Iowa Republican Steve King has spoken out against putting the face of Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, and the congressman believes it is racist to do so. According to King, it is “racist” and “sexist” to say a woman or person of color should be added to currency.
“Here’s what’s really happening,” King said. “This is liberal activism on the part of the president that’s trying to identify people by categories, and he’s divided us on the lines of groups…. This is a divisive proposal on the part of the president, and mine’s unifying. It says just don’t change anything.”
King also claims his recent proposal to prevent Harriet Tubman’s face from being on the $20 bill should not be viewed as anything against the famous abolitionist, the Omaha World-Herald reported. His proposed amendment was an effort to bar the Treasury Department from spending any funds to redesign paper money or coin currency. However, the House Rules Committee rejected the amendment, and the federal government’s plans to replace Jackson’s face on the $20 bill with a picture of Tubman is still going forward.
UPDATE: New $20 bill will keep an image of Andrew Jackson on the back, with Harriet Tubman on the front of the bill. https://t.co/2Ge6AoWwdW— NPR (@NPR) April 20, 2016
Speaking with reporters Tuesday on Capitol Hill, King says that he simply wants to keep things the way that they are.
“It’s not about Harriet Tubman, no, it’s about keeping the picture on the twenty,” King was quoted as saying. “Why would you want to change that? I am a conservative. I like to keep what we have.”
The conservative King is not alone in his efforts to keep Tubman from being on the $20 bill, and some historians believe that the image of the Underground Railroad conductor on the currency is inappropriate. The legend of Tubman — who escaped from slavery when she was young with a revolver in hand in the fight for freedom while evading bounty hunters for years — is what most frustrates some historians.
However, many scholars welcome the idea. One such person is Dr. Kate Clifford Larson, a Harriet Tubman scholar. In an interview with Vox, Larson said she feels the $20 bill is where Tubman belongs.
“Tubman [provides] a perfect example of the lack of attention to African-American history, women’s history, over time,” Larson said. “And it’s now taught much more readily in schools, since the Civil Rights Movement of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. It’s part of curriculum in colleges. To have Tubman now on the $20 [bill] just sort of changes the landscape and, I hope, will help us all begin to look beyond the George Washingtons, Abraham Lincolns, the Alexander Hamiltons of the world to the rest of story, and how we are where we are today, and where we should be going.”
Larson went on to say that having people see Tubman’s face spit out of an ATM every day might make them think twice about the legacy of slavery in this country.
In April, the Treasury Department announced that the abolitionist’s image will appear on a new series of $20 bills, becoming the first African American to appear on U.S. paper currency and the first woman in more than a century.
The front of the new $20 will bear the portrait of Harriet Tubman, whose life was dedicated to fighting for liberty. pic.twitter.com/8lAEkoD78p— Treasury Department (@USTreasury) April 20, 2016
Since the decision, exaggerations and outright falsehoods have proliferated in the celebrations for the achievement of the Tubman $20 bill. Several famous quotes were wrongly attributed to her, and they quickly circulated on social networks, including a shared — and then deleted tweet — by the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio.
De Blasio tweeted that Tubman “says it best,” and he posted the following message.
“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
A quick Google search revealed that Tubman did not say that, and Tubman’s biographer dates this fake quote to about 2007. The mayor later apologized for the misunderstanding and quickly removed the tweet after receiving criticism from social media users.
[Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]