Abolitionist Harriet Tubman continues to make waves more than a century after her death in Auburn, New York in 1913. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch signed an agreement last Friday that will transform the leader’s former home into a National Historical Park. The New York residence, which includes famed Thompson Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church and Tubman’s Home for the Aged, sits on 26 acres of land currently belonging to Harriet Tubman Home, Inc.
The signing came just days after the U.S. Treasury announced plans to replace former president Andrew Jackson with the woman known as Black Moses on the $20 bill — a move met with praise and criticism from those on the right and left. Presidential candidate Donald Trump called the move an act of “pure political correctness.”
“[Jackson’s] been on the bill for many, many years and really represented somebody that was really very important to this country,” the GOP front-runner told NBC’s Today Show. Trump’s former rival, Dr. Ben Carson, was another opponent of the Treasury’s groundbreaking decision.
“Andrew Jackson was the last president who actually balanced the federal budget, where we had no national debt,” Carson said in an interview on Fox Business Network’s Cavuto Coast to Coast. “In honor of that, we kick him off of the money.”
Carson went further to suggest placing the heroine’s image on another, less widely circulated bill. “I love what [Tubman] did. But we can find another way to honor her. Maybe a $2 bill.”
On the other end of the spectrum, feminists challenged the appropriateness of Tubman’s likeness on the greatest symbol of American capitalism, which found its roots in the labor of enslaved Blacks.
Writer Feminista Jones’ powerful essay criticizing the choice went viral for the second time following last week’s announcement.
In a 2015 op-ed piece for the Washington Post, Jones wrote:
Harriet Tubman did not fight for capitalism, free trade, or competitive markets. She repeatedly put herself in the line of fire to free people who were treated as currency themselves. She risked her life to ensure that enslaved black people would know they were worth more than the blood money that exchanged hands to buy and sell them. I do not believe Tubman, who died impoverished in 1913, would accept the “honor.”
Cultural critic Kirsten West Savali shared similar sentiments in a piece for TheRoot, writing the switch would be “adding insult to injury.”
“When nearly half of all single African-American women have zero or negative wealth, and their median wealth is $100 — compared with just over $41,000 for single white American women — it is an insult…When African-American women earn on average 64 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, compared with the 78 cents that white women earn for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, it is an insult, ” Savali wrote.
But the change was met with approval by many who see Jackson’s legacy as a troubling one.
The wealthy former president owned hundreds of enslaved Africans and during his administration was responsible for leading the U.S. government’s Indian Removal Act, which forced 46,000 Native Americans from their home lands east of the Mississippi River during the 1830s.
History and African-American studies professor Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham expressed her thoughts on how Tubman might view the decision and money, in general, to the Washington Post.
“She used her [money] to go back into a place where she had a bounty on her head. It says something about how she thinks about money. She used money as a way to help mankind.”
CNN Commentator and activist MichaelaAngela Davis wrote on Twitter, “yaaaaaasssssssssssssssss!!!!! The Greatest American Patriot get’s to be on the most popular bill! #HarrietTubman”
Today Show co-host Tamron Hall said, “Can’t wait to say “It’s all about the Harriets” #HarrietTubman 20$”