Tubman is fitting choice for $20 bill

Published 8:30 am Friday, April 29, 2016

While more than a few people are upset that the Treasury Department is kicking President Andrew Jackson to the back of the $20 bill, I am not among them.

It is time we diversified the people on our currency and added women and people of color to our money. Our currency represents our country, and a representation that does not include anyone other than white males is sadly lacking and a poor and inaccurate representation of what our country and our people have accomplished. Moreover, if the faces on our currency inspire us to discuss our history and our past, all the more reason to change those faces every few years. Our past can inform our present conversations though not if we ignore it and relegate it to a daylong lesson in high school American history.

I bring this up because among the complaints surrounding the $20 changeup is that somehow Jackson is more historical or more important because he was president and because he led the Battle of New Orleans. While it’s obvious Jackson deserves historical recognition, placing him on the back of the $20 doesn’t diminish this or really change how he’s remembered. Our history books will still rightly record his legacy, warts and all. And the fact remains that Jackson, as a former president, is relatively well known as it is. He’s certainly better known among the general population than Tubman.

And this is a shame.

Most people know Tubman led hundreds of slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad, an informal network that led out of the antebellum South to Northern freedom. This, in and of itself, would be a remarkable achievement for anyone. But for a black woman, the cost, had she been caught, would have been her life.

Tubman knew well the horrors of slavery as she had been abused as a slave, beaten badly and, once as a child, her overseer smashed a heavy metal weight into her head when she wouldn’t help subdue a runaway.

The injury left her with seizures and auditory hallucinations for the remainder of her life, but the brain injury didn’t seem to slow down her passion for social justice.

During the Civil War, when he was in her 40s, she served for the Union as a cook, a nurse and as an armed spy and she was one of the first women to lead an armed expedition in the U.S., where she liberated 700 slaves.

After the Civil War, Tubman dedicated herself to the women’s suffrage movement and she founded a home for the elderly.

Tubman died of tuberculosis in 1913, seven years before the 19th Amendment was passed, granting women the right to vote. But by the time she died, at about 90 years of age, Tubman had lived long enough to see the promise of the 20th century, to see the dawning of air travel, to see African-Americans elected to Congress and to see a century that would never know the horrible system of chattel slavery. Tubman, as much as anyone — civilian or otherwise — helped secure that future and there is no doubt we’re better for it.

The way I see it, there’s hardly anyone more qualified to be on the $20.

Jesse Wright is the managing editor of The Daily News. You can call him at 985-732-2565, ext. 301, or email him at jesse.wright@bogalusadailynews.com.