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What's keeping Harriet Tubman off the $20?

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Speed read

What's happening: Harriet Tubman, the famed abolitionist who freed slaves using the Underground Railroad, was scheduled to replace Andrew Jackson as the face of the $20 bill in 2020. However, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said during a congressional hearing last week that the redesign had been delayed until at least 2028.

The decision to make Tubman the first African-American to appear on U.S. paper currency came out of a 10-month public comment process by Barack Obama's Treasury Secretary Jack Lew in 2016. The 2020 date was chosen to mark the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in America.

Mnuchin explained the delay by saying the treasury was focused preventing counterfeiting, rather than changing the imagery on its bills.

Why there's debate: The decision to replace the image of a slave-owning former president with that of black woman who freed slaves received strong praise from many when it was initially announced. Trump called the choice "pure political correctness" and suggested she should be on the $2 bill instead.

Mnuchin's limited responses to inquiries from Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., about the delay during last week’s hearing have led some to question whether there are other motives behind the decision.

One of Tubman's living descendents said the delay "smacks of racism." Pressley argued that it was part of a longstanding trend of overlooking the role of women and people of color in American history. "People other than white men built this county," she said. Others have suggested it is consistent with of a revisionist history among some conservatives who downplay the horrors of slavery.

Others see less malicious reasons for the delay, such as Trump's known fondness for Jackson as a leader or Trump’s pattern of undoing decisions made by Obama.

What's next: A bill that would force the Treasury to put Tubman on the $20 bill by the end of 2020 was introduced in both houses of Congress earlier this year. If it isn't passed, it will be up to Mnuchin, or whoever comes after him, to decide if and when the change will be made.

In the meantime, some activists are taking the matter into their own hands by stamping Tubman's face over current versions of the bill.


Racism prevents proper acknowledgment of Tubman's heroism

"Trump rose to power by denigrating, discounting and humiliating women, especially women of color. It’s just one more way Trump is telegraphing to the racists and sexists in his base that 'we' are never giving up this country. 'We' will never give and inch to 'those people.'" — Laura Washington, Chicago Sun-Times

The move is part of a larger campaign to undo Obama's accomplishments

"The Tubman-for-Jackson swap was an Obama administration initiative, and Trump has pretty much made it his mission to be against anything that came before his presidency." — Elliot Hannon, Slate

A sympathetic view of slave-holding states is common among conservatives

"A reexamination of national iconography has led to the removal of many Confederate monuments and the erasure of names of numerous segregationists from schools, roads and parks. But Trump and some of his associates endorse a different orientation to the past, at times ready to defend figures whose promotion of explicit racial hierarchy places them out of step with contemporary values." — Isaac Stanley-Becker, Washington Post

"The story that Trump and his followers tell themselves is that white supremacy built this nation for the better." — Dick Polman, WHYY

History undervalues the contributions of black women

"This is part and parcel of the history of this country and the way in which African American women have been, and continue to be, treated and unacknowledged.” — Tubman Museum director Andy Ambrose, quoted by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Trump is a fan of Andrew Jackson

"Mr. Trump has frequently described Jackson, whose portrait hangs in the Oval Office, as a populist hero who reminds him of himself." — Alan Rappeport, New York Times

It's poetic that one more obstacle stands between Tubman and proper recognition

"Tubman constantly laughed in the face of indignities even more horrific than Trump. It will take much longer than it should, but she’ll eventually overcome this one, too." — Editorial, San Francisco Chronicle

Let's consider other ideas to diversify U.S. currency

"All seven of our current bills ($1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100) could be converted to be a 50-50 bill. That means that half of the $1 would always have George Washington on it; the other half would be printed with another historic American on it…Doing it as a 50-50 could help to keep happy those who love the current person on the bill and also help those who want a new person on the bill; both would get their way." — David R. Craig, Baltimore Sun

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