The claim: The back of the $20 bill shows a Black man hanging and a crowd watching
As Americans assess the racist undertones of some longstanding statues and monuments, a viral meme is falsely interpreting an image on the back of the $20 bill to be a lynching.
“I was today years old when I found out the back of the $20 bill is a brother hanging while a whole crowd of people watch!” Mayakahla Ben-Ahparayam posted on Facebook June 18.
“Its really a black man hanging … and da white folk jus looking…” reads a meme with two blurry images of the $20 bill's White House vignette.
Commenters were quick to fact-check the meme and identify the body it mentioned as a lamp. Some Facebook users saw the body and recognized the image as a symbolic illusion.
"The illusion is a lantern but you look closely and focus you a negro wit a a long sleeve wit suspenders half body chest up," Keiazja West commented. "Den what you think is bushes is a whole bunch of white people together lookin up at him."
Other commenters argued the meme discredited congruent conversations about systematic racism occurring across the world.
“Stop it, do not minimize the fight with some BS! Whomever you are, stop it. Dont cheapen the movement of all people looking to make a change,” Gregg Simmers commented.
Analysis of the $20 bill and White House decor reveals the meme misinterprets an image of a lantern to be a lynching.
Ben-Ahparayam has not yet returned USA TODAY’s request for comment.
The lantern has hung outside the White House since 1902
The meme claims a lantern hanging outside of the White House is actually a hanging Black man and that the shrubs are a crowd of people watching. The figure the meme is misinterpreting is a lantern that’s hung at the White House entrance for 118 years.
The “distinctive wrought iron and glass lantern” was hung in the North Portico of the White House in 1902 by Edward F. Caldwell and Co. as part of President Theodore Roosevelt’s Beaux-Arts renovation.
“It hangs serenely under the floodlit North Portico and creates the glowing backdrop for the nightly televised news reports of White House correspondents,” the White House Historical Association says of the lantern on its website.
The iconic lantern and the chains that hold it up are even pictured in the official White House logo.
$20 bills have depicted this lantern since 1998
The bill depicted in the meme is a $20 bill issued since 2003. This version of the $20 bill includes a portrait of President Andrew Jackson on one side and vignette of the White House on the back. Versions of this White House vignette with the lantern have been depicted on $20 bills since 1998.
The first $20 bill, issued in 1914, showed a portrait of President Grover Cleveland and a vignette of transportation on the back. In 1929, it was updated to a portrait of Jackson and a south-facing vignette of the White House. In 1998, the back of the bill was updated to a north-facing vignette of the White House, including the lantern.
An anticipated version of the $20 bill depicting abolitionist hero Harriet Tubman was scheduled to print in 2020, but has been delayed by several years.
Our rating: False
We rate the claim that American $20 bills depict an image of a hanging Black man and watching crowd as FALSE because it is not supported by our research. The misinterpreted decorative lantern has hung outside the White House since 1902 and has been depicted on $20 bills since 1998. The decorative lantern is widely recognized item of White House décor and is even depicted on its current logo.
Our fact-check sources:
UScurrency.gov, $20 Note Issued 2003-Present
UScurrency.gov, $20 Note Issued 1998-2003
UScurrency.gov, $20 Note Issued 1914-1990
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: $20 bill does not show lynching outside of White House