“The impact that this moment has of an African American on a $20 bill, that’s powerful,” says Ariana Knight.
She and Samantha Thompson are talking to me about the announcement that Harriett Tubman, escaped slave, Union spy and who helped organize the Underground Railroad will replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill. “I feel like it’s long overdue for her to be on any type of money or something that we use,” says Thompson.
Both young African American women remember learning about Tubman in fourth grade. “It is very symbolic,” says Knioght. “I think it shows the growth of our nation it is opening doors in terms of conversation that could not have been talked about before.”
“I do think that her being on the $20 bill is going to show other countries that we are not hiding our slave past, that we are using this to show how we’ve come,” says Thompson.
However, Dr. LaRhonda Odom, a political science instructor at Savannah State who’s studied Tubman’s life had a different perspective. “I think it sends a message that’s not really what Harriett Tubman was all about,” says Odom.
Odom says Tubman may not have wanted her face on U-S currency, especially since Andrew Jackson, a devout slave owner will still be pictured on the back of the bill. “it does I think in some way minimize who she was in the relationship to her country that did not want her to actually be a citizen, that still wanted her to be a slave. Harriett Tubman struggled against the racism and the sexism in this country very early on, she had problems getting her pension.”
Odom says despite the fact that Tubman was a spy for the Union and assisted Union forces in efforts to win the war, that Tubman still never received money in her lifetime that she was owed. “But she’s being dressed up now as someone who’s going to represent the very same capitolism that victimized her in the first place.”
Odom says that Harriett Tubman would have likely wanted true social change in her name rather than the symbolic gesture of being on currency. “If you want to do something to recognize Harriett Tubman you might try actually having a conversation about reparations and what they would look like,” says Odom.