World

Harriet Tubman, American who helped free slaves, to be on U.S. $20 bill

Harriet Tubman, an African-American abolitionist who was born a slave, will stand with George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin as among the iconic faces on U.S. currency.

Abolitionist hero will be 1st African-American on U.S. paper money, 1st woman in over a century

Harriet Tubman, shown in a photograph dating from 1860-1875, was born into slavery, but escaped to Philadelphia in 1849, and provided valuable intelligence to Union forces during the Civil War. (Library of Congress/Associated Press)

Harriet Tubman, an African-American abolitionist who was born a slave, will stand with George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin as among the iconic faces of U.S. currency.

The $20 bill will be redesigned with Tubman's portrait on the front, marking two historic milestones, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew announced Wednesday. She will be the first African-American on U.S. paper money and the first woman depicted in 100 years. 
In this Monday, Aug. 31, 2015, photo, a woman holds a sign supporting Harriet Tubman for the $20 bill during a town hall meeting at the Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, N.Y. (Carolyn Thompson/Associated Press)

The leader of the Underground Railroad will replace the portrait of Andrew Jackson, the nation's seventh president and a slave owner, who will be pushed to the back of the bill.

Lew also settled the backlash that had erupted after he announced an initial plan to remove Alexander Hamilton, the nation's first Treasury secretary, from the $10 bill in order to honour a woman. 

Hamilton will remain on the $10 note, Lew said.

Suffragists on $10 bill 

Instead, the Treasury building on the back of the bill will be replaced with leaders of the suffrage movement to give women the right to vote, including Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul.

The $5 bill will also undergo change. The illustration of the Lincoln Memorial on the back of the will be redesigned to honour "events at the Lincoln Memorial that helped to shape our history and our democracy." The new image will include civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt and Marian Anderson. 

An online group, Women on 20s, said it was encouraged that Lew was responding to its campaign to replace Jackson with a woman. But it said it would not be satisfied unless Lew also committed to issuing the new $20 bill at the same time that the redesigned $10 bill is scheduled to be issued in 2020.

A $10 bill, featuring a likeness of Alexander Hamilton, the first U.S. Treasury secretary, is displayed at the National Archives gift shop, in Washington. The Founding Father will remain on the banknote. ( J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

The $10 bill is the next note on Treasury's redesign calendar, and it aims to introduce updated protections against counterfeiting. That redesign was scheduled to be unveiled in 2020, which marks the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote. Lew had often cited that connection as a reason to put a woman on the $10 bill.

However, the effort ran into strong objections from supporters of Hamilton, who is enjoying renewed pop culture interest with the hit Broadway musical Hamilton.

Tubman, who was born into slavery in the early part of the 19th century, escaped and then used the network of anti-slavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad to transport other slaves to freedom. After the Civil War, Tubman, who died in 1913, became active in the campaign for women's suffrage.

The hit Broadway musical Hamilton has renewed interest in the Founding Father and sparked objections to his being removed from the $10 bill in the U.S. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Various groups have been campaigning to get a woman honoured on the nation's paper currency, which has been an all-male domain for more than a century.

The last woman featured on U.S. paper money was Martha Washington, who was on a dollar silver certificate from 1891 to 1896. The only other woman ever featured on U.S. paper money was Pocahontas, from 1865 to 1869. Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea are on dollar coins.

now