Harriet Tubman on the Twenty Dollar Bill Represents a Better America

Avatar of Ellora Mookherjee-Amodt

After suffering a head injury at the hands of a slave owner, Araminta Harriet Ross, commonly known as Harriet Tubman, began to suffer from epilepsy and incredibly painful headaches. Consequently, she started having visions, which she believed were direct messages from God, telling her that it was her duty to resist the bonds of slavery and to free not only herself but her people. 

After a 80 year life span devoted to freeing enslaved African Americans, Tubman’s name was again introduced to the American consciousness. In 2015, the advocacy group Women on 20s began conducting a grassroots campaign in order to promote the replacement of Andrew Jackson on the twenty dollar bill with Tubman. The campaign brought attention to the proposal, and in 2016, the Obama administration announced their inclination to proceed with the action. During the Trump administration, however, Trump stated that to replace the seventh president of the United States would be “pure political correctness,” and dragged his feet in the process. During Biden’s presidency, it’s important that action is taken to make Tubman the new face of the twenty dollar bill in order to honor her heroism. 

The president Tubman would be replacing, Andrew Jackson, has been the subject of contentious scrutiny not only for his strong support of slavery, but his heavy impact on the westward expansion into Native American territory. Jackson relied heavily on enslaved people in order to achieve wealth and help him run the country. He was brutal, and often physically abused his slaves in the White House. By the time of his death, Jackson owned about 150 slaves. Jackson also was an outspoken advocate of the removal of indigenous peoples. In 1830, he signed the Indian Removal Act, forcing Native Americans to flee from the land on which they had lived for generations. It was one of the leaders of the Choctaw who stated to the press that his people were walking a “trail of tears and death.” Jackson illegally demanded a forceful removal at the expense of thousands of lives. 

Tubman, in contrast, spent her life helping those who suffered at the hands of racism and injustice. In 1849, she escaped the bonds of slavery through the Underground Railroad, a network of secret paths and safehouses dispersed throughout the US and used by enslaved African Americans to escape slavery. Those who were lucky enough to attain freedom would begin new lives. Many enlisted in the Union Army to partake in the Civil War. Tubman, however, knew that she could never be truly free unless her loved ones were too. She first returned to save her brothers and niece’s family. When they were free, she returned for her husband, whom she had married five years prior, only to find that he remarried and refused to go. Instead of saving her husband, she saved more enslaved people.

Over the span of ten years, Tubman freed around 70 enslaved people, according to historical estimates. Her actions earned her the nickname “Moses”, after the Biblical character who freed his people. She made her final trip in 1860 to save her sister, but after learning she had died, she instead saved one more family before making her final departure. During the Civil War, she aided several generals, helping to plan battle strategies. She spent the rest of her life fighting for women’s rights until she died in 1913 from pneumonia.

The Declaration of Independence states that “all men are created equal.” Jackson’s beliefs towards slavery and the westward expansion did not align with these foundational American values. While he was a president, many of his morals were corrupted by prioritizing his own greed over the people. Tubman, in comparison, demonstrated her passion for American values and strong sense of patriotism by helping those in need throughout her entire life. Our currency should reflect our country’s rich and diverse history. Tubman’s selfless, unprompted acts of intrepidity must be honored.