Tubman reflects nation’s spirit

(Anderson) Herald Bulletin

Abolitionist. Union spy. The face of the $20 bill.

That’s quite a journey for a woman born into slavery in 1822.

Harriet Tubman, a hero of the Underground Railroad, will replace Andrew Jackson, the nation’s seventh president, on the $20 bill. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew detailed changes to the $20, $10 and $5 bills slated for 2020, in time for the centennial of women’s suffrage and the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In addition to Alexander Hamilton remaining on the $10, the most notable shakeup is the Tubman-Jackson swap, and it’s a long overdue reflection of the contributions women have made to this nation. Tubman will be the first woman on U.S. paper currency in the past 100 years.

A campaign to make the change proposed 15 women to replace Jackson. The broader list, which included Sojourner Truth and Susan B. Anthony, was narrowed to four finalists: Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Wilma Mankiller and Tubman.

The other three finalists were undeniably worthy, reflective of our values, traditions and history. Roosevelt was the longest serving first lady as well as a diplomat and activist. Parks is a noted icon of the civil rights movement. And Mankiller was the first female chief of the Cherokee nation.

But Tubman rises above the rest as the embodiment of the American spirit, a symbol of courage and freedom. She ferried hundreds of slaves to freedom through the Railroad, recruited men for the raid on Harpers Ferry, was a spy and armed scout for the Union Army and, later in life, was active in the struggle for women’s suffrage.

There’s some real irony in the fact that slave owners enraged by Tubman’s actions once offered a reward for her capture. A reward that, starting in 2020, would be paid with currency bearing her likeness.

The irony would undoubtedly amuse Tubman. But how would she view the honor?

The feisty humanitarian who saw the fall of slavery and was still waiting for women to gain the right to vote at her death in 1913, would probably simply say, “What took you so long?”

What, indeed.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.