WASHINGTON — The fight to put Harriet Tubman on the face of the $20 bill by 2020 has been revived with the introduction of bipartisan legislation in the House co-sponsored by Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore.
“Too often, our nation does not do enough to honor the contributions of women in American history, especially women of color,” Cummings said. “I am proud to introduce this bill with Rep. (John) Katko (R-N.Y.) to honor Harriet Tubman’s role in making America a more free and more equal society.”
The bill comes almost 17 months after then-Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced that Tubman, a famous Underground Railroad abolitionist who was born as a Maryland slave, would replace Andrew Jackson as the face of the $20 bill.
Lew’s department pledged support to putting women on American currency through changes to the $5 and $10 bills as well.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., originally sponsored a bill in 2015, directing the Department of the Treasury to put Tubman on the face of the $10 bill, replacing Alexander Hamilton. But the switch to the $20 occurred after historians and fans of the musical “Hamilton” objected to altering the $10 bill.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin faced criticism from legislators after a Aug. 31 CNBC interview when he didn’t directly say if he would continue with the Obama administration’s plan to put Tubman on the $20 bill.
“People have been on the bills for a long period of time,” Mnuchin said when asked if he supports the change. “This is something we’ll consider. Right now, we have a lot more important issues to focus on.”
Cummings said in a statement on his bill with Katko that “Harriet Tubman was called the Moses of her people, because after she escaped slavery, she courageously made 19 trips to the South to free more than 300 enslaved African Americans.”
“Her courage, conviction and commitment to equality represent the best of America and it is long past time we recognize her place in history,” the congressman said.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, spoke out against Mnuchin’s vague response on the same day of the secretary’s interview.
“The Trump Administration is refusing to commit to moving forward with the plan to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill? Disgraceful…” he tweeted. “Tubman is a true American hero and deserves to be honored on the $20 bill.”
Van Hollen sent a letter with fellow Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, on the same day, urging Mnuchin to move forward with honoring Tubman on the currency.
“We were concerned when you refused to commit to taking this notable step to put a woman on our currency and recognize an American hero,” the senators wrote. “Those we honor on currency make a statement about our nation and our values. We urge you to move forward to honor Harriet Tubman and make a strong statement about our nation’s commitment to equality and justice.”
In February, both Maryland senators announced they were sponsoring legislation to commemorate Tubman in the form of a statue in front of the United States Capitol.
Five years ago, the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation allowing state officials to fundraise and commission an artist to sculpt the statue.
As far as the $20 bill is concerned, the senator said on Aug. 31 through Twitter that he would let everyone know when Mnuchin responds to the letter. Van Hollen has not yet received a response.