It’s Harriet Tubman for the 20!

My childhood hero! Why do I love her so much?

In second grade, I was a white Yankee girl in Louisiana, bused to a Black school under Supreme Court order.

Desegregation, the sequel: where it was not enough to merely allow students to attend the nearest school. That order combined our two neighboring towns and school districts, added other districts, and affected the nation. I became a racial minority in a separate and not equal facility, with experiences ranging from terror to delight. (Will I ever finish my novel inspired by it?)

We had dedicated teachers of both races, and a small but potent library, where Black history was richly represented.

Harriet Tubman Library of Congress

We could not discuss race at school–the Klan’s invisible presence was a palpable threat–but I could read on the sly. I also read Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle–I was 7, 8, and 9–but Harriet was real-life magical. Battle scarred warrior, escape artist, master of disguises, brilliant strategist, wilderness survivor, spy, and savior. She led 300 passengers through her line of the Underground Railroad, and never lost one. Her story gave me courage, and a passion for freedom.

Abraham Lincoln owned a whole shelf in that library, and Miss Harriet starred in a half-dozen biographies nearby. Now they will be neighbors in our currency.

I am glad Hamilton’s fans fought to keep him on the 10, because the 20 is even better and worth the wait. The 20 is the mother of currency: the one counterfeiters covet, cash machines dispense, and any establishment is willing to break. Ironically, Harriet Tubman does not completely replace that slave-holding, Native American-destroying Jackson. Instead, she bumps him to the back of the bill. He will be sent to the back of the train, to ride the coattails of an ultimate Freedom Rider, while we reflect on his part in history as well, and let Harriet be our face forward.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew’s Open Letter


Gwyn Nichols,

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