(TriceEdneyWire.com)—“I have been particularly struck by the many comments and reactions from children for whom Harriet Tubman is not just a historical figure, but a role model for leadership and participation in our democracy. You shared your thoughts about her life and her works and how they changed our nation and represented our most cherished values. …Her incredible story of courage and commitment to equality embodies the ideals of democracy that our nation celebrates, and we will continue to value her legacy by honoring her on our currency.”—Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew
As the nation has begun the process of removing public monuments to the Confederacy—traitors who waged war against the United States to preserve slavery—we have at last begun to focus on the difference between observing history and honoring heroes.
One way nations honor national heroes is by depicting them on currency. Around the world, currency depicts writers, artists, scientists, activists and others as a means of national tribute. Against the backdrop of the Confederate monument debate, a planned tribute to abolitionist and anti-slavery activist Harriet Tubman would be a powerful gesture of racial reconciliation.
Now, however, that gesture of reconciliation is threatened. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchen —former CEO of a major bank that stands accused of racial discrimination—has backed away from plans to feature Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill.
Abandoning this long-overdue tribute would be a grave mistake. At a time when the nation desperately seeks reconciliation, this gesture sends the callous message that white supremacy takes precedence over the history of slavery and the unfathomable courage of those who fought to end it.