Harriet Tubman to be first African-American on U.S. currency

WASHINGTON, April 20 (Reuters) - Anti-slavery crusader Harriet Tubman will become the first African-American to be featured on the face of U.S. paper currency when she replaces President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, the U.S. Treasury Departmen...

Harriet Tubman in a photo dated between 1860 -1875. REUTERS/Courtesy Library of Congress

WASHINGTON, April 20 (Reuters) - Anti-slavery crusader Harriet Tubman will become the first African-American to be featured on the face of U.S. paper currency when she replaces President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, the U.S. Treasury Department announced on Wednesday.

She will also be the first woman on U.S. paper currency in more than a century.

The redesigned $20 bill will move Jackson to the back of the bill alongside an image of the White House, Treasury officials said.

A new $10 bill will keep founding father Alexander Hamilton on the front, while adding images of five women, all leaders of the women's suffrage movement, to the back.

The reverse of a new $5 note will honor events held at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., including former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Martin Luther King, Jr., officials said.


The slew of changes give the Treasury "a chance to open the aperture to reflect more of America's history," Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew told reporters on a conference call.

The decision to replace the seventh president of the United States with Tubman, who was born a slave and helped hundreds of slaves escape using the network of safe-houses known as the Underground Railroad, followed public outreach by the Treasury Department regarding which woman should be featured on a bill after they announced plans in June to feature one on the $10 note.

While no depictions of African-Americans have appeared on U.S. currency, the signatures of five African-Americans have been on it. Four were Registers of the Treasury and included Blanche K. Bruce, Judson W. Lyons, William T. Vernon and James C. Napier, and one was U.S. Treasurer Azie Taylor Morton.

Native American Sacagawea has been featured on the gold dollar coin since 1999, and suffragist Susan B. Anthony has appeared on the silver dollar coin since 1979. Deaf-blind author and activist Helen Keller is on the back of the Alabama quarter, which was first issued in 2003.

Prompted partly by a young girl's letter to President Barack Obama about the lack of women on U.S. currency, a social media campaign last year called "Women on 20s" began pushing for a woman to replace Jackson.

On Wednesday, the movement's leaders said they were "ready to claim victory" but only if the bill was issued by 2020 to mark the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote.

"What was to be a celebration of female American heroes ... cannot be postponed," the group's founder Barbara Ortiz Howard said in a statement.

U.S. Treasury spokesman Rob Runyan could not say when the redesigned bill would be issued.


The women last depicted on U.S. bills were first lady Martha Washington on the $1 silver certificate from 1891 to 1896, and Native American Pocahontas in a group photo on the $20 bill from 1865 to 1869.

Harriet Tubman became the top-trending hashtag on Twitter shortly after the news broke on Wednesday, with more than 100,000 tweets and mentions online.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams (@BPEricAdams) tweeted, "Having #HarrietTubman on the new $20 bill is a #milestone for our nation, a powerful acknowledgment of great #women and #AfricanAmericans."

Other users applauded Treasury's decision to keep Hamilton on the $10 bill, which is a decision many say resulted from the influence of the popular, Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway musical "Hamilton," created by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Actress Mara Wilson (@MaraWritesStuff) tweeted Miranda on Wednesday stating, "@Lin_Manuel First you win a Pulitzer, now you're affecting US currency. Get some rest!" 

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