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Harriet Tubman’s long journey to the $20 bill acknowledges sin of slavery (COMM …

Harriet Tubman portrait. No date indicated.
Tubman, Harriet Arminta (1820 - 10 Mar 1913) Artist: Squyer, H Seymour (1848 - 18 Dec 1905) c. 1885 Printing-out paper photo Photo courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Tubman, Harriet Arminta (1820 – 10 Mar 1913) Artist: Squyer, H Seymour (1848 – 18 Dec 1905) c. 1885 Printing-out paper photo Photo courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

(RNS) Harriet Tubman will soon become the first African-American to appear on U.S. currency. This monumental decision is not only politically correct, as some have suggested, it is morally and socially correct.

African-Americans have long been vocal in their criticism over the lack of inclusion in American history lessons.

As Tubman takes her place as the new face of the $20 bill, her image now will be further etched into the lives of a global community. Tubman will now be forced to pass through hands again, not as a slave commodity, but rather as validated currency of U.S. economic might. As these new bills enter into circulation many may wonder: “What do I know about Harriet Tubman?”

If currency truly speaks to worth or value, Tubman is right on the money. Born a slave in Dorchester County, Md., the revolutionary activist escaped slavery in 1849 by fleeing a Maryland plantation. She later became the conductor for the Underground Railroad and over a span of 10 years made 19 trips into the South, leading more than 300 slaves to freedom. In her own words Tubman was quoted as saying, “I freed a thousand slaves; I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”

Tubman also served in active duty during the Civil War as a cook, spy, scout and nurse for the Union Army.

The journey to the $20 bill began through bipartisan legislation sponsored by New York Congressman John Katko and Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings. The Harriet Tubman Tribute Act required the secretary of the Treasury to place Tubman’s image on a Federal Reserve note by 2017.

For Katko the inspiration was birthed out of his experience last year of attending the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church Annual Harriet Tubman Pilgrimage held on the grounds of the Tubman Home in Auburn, N.Y.

In 1903, Tubman was unable to make tax payments on the property so she bequeathed it to the AME Zion Church under the condition that the church would continue to operate her home and property. The church still oversees Tubman’s property and possessions.

Tubman’s living descendants are members of the Thompson Memorial AME Zion Church in Auburn.

In 2014, President Obama signed into law a measure creating a national historical park at her property in Auburn as well as Maryland. The parks are the first of their kind to honor an African-American woman.

By stamping her likeness on our currency, the U.S. is now forced to awkwardly roll away, unseal and uplift the highly secured stones of its dark and embarrassing past. Tubman’s honor acknowledges slavery and many today would prefer to keep that part of American history buried. While the United States government has never, and may never, issue a formal public apology for slavery, this move, in part, acknowledges its existence.

(Daren C. Jaime is pastor of  Thompson Memorial AME Zion Church, in Auburn, N.Y., and People’s AME Zion Church, Syracuse, N.Y.)

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  • Great article, Pastor Jaime! Your last paragraph left me hoping you will write a sequel about how America’s “dark and embarrassing past” still casts its awful pall on how Americans treat other Americans today. Please?

  • She should have a memorial or a statue, or be remembered somehow in DC, just like Lincoln

  • Can anyone spell defacement of US currency?
    a) Once again ‘O’ enjoys the privilege of spitting in the face of American people.
    b) Create an aversion to the use cash, so that the banks can more greatly profiteer on the financial sources of the American people as demanded by the Federal Bank Reserve.
    c) Continue the entitlement propaganda of reparation despite Constitutional prohibitions of corruption of blood.
    d) As many enjoy flaunting bloody sheets, which of following should be placed on the penny, nickel, dime and quarter as you wish to devaluate :

    Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Upset about a racial name-calling that occurred earlier that night, several black men savagely beat a random white man who had had nothing to do with the incident. He slipped away from his attackers, but they forced him to swim into a lake to escape. He drowned. The three men were sentenced to less than a year in jail.3

    Massachusetts. Four black men decided to murder the next white person they saw. That unlucky soul was a college student from Boston, whom the men stabbed to death.4

    Indiana. A black man was arrested for killing seven white people with a shotgun. He explained that he murdered his victims due to his “deep-rooted hatred” of white people.5

    Miami, Florida. The leader of a black supremacist sect (i.e., the “Yaweh ben Yaweh cult”) was convicted of the murders of several white people. He ordered his followers to kill any and all “white devils.” They killed at least seven white people, bringing back body parts to their leader.6

