In the early days of President Barack Obama’s first term in office, a letter arrived at the White House from a young child.
She wanted to know why there were no women on U.S. currency. The letter was routinely transferred to the country’s Treasury Department, where it made someone start to think.
Looming ahead, in 2020, was the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment – the law which gave women the right to vote. The decision was ultimately made to redesign the twenty dollar bill, replacing the image of the controversial Andrew Jackson with an historic American woman.
The young girl had made several suggestions as to who should have the honour. Near the very top of her list was Harriet Tubman - the abolitionist heroine and one of the primary architects of the famed Underground Railway, which helped thousands of black slaves flee the South during the tragic era of slavery in America.
Born a slave herself in Dorchester County, Maryland, Tubman had escaped to Philadelphia in 1849, later returning to Maryland to rescue her family. That’s how her fight against slavery began. After helping her family to escape captivity, she helped others – so many that her people began referring to her as “Moses.”
Introducing a Tubman $20 bill in 2020 made sense to the Obama administration for another reason beyond commemorating the anniversary of female suffrage. That reason spoke to the character of the man on the twenty. In 1928, on the 100th anniversary of his election as president, Andrew Jackson had replaced Grover Cleveland on the U.S. twenty dollar bill.
Thomas Jefferson considered the uncouth Andrew Jackson to be “a dangerous man.” He was a slave-owner and a barroom brawler who carried two bullets in his body from fighting duels. Much like the current American president, he was known to have a hot, hair-trigger temper. He was known to brutally beat his 161 slaves; once doling out a savage whipping to a black woman he accused of “putting on airs.”
As president, Jackson was responsible for one of the most shameful acts in American history. This was the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which forced tens of thousands of Native Americans – five Indian Nations – to forcibly vacate their ancestral homelands to resettle west of the Mississippi River. Their exodus became known as “The Trail of Tears.” Thousands died on their forlorn journey.
It should surprise no one that Andrew Jackson is one of Donald Trump’s heroes. As little as Trump knows about American history, he clearly knows a fellow soulmate when he sees one. Trump hung Jackson’s portrait in the Oval Office and likes to describe Jackson as a populist hero who reminds him of himself.
Standing in the lobby of Trump Tower last April, Trump described the white supremacists who marched with torches in Charlottesville chanting, “Jews will not replace us!” as having included “some very fine people.” Trump likes these people – he knows they vote for him.
It was likely predictable, then, that the Tubman twenty dollar bill was not likely to land in those “very fine” peoples’ wallets in a U.S. election year. A black woman on American currency while Trump was president? Not likely.
In late May, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that the rollout of the Tubman bill would be delayed until, in all likelihood, 2028. By law, Trump would then be out of office (although anyone who expects the traditional, peaceful transfer of power may have a shock coming – but that’s a column for another day).
It’s another victory for racial hatred in America.