Today's News, Tomorrow's History: Tubman on the $20 Bill

Posted by Monica Brady-Myerov on May 26, 2016


Today’s News, Tomorrow’s History is an ongoing series with Listenwise. This series connects Facing History’s themes with today’s current events using public radio to guide and facilitate discussions around the social issues of our time. We will take a look at the current responses to the changes in United States currency.  

Harriet_Tubman.jpg you look at traditional American currency, from bills to coins, you will see the portraits of presidents, founders, and inventors. On these bills, all faces are men. In 48 other countries in the world, there are women on paper currency. The United States will join these countries in the year 2020.

The male portraits have remained in place since 1929 yet the country has changed dramatically since then. But it’s been announced there’s a new face in town: Harriet Tubman, the former slave abolitionist, will replace Andrew Jackson, former president and slave owner, on the face of the $20 bill, bumping his portrait to the back.                                                                           Harriet Tubman 

Some view this as problematic while others think it reflects what it means to be American. It honors a diverse array of historical figures. Tubman escaped slavery and was a conductor on the Underground Railroad through connections and networks, making 19 trips into the South and leading at least 300 people to freedom. In recent years there has been controversy about Andrew Jackson’s place on currency considering his history as a slave owner who, as president, was one of the leading supporters of the 1830 Indian Removal Act, a law that led to the forced removal of thousands of American Indians from their ancestral homelands.

The inclusion of Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill won’t be the only change. Women and Civil Rights leaders will be added to the $5 and $10 bills too. The front of the $5 bill will also keep Abraham Lincoln, but the back will include historical events connected to the Lincoln Memorial including the 1963 March on Washington and Marian Anderson’s 1939 concert. The front of the $10 will remain a portrait of Alexander Hamilton with Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Alice Paul, and others who fought for abolition and women’s suffrage featured on the back.

These changes come after a group of women began a campaign in 2015 to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with a famous woman chosen by popular vote in time for the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in 2020. The idea was to more accurately reflect the United States as a diverse and inclusive country. President Obama supports this decision. He said he received a letter from a young girl who "wrote to ask me why aren't there any women on our currency, and then she gave me a long list of possible women to put on our dollar bills and quarters. Which I thought was a pretty good idea."

Some are embracing these symbolic changes to the currency while others are protesting the changes and disparaging the emphasis on political correctness. The final designs will be revealed to the public in 2020, the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote.   

Join the conversation: Do you think there should be changes to the $5, $10 and $20 bills? Who would you choose to represent the U.S. on its currency?

Keep the conversation going with Facing History’s resources:  

Explore more stories about race, gender, and United States currency from Listenwise:

  • This audio story describes the campaign in 2015 to add a woman to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill.
  • Learn more about Harriet Tubman and her history with this story.
  • Use this story as a topic for debate. Read the Listen Current blog post to get started having debates in your classroom.

Listenwise helps teachers use public radio stories in their classrooms. To find more public radio stories and lessons for your middle and high school ELA, social studies, and science classrooms you can sign up for a free Listenwise account!

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Topics: Diversity, American History, Today's News Tomorrow's History, Listenwise

At Facing History and Ourselves, we value conversation—in classrooms, in our professional development for educators, and online. When you comment on Facing Today, you're engaging with our worldwide community of learners, so please take care that your contributions are constructive, civil, and advance the conversation.


Welcome to Facing Today, a Facing History blog. Facing History and Ourselves combats racism and antisemitism by using history to teach tolerance in classrooms around the globe.

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