Harriet Tubman to grace U.S. currency

Harriet Tubman, a favorite American historical figure, is the first African American represented on U.S. currency as well as the first woman to grace American money in more than a century.


FORT WORTH, Texas, April 22, 2016 The last time America’s currency evolved on a large scale, Calvin Coolidge was still president. The first major image change in a long time is about to be made to the $20 bill, where Harriet Tubman will replace former President Andrew Jackson.

Ms. Tubman, a favorite American historical figure, is the first African-American to be honored in this fashion and the first woman to grace U.S. paper currency.

To honor this amazing woman I’m re-posting an revised version of an article about her that I wrote a couple of years back. Enjoy.


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…..

~ Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

Before the birth of our nation, people around the world lived according to the station to which they had been born. Until our forefathers defied England’s king and founded the United States, dreams of a better life didn’t exist for most individuals not part of the upper and ruling classes.

With few exceptions, individuals in European countries and their numerous colonies lived the same lives that their parents and ancestors did. If you were born a slave, you died a slave. If you were born a serf, you died a serf. If born a noble, you died a noble. Society didn’t allow for changes. No exceptions.

But then, influenced by the Enlightenment, a group of educated denizens of a far-off British colony across the Atlantic opposed an English king and social norms. They believed a man’s life was his own to live and happiness his own to pursue. That right came from God. They would govern themselves.

The signers of our most famous treasonous document knew it wouldn’t grant freedom for everyone. Laying the groundwork for it was the best they could do at the time. The stroke of a pen does not necessarily change societal views or the hearts of a people.

However, this nation’s founders did know that freedom is a gift from God Himself. Governments don’t give freedom. They can only attempt to control how much of it we enjoy.

The result of this belief was the creation of a new form of government, a government designed to allow citizens to control their own destiny. This type of government of the people, by the people, and for the people” would be the new norm for the new United States of America.

Yet freedom as a concept and freedom as a reality are two separate things. Not every American achieved freedom without significant personal sacrifice. One such American, Harriet Tubman, worked and risked her own life not only for her own freedom but for the freedom of hundreds of others as well.

Harriet Tubman was an amazing individual. Born into the horrors of slavery, she escaped from it and helped create a system of people, places and houses to aid other slaves to achieve their freedom, too. She dubbed that system The Underground Railroad.

Once those escaped slaves were free, however, they soon discovered that not everything had changed. They and Harriet Tubman lived at a time when the rights and prospects for women were strictly limited in America. As a black woman she might now be free. But she was still at the bottom rung of society.

Undaunted, she did not allow those limits to hold her back either from life or from doing what was right. In the process, she tore down social barriers so that others would benefit from her struggles. Harriett Tubman made inroads on behalf of both civil rights and black equality, fighting against the established rule and changing the world for good.

Harriet Tubman (left) with family and former slaves.
Harriet Tubman (left) with family and former slaves.

In this country, Tubman’s name became for many, virtually synonymous with that of Moses. In 19 Underground Railroad missions, she led over 300 slaves from the Eastern shore of Maryland, through Delaware and into Pennsylvania, where they might find freedom.

It was a feat accomplished even as she suffered from the effects of a chronic head injury, now thought to have been temporal lobe epilepsy. The injury, brought about from a blow to her head by a slave owner, caused her to pass out without warning.

Yet not even that could deter her from her self-appointed mission. In later interviews she declared, “There was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other.”

Still little known is the fact that Harriet worked for the Union Army during the Civil War. In fact, she was a fixture in the Union Army camps where she served as a spy, a cook and a nurse tending to wounded soldiers. She put to good use her knowledge of covert travel and subterfuge, and was also the first woman in U.S. military history to plan and lead an armed assault.

Harriet guided three steamboats around Confederate mines on the Combahee River. Once landed, troops raided and set fire to plantations. During this military action, the boat whistle blew, sounding freedom to the slaves. This one courageous act alone freed more than 700 individuals.

The Women’s Suffrage Movement was another battle Tubman fought.  She frequented women’s meetings and spoke about her actions throughout the Civil War. It was abundantly clear that Harriet also believed the right to vote was vital to preserving freedom. When asked if women should vote, Tubman replied: “I suffered enough to believe it.”

Harriet was active in her faith at the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Auburn, New York. In 1903 she gave land to the church to establish a rest home for African-Americans. Her dream was realized when the doors to the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged opened in 1908.

Counted among her friends were important contemporaries of the day: Fredrick Douglass, John Brown, Booker T. Washington, Susan B. Anthony and U.S. Sen. and former New York State Gov. William H. Seward and his wife Frances.

In her later years as she recalled her first trip to into Pennsylvania and to freedom, Tubman is quoted as saying, “When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven.”

Those of us born free can’t begin to truly appreciate the impact of her statement even today.

Among her many achievements, Harriet Tubman has been honored by the United States Senate:

SRES 455 ATS 111TH CONGRESS 2d Session S. RES. 455 Honoring the life, heroism, and service of Harriet Tubman. 

 Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the Senate–

(1) honors the life and courageous heroism of Harriet Tubman; 

(2) recognizes the great contributions made by Harriet Tubman throughout her lifelong service and commitment to liberty, justice, and equality for all; and

(3) encourages the people of the United States to remember the courageous life of Harriet Tubman, a true hero.


This bill was passed with unanimous consent of the U.S. Senate on March 15, 2010.

Other commendations for her bravery and perseverance include:

  • SS Harriet Tubman– a Liberty ship launched in 1944
  • *Commemoration in a calendar of saints by the Episcopal Church
  • *Named one of the most famous civilians in American history in a survey at the end of the 20th century – third only to Betsy Ross and Paul Revere
  • *The Harriet Tubman commemorative postage stamp
  • *Tubman has been honored with dozens of schools named for her, plaques bearing her likeness are displayed, and parks and civic holidays that are named for her.

When she died in March 1913, Harriet Tubman was buried with military honors at Fort Hill Cemetery, Auburn, New York. The keynote speaker for her was Booker T. Washington – the last African-American activist born into slavery.

Harriet Tubman had everything going against her in life, yet didn’t let it keep her from finding freedom for herself and hundreds of others. Numerous obstacles still did not keep her from changing the world.

This amazing lady made America and the rest of the world a better place by breaking the bonds of slavery of one form or another. And she did it all with grace, determination and a neverending concern for her fellow human beings.

It’s that kind of concern that ultimately benefits ALL Americans.


Read more about Tubman in “Harriet Tubman: Road to Freedom” by Catherine Clinton


Read more of Claire’s work at Feed the Mind, Nourish the Soul in the Communities Digital News and Greater Fort Worth Writers.

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