The History Behind Harriet Tubman's Journey to the $20 Bill

Photo Courtesy: Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Katherine Clark (D-MA; 3rd L) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA; 5th L) pose for photographs with supporters before a rally with fellow House Democrats to demand American abolitionist heroine Harriet Tubman's imag

On January 25, 2021, just five days into the Biden-Harris administration, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki announced that "The Treasury Department is taking steps to resume efforts to put Harriet Tubman on the front of the new $20 notes." This comes after the Obama-era initiative to replace Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman on the $20 note, originally scheduled to be completed in 2020, had been delayed by the Trump administration.

The Biden-Harris administration’s push to get the currency redesign back on track, along with President Biden’s day-one executive order aimed at promoting racial equity, is an accurate reflection of the distinct ideological divide between the two administrations. In 2019, then-Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin declined to move the project forward, claiming that "counterfeit issues" were to blame for the delay. Trump himself chimed in to downplay the redesign effort as "pure political correctness."

Directly countering the former administration's obstructionist dismissals of the project, Press Secretary Psaki stressed in her January 25 statement, "It’s important that reflects the history and diversity of our country, and Harriet Tubman’s image gracing the new $20 note would certainly reflect that."

Despite the deeply divided, partisan and turbulent nature of U.S. politics and society today, Americans largely seem to agree that working against racism of all types is one of the country’s most important challenges. According to a Monmouth University Poll released in June 2020, 76% of Americans polled agreed with the statement that racism and discrimination are a "big problem" in the U.S. So while representation of Black Americans, like Harriet Tubman, on our currency feels in some ways like the absolute least we can do to combat racism, it is a valuable, and necessary, step in the right direction.