xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

A beloved Maryland hero escapes her powerful persecutors. Again. | COMMENTARY

This April 17, 2015, file photo provided by the U.S. Treasury shows the front of the U.S. $20 bill, featuring a likeness of Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the United States. With a change of administrations, it looks like Harriet Tubman is once again headed to the front of the $20 bill. Biden press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that the Treasury Department is taking steps to resume efforts to put the 19th century abolitionist leader on the $20 bill. Obama administration Treasury Secretary Jack Lew had selected Tubman to replace Andrew Jackson, the nation’s seventh president, on the $20 bill. (U.S. Treasury via AP, File)
This April 17, 2015, file photo provided by the U.S. Treasury shows the front of the U.S. $20 bill, featuring a likeness of Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the United States. With a change of administrations, it looks like Harriet Tubman is once again headed to the front of the $20 bill. Biden press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that the Treasury Department is taking steps to resume efforts to put the 19th century abolitionist leader on the $20 bill. Obama administration Treasury Secretary Jack Lew had selected Tubman to replace Andrew Jackson, the nation’s seventh president, on the $20 bill. (U.S. Treasury via AP, File) (AP)

Harriet Tubman, enslaved from her birth in 1820 on a farm in Dorchester County, escaped in 1849 and became a leader of the Underground Railroad, helping hundreds of enslaved people gain freedom. She is probably the greatest hero Maryland has ever produced, selflessly risking her life repeatedly for the benefit of others, and later in life, serving as a Civil War spy, a nurse and suffragist. In 2016, when then-President Barack Obama announced that her image would replace that of Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill, we rejoiced. In 2019, when Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced a lengthy delay in that plan, we saw it as emblematic of the Trump administration’s disregard for African Americans and women and Donald Trump’s personal fondness for Jackson, a wealthy slave-owning planter whose legacy includes forcibly relocating Native American groups.

All of which makes the recent announcement by President Joe Biden’s press secretary that the Tubman $20 bill is back in action, a welcome relief. For Maryland, Ms. Tubman is a source of great pride. The Harriet Tubman Museum & Education Center on Race Street in Cambridge has already become a major regional tourist attraction with its exterior mural featuring Ms. Tubman, standing in local marshland, reaching out her hand as if to help the unseen viewer into her boat to escape persecution. And that’s not even Dorchester County’s only museum on the subject. There’s also the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center a 20-minute drive away, in Church Creek. Visitors to either location are encouraged to take the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, a self-driving tour that reveals the physical challenges the woman known as “Moses” faced.

Advertisement

Still, Eastern Shore tourism might be the least important of the consequences of the Tubman $20. Far more vital is the message it sends that this nation celebrates all people of great accomplishment, not just white males of power. She won’t be the first female face on U.S. paper currency (that distinction went to Pocahontas in a group portrait more than a century and a half ago), but she will be the first Black person. Let no one deny the importance of such symbolism. It’s one thing to have Susan B. Anthony or Sacagawea on a $1 coin, a numismatic curiosity that might have served the needs of vending machine operators but never caught on with the public. It’s another to be on the front of the $20 bill, even in the age of credit cards, Venmo apps and PayPal accounts.

That Harriet Tubman is deserving on this honor was never seriously in doubt. Whether the Trump administration’s reluctance to follow through with the changeover reflected a cautious approach to public taste, a misplaced affection for President Jackson, outright racism, or perhaps some combination of all those things, is for others to determine. Let’s just say we have our suspicions freshly reinforced by that widely-seen photograph of a hard-core Trump supporter waving the Confederate flag in the hallways of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. If there’s a better antidote to such an awful image than the hope that someday soon all those rioters will have pictures of Harriet Tubman neatly folded and tucked away in their wallets, we don’t know what it is.

Advertisement
Advertisement

One can only hope that the nation will be spared the sort of whining that certain political conservatives do when someone dares seek racial equity. Americans may recall that during the 2016 presidential campaign, Candidate Trump called the Tubman bill “pure political correctness.” But what’s the beef? She didn’t free enough slaves? She didn’t risk her life enough? It’s true she was no general, did not serve as president and was not wealthy. What she had was strength, determination and courage. Her presence of the $20 bill is not just a demonstration to Black Americans that they are equal and valued, it shows all Americans, regardless of race, gender, religion or creed, that character counts most of all.

The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement