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Put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2015

Harriet Tubman

Adding her voice to a chorus of others, Amy Davidson makes a great case for putting Harriet Tubman on the US $20 bill and kicking Andrew Jackson to the curb.

On September 17, 1849, Araminta, who now called herself Harriet, ran away to freedom, along with two of her brothers. Their owner, Eliza Brodess-Pattison’s granddaughter-in-law-had been making moves to sell them, and the fear was that the family would be broken up. Brodess put an ad in the local newspaper, offering a hundred-dollar reward each for “Minty,” Harry, and Ben. (The only extant copy of the ad was found in 2003, in a dumpster.) Almost immediately, Tubman began making trips back to Maryland, organizing the escapes of relatives, friends, and scores of other slaves, often just ahead of armed men pursuing them. On one trip, she discovered that her husband, John Tubman, who was free himself, was living with another woman; he had no interest in going north. He is a man who seems not to have known Tubman’s worth.

When I was a kid, I read a lot of biographies1 on people like Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, Abraham Lincoln, and the Wright brothers. My favorite, which I read at least three times, was Ann Petry’s Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad. Tubman is one of history’s greatest badasses. Put her on the damn bill.

  1. Our local public library had a series of biographies for kids…I wish I could remember what these books were. I did a little research just now but nothing came up. I remember them being small (hardcovers but the size of paperbacks), no dust jackets, and plainly titled (e.g. “Abraham Lincoln”). There were around 50 titles and must have been 20-30 years old when I read them in the early 80s. I devoured them as a kid and would love to pass them along to my kids.