(NNPA)—When Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew announced that Harriet Tubman would grace the new $20 bill, my heart sang hallelujah. Additional changes to the currency were also announced. The back of the $10 bill will now recognize the five leaders of the women’s suffrage movement and the back of the $5 bill to recognize civil rights leaders, and honor historic events from the Lincoln Memorial. The faces on our money will no longer be all pale and male, and that’s progress.
It is especially fitting that Harriet Tubman grace the $20 bill, since she was an economic freedom fighter. She is credited with ushering more than 300 people out of enslavement, many of them family members from the state of Maryland. She hit slaveholders in the pocketbook, costing them billions of today’s dollars. If the average enslaved person sold for $1000 (which is about right for 1860), then the 300 she freed cost $300,000 in 1860 dollars, or about $8.3 million in today’s dollars (calculated from The Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index). That’s quite a blow for a slaveholding society to absorb. Every time an enslaved person ran away, they struck a blow for freedom, and a blow against the economic stability of the South.
Enslavement was at the root of the development of contemporary U.S. capitalism. Black lives were the collateral that plantation owners used to purchase more land, to purchase more slaves, to purchase equipment, to expand. Enslaved people were, in many ways, a form of currency. Harriett Tubman gracing the $20 bill makes perfect sense.