U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY Steven Mnuchin demurred when asked if he supports his predecessor's decision to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. "It's not something that I'm focused on at the moment," he said Thursday in a CNBC interview: "Right now we have a lot more important issues to focus on." Granted, Mr. Mnuchin is dealing with such critical issues as a possible showdown on raising the national debt ceiling and the Trump administration's push for tax cuts. But Mr. Mnuchin is wrong if he thinks reneging on a promise to put the first African American woman on paper money is not important.
When the treasury secretary gets around to looking at this issue, let's hope he recognizes the need to include the images of women and minorities, and not just white men, on the currency of a nation that achieved greatness through the contributions of all. To do so would reassure those Americans who suspect that President Trump and his administration do not fully respect the rights of women, non-white Americans or those born outside the country.
A massive grass-roots drive for a woman to be included on U.S. currency preceeded last year's announcement by then-Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew that Tubman, a one-time slave, leader of the Underground Railroad and Union hero of the Civil War, would replace President Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill. Mr. Lew had to contend with a thicket of delicate issues, but as we wrote at the time, he came up with a truly elegant way to provide for the addition of women and civil rights leaders on banknotes without dropping the presidents already depicted.
Jackson's image would be retained in a redesigned reverse side of the $20 bill, according to the plan. Abraham Lincoln and Alexander Hamilton would remain on the front of the $5 and $10 bills, but the reverse of those notes would be redesigned to include depictions of such historic events as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream speech" at the Lincoln Memorial and a 1914 suffragette march at the Treasury building.
Mr. Lew knew that implementation of his scheme would rest with a new administration — final designs scheduled were to be unveiled only in 2020. But he dismissed concerns the reform would be reversed. "I don't think somebody's going to probably want to do that — to take the image of Harriet Tubman off of our money? To take the image of the suffragists off?" he said.
But then no one would have thought it possible that the president of the United States would want to describe people at a neo-Nazi rally as "very fine people" or equate those protesting white supremacy with those promoting it. Harriet Tubman was a woman who distinguished herself during this country's greatest trial. Putting her on the $20 bill is symbolically important — and so, too, would be denying her that rightful honor.
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