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U.S. paper money is getting a historic makeover.
Harriet Tubman, an African-American abolitionist born into slavery, will be the new face on the $20 bill.
Tubman was the leader of the Underground Railroad. Her image is replacing the portrait of Andrew Jackson. He was the nation's seventh president and a slave owner. His image is being moved to the back of the bill.
Alexander Hamilton, the nation's first Treasury secretary who's enjoying a revival thanks to a hit Broadway play, will keep his spot on the $10 note. There had been talk of his removal.
The changes are part of a currency redesign. The changes were announced by Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew. The new $20 bill will mark two historic milestones. Tubman will become the first African-American on U.S. paper money. She is also the first woman to be depicted on currency in 100 years.
"This gesture sends a powerful message, because of the tendency in American history, the background of excluding women and marginalizing them as national symbols," said Riche Richardson. Richardson is an associate professor in the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University. "So even the symbolic significance of this cannot be overstated."
Lew also settled a controversy. It erupted after he had announced an initial plan. It would have removed Hamilton from the $10 bill and honored a woman on the bill. Instead, the Treasury building on the back of the bill will be changed. It will commemorate a 1913 march. It ended on the steps of the building. It will also feature Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul. These women worked to give women the right to vote.
The back of the $20 bill shows the White House. The bill will be redesigned to include the White House and Jackson. His statue stands across the street in Lafayette Park.
The $5 bill will also undergo change. The illustration of the Lincoln Memorial on the back will be redesigned. It will honor "events at the Lincoln Memorial that helped to shape our history and our democracy."
The new image on the $5 bill will include civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. He gave his famous "I have a dream" speech on the steps of the memorial in 1963. The images of Marian Anderson and Eleanor Roosevelt also will be included. Anderson was an African-American opera singer. She gave a concert at the memorial in 1939. It came after she had been blocked from singing at the then-segregated Constitution Hall. The Lincoln Memorial concert was arranged by Mrs. Roosevelt.
An online group, Women on 20s, said it was encouraged that Lew was responding to its campaign to replace Jackson with a woman. But it said it wouldn't be satisfied unless Lew committed to issuing the new $20 bill at the same time that the redesigned $10 bill is scheduled to be issued. That is in 2020.
Lew pledged that at least, the designs for all three bills will be accelerated so they'll be finished by 2020. The year marks the 100th anniversary of passage of the 19th amendment. It gave women the right to vote. He said the new notes will go into circulation as fast as possible after that, consistent with the need to incorporate anti-counterfeiting measures in the designs.
U.S. currency has undergone upgrades over the years to stay ahead of counterfeiters. But the updates proposed by Lew for the three bills would be the most sweeping changes since 1929. That year, all U.S. paper money was redesigned. The bills featured more standard designs and a smaller size to save printing costs.
Lew had initially selected the $10 bill to feature a woman. That is because under the original timetable, it was the next bill to be redesigned. But that proposal met objections from supporters of Hamilton. He is enjoying renewed popular interest with the Broadway hit musical "Hamilton."
Tubman was born into slavery in the early part of the 19th century. She escaped and then used the network of anti-slavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad to transport other slaves to freedom. After the Civil War, Tubman became active in the campaign for women's right to vote. She died in 1913.
Numerous groups have been campaigning to have a woman honored on the nation's paper currency. The bills have been an all-male domain for more than a century.
Amrita Myers is a historian at Indiana University. She said honoring Tubman was appropriate.
"Not only is this going to be the first African-American historical figure on U.S. currency, but it's a woman specifically from the era of slavery," Myers said.
The announcement helped mark a decades-long decline in the reputation of Jackson. He was once a pillar of the modern Democratic Party. Today, he often is defined by his ownership of slaves and the "Trail of Tears" saga. The practice forcibly removed American Indians from their land.
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker said in a statement that the currency move was a "small but meaningful vindication" for Native Americans.
The last woman featured on U.S. paper money was Martha Washington. Her image was on a dollar silver certificate from 1891 to 1896. The only other woman ever featured on U.S. paper money was Pocahontas. Her image appeared from 1865 to 1869. Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea are on dollar coins.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why has paper money been an all-male domain for so long?
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