Hooray for Harriet

Although the push to put a woman's face on our paper currency hasn't exactly been a big concern of mine, I was truly gratified by today's news that Harriet Tubman, the legendary abolitionist, will replace President Andrew Jackson, the genocidal racist, on the front of our country's 20-dollar bill.

There were other good candidates to replace either Jackson on the 20-dollar or Hamilton on the 10, the 5- and 1-dollar bills being sacrosanct. But surely none could have been better suited for the honor than Tubman.

She was born into slavery in Maryland, escaped to the North, and then repeatedly risked her life to free other slaves via the perilous Underground Railroad. She was an ardent supporter of suffrage for blacks and for women. To top it all off, she even served as a Union spy during the Civil War.

Symbols are not solutions to centuries of discrimination, even if it's an African-American or female president. But the symbolism of having an African-American woman as the face of a popular measure of our paper currency still merits a cheer. And of all the male candidates for retirement, Jackson had my vote.

Jackson, a slave owner like many prominent men of his time, made meritorious contributions as a warrior and a champion of the common (white) man. It would be wrong to drum him out of any heroic role in our nation's history.

Perhaps, if Jackson was currently the subject of a hit Broadway play like "Hamilton," more people might have rallied to his defense, as they did when Alexander Hamilton's face was on the potential chopping block.

But Jackson's genocidal policies toward Native Americans, to whom he showed no sympathy when forcing them off their land, were so egregious that I can't shed any tears over removing his visage from one aspect of our daily lives.

Granted, no one featured on our currency, other than the sainted Lincoln and now perhaps Tubman, is stain-free. And if every slave owner were removed from circulation we'd have to give up George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

But it was high time for a woman and an African-American to make an appearance. And in Harriet Tubman we have a very worthy double bill.

 

Bethe Dufresne, a frequent contributor, is a freelance writer living in Old Mystic, Connecticut.

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