The Treasury Secretary has announced that the new face for the $20 bill will be Harriet Tubman. I think that's a great choice. I was going to write something about this, but the editorial board of the Dallas Morning News said what I wanted to say about as well as it could be said. So I bring you their great editorial:
All nations great and small tell their stories in a thousand different ways.
They tell their stories in the sanctioned texts schoolchildren study. Some stories are found in the speeches politicians give on holidays like the Fourth of July or Cinco de Mayo. Others come to us, one generation to the next, in the movies, newspapers, novels and biographies, and by singers, songwriters and playwrights.
But of all the ways of telling the story of a nation, none are shouted out as powerfully as the history told by its monuments, or by the names adorning its buildings and bridges, or by the faces emblazoned on its currency.
That’s because, especially in a democracy, there is a special place reserved for the stories a nation chooses to tell itself, about itself. And that’s why Wednesday’s announcement by Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew that Harriet Tubman’s face will soon grace the front of the $20 bill is so much more than simply great news.
It’s proof that America is finally recalibrating the image it sees when we look in the mirror. It’s a correction slow in coming and long overdue. That it begins with relegating to the back of the bill the face of Andrew Jackson is only another reason to cheer. Jackson was a war hero and a milestone president, but, sadly, he’s also inextricably linked to the shame of America’s inhumanly harsh treatment of Native Americans during his time on the stage.
Tubman played a very different role, and played it far from the halls of power. Like John Brown, she was a fiery abolitionist — but unlike her ill-fated contemporary, she eschewed violence. She served as a union spy during the Civil War, but it was her work as a leader in the Underground Railroad that has left the most poignant legacy. She helped ferry hundreds of slaves out of the South and into freedom.
That she was a woman, and a black woman, helps add color and context to the official story of America, a tale that has for too long been sketched only in paler hues, with men relentlessly in the role of protagonist.
Now Tubman will grace the face of one of the bills most often found in Americans’ wallets and purses. Soon, too, the fives and tens also found there will feature new faces of women on the back, even if Alexander Hamilton and Abraham Lincoln will keep looking out from the front.
Thanks to these changes, the story we tell ourselves, and our children, about ourselves will be richer, fuller and more truthful, now that we have expanded the cast of heroes whose own stories helped forge the nation we call home.