Currency: Why The Principle Behind The Harriet Tubman Bill Must Catch On


The inspiration, courage, and selflessness which lead to heroic achievements are not limited or exemplified by racial constraints or lineage. Most of us have what it takes to receive some honor for displaying these special characteristics should the right opportunities and threats to others present themselves.

I saw a man stumbling and bleeding just after I passed a policeman seated in his cruiser.   I raced to the officer and asked him to call an ambulance. He responded, but was reluctant to get any blood on his hands or clothing. He applied pressure to the worst wound which stopped the profuse bleeding. In the flurry of activity–getting information to call relatives and the police coming to arrest those thugs who had thrown the man through a tavern’s glass window– I couldn’t help but notice the officer’s actions. He took care to use his handkerchief to keep blood off his hand and to avoid further contact that could get blood on himself or his clothing.

The true hero does not fear what may happen to him or her while risking personal property and life in an effort to save property or lives of others. That is why it is so appropriate for us to see Harriet Tubman (c. 1820-1913) honored by placing her photo printed on the front of the twenty-dollar bill.

“As a child slave Harriet had endured severe beatings that caused her to suffer periodic blackouts for the rest of her life. When her master died in 1849, Harriet escaped to Pennsylvania, hiding by day in caves and guiding herself by the stars at night. As early as 1860 she was a champion of women’s rights as well as a spokesman for the abolition of slavery” (This Far by Faith, p. 179, C.E. Hodges, Review and Herald Publishing, 1998).

This great American voluntarily risked losing her life to save the lives of others, others who were enslaved and brutally controlled to ensure their poverty and suffering while enhancing the wealth of slave owners. This heroic woman, as a conductor of the Underground Railroad, led hundreds of men, women, and children from slavery to freedom knowing there were rewards offering tens of thousands of dollars for her capture. Her own husband threatened to turn her in. No other achieved so much with so little under such threats. She served the union army as a nurse and scout and spied on the confederate troops, thereby saving, not only the lives of slaves but many lives of the union army. She received international honors for her fight against slavery and her support of women’s rights (The Negro Almanac, pp 8 and 154, Bellwether Publishing Company, New York, 1967).

Secretary Lew looks at Tubman art
Looking back on her life, Tubman once said, “I would fight for liberty so long as my strength lasted.” And she did fight, for the freedom of slaves and for the right of women to vote. Her incredible story of courage and commitment to equality embodies the ideals of democracy that our nation celebrates, and we will continue to value her legacy by honoring her on our currency. –Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew April 20, 2016 Photo from Twitter

It was therefore most appropriate for this African American heroine, a former slave herself, to be honored by placing her photo on the twenty-dollar bill of the future.   Opportunities presented themselves and she never looked back or waited for the approval of those with the greater opportunities, possibly greater minds, or greater resources. The twenty dollar bill is also appropriate as she received, belatedly, a government pension of twenty dollars per month for her services to the union military.

The twenty dollar bill is also appropriate as she received belatedly a government pension of twenty dollars per month for her services to the union military.

There are still too many persons who could help make this a better world for all of us if they were not trapped in some of the forms of slavery existing today. And there are those who have the potential of the honorable Ms. Tubman who could help free some of these from their slave masters. Who knows who might be honored on another popular bill of value twenty years from now?

Courage sister, do not fumble, though your road be steep and black: There is a GPS to lead the humble, trust your training, stand and fight. Let the road be steep and black and its end far to the right. Face it squarely, and never look back. Hold on to faith, keep those slaves in sight.   (These words which describe the work and life of Harriet Tubman were partly inspired by a hymn, Trust in God and do the Right, by Norman Macleod (1812 – 1872.)

Packs of money
“The Bureau of Engraving and Printing produces 38 million notes a day with a face value of approximately $541 million . . . 95% of the notes printed each year are used to replace notes already in circulation.”

The value of the twenty dollar bill will rise and this deceased black woman will be denied the credit for boosting the nation’s economy. But that does not matter. History will be made and love, faith, and courage will be honored. Others will thus be inspired to stand for the right. Another inspiring woman will be remembered for her words of encouragement: “The greatest want of the world is the want of men—men who will not be bought or sold, men who in their inmost souls are true and honest, men who do not fear to call sin by its right name, men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole, men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall.


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