American icons and bygones: Tubman takes center stage on $20 bill, Jackson moved to the back


As Americans we tend to view our founding fathers as the primary embodiment of our country’s ideals. But the United States we live in today was not made solely by the white men who have traditionally held prominence in this country. Rather, the United States has been molded by all those who have struggled to shape better lives for themselves and their fellow Americans. Our country belongs to all of us, and it should reflect all of us.

On April 20, US Secretary of Treasury Jacob Lew announced the release of a newly designed 20 dollar bill featuring Harriet Tubman, an African American woman and American icon famous for helping slaves escape to freedom through the underground railroad after she herself fled from slavery. The bill, which will begin circulation in 2020, will still feature former president Andrew Jackson, though he will be moved to the back of the bill.

As of now, there are 12 US bills in existence. All feature wealthy white men in government, and all but three feature past presidents. Our currency has always been a stronghold for this skewed representation of Americans. US bills may preserve our history, but only a sliver of a rich and multi-faceted past.

American icons including Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr. and Susan B Anthony will also be added to the reverse sides of the five and 10 dollar bills. By adding these changes to the bill, Secretary of Treasury Jacob Lew is creating a wider perspective of our past and bringing to light a more complete representation of the American dream.

Of course, there is some opposition to moving Jackson from the front of the 20, a place he has held in our currency since 1928. Those who are against the remaking of the bill claim that this move for reform is only a product of a society steeped in political correctness, and that Jacob Lew’s motivation for remaking the bill is only to placate the masses.

Jackson may have had some triumphs in his time, but he has also had his share of atrocities. He is now often regarded as the president who owned slaves and implemented the Indian Removal Act, which led to the displacement and death of thousands of Native Americans. Our country will move forward in accordance with how its citizens emulate the values of their forebears and view their collective past. Harriet Tubman may have been a woman of color and not a woman of wealth, but that is not what qualifies her to be on the 20 dollar bill. She will be placed there because she unequivocally embodies the broader American values of freedom and diligence more than Jackson ever could.   

If the goal of the United States is truly to be a home for all those seeking the American dream, then the connection between wealth, power, and the white man must be altered to show people that the American dream is within reach for all.

We as Americans hold our founding fathers as titans. However, we often forget the people who built our nation who represent the “other” : the female, the poor, the persons of color. The persons born unlike our founding fathers are just as important to the legacy of the United States, no matter their sex or class or skin. They are part of our shared American identity, and they deserve the equal representation in our currency that they’ve been denied.