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.
The leader of the Underground Railroad is replacing the portrait of Andrew Jackson, the nation’s seventh president and a slave owner, who is being pushed to the back of the bill.
And 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 after earlier talk of his removal.
The changes are part of a currency redesign announced Wednesday by Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, with the new $20 marking two historic milestones: Tubman will become the first African American on U.S. paper money and 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, associate professor in the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University. “So even the symbolic significance of this cannot be overstated.”
Lew’s initial plan was to remove Hamilton from the $10 bill in order to honor a woman on the bill. He received many complaints, especially from fans of the popular Broadway musical “Hamilton.”
Instead, the Treasury building on the back of the bill will be changed to commemorate a 1913 march that ended on the steps of the building. It will also feature suffragette leaders Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul.
The back of the $20, which now shows the White House, will be redesigned to include the White House and Jackson, whose statue stands across the street in Lafayette Park.
The $5 bill will also be changed: The illustration of the Lincoln Memorial on the back will be redesigned to 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., who gave his famous “I have a dream” speech on the steps of the memorial in 1963, and Marian Anderson and Eleanor Roosevelt. Anderson, an African American opera singer, gave a concert at the memorial in 1939 after she had been blocked from singing at the then-segregated Constitution Hall. The Lincoln Memorial concert was arranged by Roosevelt.
Lew pledged that at least the designs for all three bills will be finished by 2020 — the 100th anniversary of passage of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote. He said the new notes will go into circulation as fast as possible after that.
The last woman featured on U.S. paper money was Martha Washington, who was on a dollar silver certificate from 1891 to 1896. The only other woman ever featured on U.S. paper money was Pocahontas, from 1865 to 1869. Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea are on dollar coins.