Striking Out on Tubman
Terry H. Schwadron
May 27, 2019
Let’s just say for a moment that you’re a Donald Trump trusted advisor.
You’re bothered by hearing repeatedly that the boss is a racist and a misogynist, that the Charlottesville stain just won’t go away, that hate speech and bad behavior is up in the country, and that the White House just isn’t dealing with it all.
If it were me, I’d tell Trump that he has an easy win in place — to welcome the populist move to put an image of freedom fighter Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. As a black woman, a former slave, an abolitionist and “conductor” for the Underground Railroad, here in our hot little hands is a public relations victory to really go out an celebrate with no Democratic criticism.
Instead, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin went out of his way last week to tell a congressional hearing that not only is there no plan right now — — but there will be none until sometime in 2028, when Trump and company will officially no longer be in the White House.
Until then, in fact, we can continue to look at Andrew Jackson, seventh president, Southerner and slave owner and who had been a successful general against the British in the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812.
Yes, it was an Obama era initiative to replace Jackson. After a popular “vote” — one with no electoral college — Americans advised that then Treasurer Jacob Lew choose Tubman, which he did.
According to The New York Times,Mnuchin, “concerned that the president might create an uproar by canceling the new bill altogether, was eager to delay its redesign until Trump was out of office, some senior Treasury Department officials have said. As a presidential candidate in 2016, Trump criticized the Obama administration’s plans for the bill.”
Trump called the change “pure political correctness” and suggested that Tubman, whom he praised, could be added to a far less common denomination, like the $2 bill. “Andrew Jackson had a great history, and I think it’s very rough when you take somebody off the bill,” candidate Trump had said.
Trump frequently has described Jackson, whose portrait hangs in the Oval Office, as a populist hero who reminds him of himself. Early in his presidency, “Trump stopped to lay a wreath at Jackson’s tomb at the Hermitage, his plantation in Nashville. ‘It was during the Revolution that Jackson first confronted and defied an arrogant elite,’ Trump told a crowd. ‘Does that sound familiar?’”
Now, Mnuchin never told members of Congress that an order had come from Trump, but as former Trump whisperer Michael Cohen said, you never have to ask Trump for an order. Mnuchin said he was too busy worrying about counterfeit $10 and $50 bills to worry about whose picture would be on the twenty.
So, let’s return to our mythical advisory role.
There are only two alternatives. Either Trump can’t stand to abide to let an Obama decision stand, or he doesn’t mind being hung with the racist label. A Washington Post editoriallabeled the administration “petty and narrow-minded as to go out of its way to thumb its nose at women, minorities and history.”
In case you won’t admit not knowing, Tubman was born into slavery, escaped and then returned to the South, where she led other slaves to freedom. She was a Union scout during the Civil War and later advocated women’s voting rights. Jackson orchestrated the removal of Native Americans from lands to the east of the Mississippi River and sent them marching west on the so-called Trail of Tears.
During the Civil War, Tubman worked as a nurse, a cook and a spy for the Union, according to the book, “Harriet Tubman: Secret Agent,” by Thomas Allen. Tubman worked as a spy for the Union and was connected to the abolitionist John Brown, who led the raid against a federal armory in Harpers Ferry, Va., now in West Virginia. Allen wrote that Tubman was the only woman who led men into battle during the Civil War. Tubman persuaded formerly enslaved men to track Confederate camps and report on their movements. After the war, in 1866, Tubman was traveling with a “half-fare ticket” from Philadelphia to New York, when the conductor ordered her to move to the smoking car, according to the book, “Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero,” by Kate Clifford Larson. Tubman refused to budge. “She explained that she was working for the government and was entitled to ride wherever she liked,” and fought off the conductor. At her direction, Union gunboats were able to surprise the Confederate rebels, raiding plantations and freeing slaves. On her death from pneumonia on March 10, 1913, Tubman, she supposedly said, “On my Underground Railroad,” she said, “I [never] run my train off [the] track. I never lost a passenger.”
In other words, she is perfect for memorialization.
Instead, in 2017, Trump officials erased Tubman from the Treasury Department website.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, has a bill demanding that the Treasury Department place the likeness of Tubman on $20 Federal Reserve notes printed after Dec. 31, 2020. Women have appeared on United States currency a handful of times, often on seldom-used $1 coins. In the 19th century, Pocahontas and Martha Washington were the first women to make it onto American currency — and the last to make it onto paper. Pocahontas appeared among a group of men on the $10 bill and the $20 bill in the late 19th century. Washington was on $1 silver certificates in 1886, 1891 and 1896.The suffragist Susan B. Anthony was the first woman to appear on an American coin: a dollar produced from 1979–81 and again, briefly, in 1999.