Lovie Meets Harriet. Three-year-old Auriah "Lovie" Duncan was walking with her grandmothers Tracy and Tammy Lynndee when saw this newly-painted mural by Michael Rosato on Cambridge's Harriet Tubman Museum & Educational Center. It wasn't quite finished - hence the white hand - but “she wanted to go up and give (Harriet) a high-five,” said Tracy. Photo from Facebook and Maiden Maryland.
It was less than surprising when slimy Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, on behalf of Great Pretender Donnie "Very Fine People" Trump, announced last week they were "postponing" an Obama-era plan to put the image of abolitionist and freedom fighter Harriet Tubman on $20 bills, thus ousting genocidal racist, slave owner and evil creator of the Trail of Tears Andrew Jackson - a no-brainer move, you'd think, for anyone except an oblivious fan-boy who thinks Jackson "had a great history." Born a slave in Maryland in 1820, Tubman endured years of abuse before escaping to free territory in Philadelphia and becoming a "conductor" on the Underground Railroad, escorting over 300 slaves to freedom, including her own parents, on 19 fraught trips back to the South. Often following the stars, Tubman became known for her courage, tenacity and strategic thinking: She would steal a slave master’s horse and buggy to start their trip, spirit slaves away on Saturday night knowing notices of runaways wouldn't be posted until Monday, carry a gun to prevent her charges from giving up or turning back. “You’ll be free or die,” she told them, echoing her own response to a $40,000 ransom on her head: “I had reasoned this out in my mind; 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; for no man should take me alive.”
The Tubman redesign was scheduled for 2020 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. Evidently to appease the sort of racist goons now running the country, the $20 bill was to have Tubman on the front and move Jackson to the back - a punt some felt besmirched Tubman's legacy. Still, the idea of an uppity black woman on his money rankled Trump. The guy who maligned "shithole countries" and reviled every black female he saw - “dog” Omarosa, “low IQ” Waters, "loser” April Ryan - dismissed the plan as "pure political correctness,” once sneering, "You want me to put that face on the twenty-dollar bill?" Feeling bad for mass killer Jackson - "I think it's very rough when you take somebody off the bill” - he's suggested that black lady he's never heard of go on the near-extinct $2 bill, safely out of view. Little wonder, then, that at Wednesday's Congressional hearing Mnuchin said he's suddenly, deeply focused on "the security features of the US currency" to prevent counterfeiting, a heretofore invisible problem, and Tubman is likely gone girl until Trump is too. Asked by Rep. Ayanna Pressley, another uppity black woman, "Do you support Harriet Tubman being on the $20 bill?" Mnuchin weaseled out with, "I've made no decision as it relates to that." A final ruling won't be made until 2026, he said, with new bills maybe by 2028. Said a former Obama official, "Meaning their goal is never."
Critics have called bullshit, echoing Pressley that, “The American people understood the importance of representation on the banknotes of the world’s most powerful economy - representation that acknowledged our history and all those who have contributed. Other people than white men built this country.” Others ranged from Elijah Cummings - “Harriet Tubman fought to make the values enshrined in our Constitution a reality for all Americans – and it is far past time that we recognize her place in history" - to the right-wing Cato Institute, which praised her "courage in fighting and breaking unjust laws." Above all, they blast the in-your-face racism of the lamentable folks now calling the shots. "Make no mistake: the decision to cancel the unveiling of Harriet Tubman (is) purely to pander to white supremacy. Period," tweeted Charlotte Clymer of the Human Rights Campaign. "Being 'delayed until 2028' is a goddamn lie. This is an attempt to make fragile white people comfortable." Activist Bree Newsome Bass furiously agreed. "The white supremacists running this country are not about to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill to have y'all contemplating racism and resistance every time y'all go to the ATM," she wrote. "Y'all gonna get that good ol' agent of genocide Andrew Jackson."
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But not if several pro-active artists and makers can help it. In 2017, using current technology to build on a tradition begun in the 1900s when suffragettes stamped pennies with the radical notion "Votes For Women," Phillip Torrone and Limor Fried created a DIY 3-D printed stamp that can "Turn Your 20s Into Tubmans," eventually producing a tutorial on how to make the mold. While their original purpose was to impose Tubman on Jackson, they envisioned creating images of other icons, arguing, “If you see these faces every day, they gain power." Just so, says Brooklyn artist Dano Wall, who has created his own 3-D stamp to replace Jackson's face with Tubman's, arguing, "Who we choose to honor as a society affects the moral attitudes that are baked into us as we grow up." Wall has gotten about 400 stamps into circulation, largely by gifting them to friends, but his ultimate goal is to hit 5–10% of the $20s in circulation, putting the number into the millions, "at which point it would be difficult to ignore.” He's created tumbmanstamp.com with information about the project and Tubman’s legacy, figured out how to make and sell bulk stamps - available on Etsy - with funds going to the Southern Poverty Law Center, and urged others to download their own stamp on Thingiverse because "the impact of seeing the face of Harriet Tubman staring back at you from a $20 bill should not be underestimated." And yes, it's legal.
Photo from historical archives/Corbis via Getty Image