor to soften the blow of the pain, then I point you to Crissle West's Drunk History episode: "Harriet Tubman Leads an Army of Bad Bitches." Trust me when I tell you to Google that straight away. (Crissle forevah!)
Without question, it is long past time for such changes, and the Treasury Department should be applauded for making it rain women, but particularly Tubman. I mean, a black woman on the front of the $20? Yaaaaaassss!
And yet. (There is no pleasing me.)
We, the people, should push back against what seems to be the establishment's attempt at fair and balanced. In other words, powerful white dudes making sure to protect the delicate feelers of the not-so-powerful white masses.
The treasury has managed to miss the mark here. Like the suffragettes on the back of the $10 bill, slave owner and Indian killer Andrew "Sharp Knife" Jackson will not disappear from the money that bears his face. Instead, he will be relegated to the backside of the Tubman Twenty.
Just to make it plain, Jackson was deemed by Indian Country Today as the number-one worst U.S. President. And they have a point. The Indian Removal Act—which dislocated tens of thousands of native people, resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands more, and redistributed more than 25,000 acres of land for plantations—was Jackson's baby.
"In his brutal military campaigns against Indians, Andrew Jackson recommended that troops systematically kill Indian women and children after massacres in order to complete the extermination," according to the website Unsettling America. "His frontier warfare and subsequent 'negotiations' opened up much of the southeast U.S. to settler colonialism."
Jackson's wealth was directly linked to his ownership of slaves who worked the Hermitage, his massive plantation, and it is estimated that he owned upward of 300 slaves during the course of his lifetime. Of course, apologists claim that he was a "humane slave owner," given that he provided tools for them to hunt and fish, provided housing and allowed the women to have children. Super generous of the dude who also whipped his slaves and advertised rewards for those who escaped. Did I mention he owned human beings like Harriet Tubman who escaped the life of slavery into which she was born?
To quote Crissle, "Gawd! Black people have been through so much shit."
So yah, this guy is going to be looking over Tubman's shoulder. With a list of 273 other influential, powerful, groundbreaking women, one would think the Treasury could come up with a better solution.
Or just put Prince on the back and call it a day.