    North Carolina. Seven black men kidnapped a white woman, raped her, put her in a tub of bleach, shot her five times, and dumped her body. The murderers said they did this for racial reasons.7

    North Carolina. Four black teenagers lured a white, ten-year-old girl into an empty house. “There, they sodomized her, strangled her with a cable wire, and beat her to death with a board. In the past few weeks, the trials in the Tiffany Long case have received extensive coverage in the North Carolina press. But with two of the three defendants already sentenced to lifelong prison terms, and the third now standing trial, the national media have all but ignored the story. Only the Associated Press has reported on the trials, in a single, cursory piece. The AP, of course, failed to mention the race of the people involved — an oversight it seldom if ever committed in the case of Amadou Diallo.”8

    Boulder, Colorado. After discovering that one of their members had never had intercourse with a white woman, an Asian gang went looking for one. When they found a white University of Colorado student, the six men gang raped her in their minivan for two hours. At their trial, “Detectives described the woman’s night of terror, including repeated threats to kill her.“The woman leaped out of the minivan after one of the men raped her. Naked, she sprinted across Lefthand Canyon Road before Steve Yang tackled her, authorities said.“‘They were all screaming at her, calling her names and hitting her,’ Detective Jane Harmer testified.“Yang put her in a headlock and dragged her back into the van, where she was raped repeatedly, Harmer said.“‘It was a free-for-all,’ Harmer testified.“One man threatened to ‘cut and burn her,’ and another put a gun barrel to the back of her head when they released her, Harmer said.”9

    Kansas City, Missouri. An Ethiopian immigrant shot two white coworkers — killing one and critically injuring the other — at his workplace, then turned the gun on himself. At his residence, police found a three-page, signed note he had written in which he railed at “black blood sucker supreme white people” for oppressing him and black people in general.10

    New York City. In a Midtown office building, a white woman was assaulted, raped, and anally raped by a black man who called her racist names during the attack. Police refused to label it a hate crime.11

  • Re
    “Can anyone spell defacement of US currency?
    a) Once again ‘O’ enjoys the privilege of spitting in the face of American people.
    b) Create an aversion to the use cash…”

    Wow. (I stopped reading after those utterly deplorable if not despicably racist insults.)

  • Sorry not my original sin. I didnt own slaves ,wasnt even alive then. I dont have this shame over it. I think it wrong to do this because Jackson was a President who defied the bankers called them ‘A den of vipers’
    ilitary career.

  • Deplorable? Why, Because I apparently disagree with your world view. Or that the scenario of supposedly apolitical agencies of the United States, acting Unconstitutionally, to further a political agenda in such a manner as to suppress scrutiny by presentment of such scrutiny as bigotry. Get in the game before we all die.

  • Because you equate honoring Harriet Tubman, an extraordinarily brave and heroic American patriot who single-handedly freed hundreds of slaves on her own initiative, with “defacement of US currency”.

    Because you insult this great American hero with the hateful slur that placing her image on the $20 bill will “Create an aversion to the use [of] cash”.

    Because you disparage this honor as if it were merely a “privileged” whim of the President of the United States. (FYI, President Obama wasn’t even involved beyond encouraging and congratulating the already wildly successful efforts of the grass-roots-based “Womenon20s” org.)

    And because you’re “spitting in the face” of the President of our United States of America — and in the face of American Liberty, which Harriet Tubman exemplifies so beautifully.

    If you want to console yourself by saying I called your comments “deplorable” merely “Because I apparently disagree with your world view”, that’s your right.

    But don’t think it’s not obvious that you could have just as easily said, “I disagree with this plan to change the face of our $20 bill”.

  • It is absurd to say that this forces America to face its past slavery. That “peculiar institution” and its aftermath are a continuing shadow on America and all its politics. It faces it every day starting from the first days after ratification of the constitution until even today.
    Is this another step? Sure, but it is no where near the first.

  • I am not ashamed of the whole slavery thing either. I don’t think it’s necessary for any living Americans to feel shame about slavery in America. As you said John, we did not actively participate in slavery.

    Because we are the ones living now, it is our responsibility to end the unfairness descendants of slaves endure. That is something we benefit from every day. We don’t have to do anything to perpetuate systemic racism because it is so embedded in the culture of the USA that it’s Just There. If we do nothing, it won’t get any better and America will fall short of the aspirations written in the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and other founding documents.

    We are responsible for now.