US & World

Treasury decides to put Harriet Tubman on $20 bill

American abolitionist leader Harriet Tubman (1820-1913), who escaped slavery by marrying a free man and led many other slaves to safety using the abolitionist network known as the underground railway.
American abolitionist leader Harriet Tubman (1820-1913), who escaped slavery by marrying a free man and led many other slaves to safety using the abolitionist network known as the underground railway.
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Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew announced on Wednesday that the countenance of abolitionist leader Harriet Tubman will grace a new $20 bill.

The decision caps a public campaign asking for a woman to be placed on American paper currency and months of deliberation by the Treasury to either replace Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill or Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill.

"With this decision, our currency will now tell more of our story and reflect the contributions of women as well as men to our great democracy," Lew said in a letter to the American people.

In a statement, the Treasury also announced that the new $20 bill will keep an image of Jackson, who was a slaveholder, on the back. The new $10 will keep Hamilton on the front but in the back feature "an image of the historic march for suffrage that ended on the steps of the Treasury Department." Leaders of that movement — Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul — will be honored in the image.

As NPR has reported, an unofficial contest by the activist group Women on 20s gave the nod to Tubman to take Jackson's place on the $20 bill. The campaign then sent a petition to President Obama.

Per NPR:

We'll note that Tubman's appearance on the $20 bill would have a special historical resonance: That's the same amount she eventually received from the U.S. government as her monthly pension for her service as a nurse, scout, cook and spy during the Civil War, as well as for her status as the widow of a veteran.

Another reason why  Tubman will be on the front of the $20 bill instead of the $10 bill is that it is more widely circulated, Politico chief economic correspondent Ben White told KPCC. 

The Treasury had previously said it would roll out a brand new $10 bill in 2020 and that it would feature a woman. But the popularity of the Broadway show "Hamilton" might well have put a stop to that plan.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of "Hamilton," personally lobbied Lew and after a meeting last month, he tweeted that the Treasury secretary had told him "you're going to be very happy."

In an interview with Charlie Rose in March, Lew also previewed his decision saying, "Alexander Hamilton is one of my heroes. He's not leaving our money."

Hamilton was the country's first secretary of the Treasury.

There are also plans to change the $5 bill, White told KPCC. Abraham Lincoln will hold his place on the front, but the back will honor events at the Lincoln Memorial and the people involved in those events, including Martin Luther King Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt and Marian Anderson, according to a press release from the Treasury Department.

“We no longer generally think of American history as just a series of presidents who made things happen,” White said.

Any modifications to our money, White said, would not come to fruition until after 2020, because it takes a long time to redesign bills and get them into circulation. 

Take Two's A Martinez spoke with Ben White, Politico's chief economics correspondent. You can listen to the interview by clicking the blue audio player above. You can also read Ben's story here.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

This story has been updated.