In 2014, a 9-year-old girl from Cambridge (Massachusetts, United States) sent a letter to the then President Barack Obama asking him why there was not even a woman on the American banknotes: “I think there should be more women on the United States banknotes because without women even men would not have existed », wrote the girl, who also enclosed a list of women deserving, according to her, to appear on a banknote. Among others were Rosa Parks, known for refusing to give way to a white woman on a bus in 1955, and African-American anti-slavery leader Harriet Tubman.
Obama agreed that it was a good idea, and the secretary of the treasury in 2016 started the practice to replace the seventh president of the United States Andrew Jackson – who got rich thanks to the fact that he owned about 150 slaves – with Tubman. Five years later, however, the paperwork to implement the idea is progressing very slowly and with difficulty due to various bureaucratic delays, despite the promise of the current administration led by Joe Biden to speed up the process. “If we can go to Mars, we should also be able to draw a $ 20 bill in less than twenty years,” said Senator Jeanne Shaheen, referring to the usual deadline set by the Treasury Department for this type of paperwork. .
Harriet Tubman lived between the first half of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. She was born in conditions of slavery, but then managed to escape and organized a series of missions to make other slaves and slaves escape with the help of a network of anti-slavery and abolitionist people. In those years a series of paths had also been created that formed the so-called Underground Railroad (“Underground railway”), which however was neither underground nor a railway, but rather secret and relatively safe routes for people fleeing slavery, punctuated by safe houses (“Safe houses”) that offered them refuge. These routes led mainly to Canada or Mexico, countries where slavery had been abolished in the early nineteenth century.
Through the Underground Railroad Tubman managed to rescue about 70 people, after fleeing Maryland in 1849 where she was being held slaves. She was 27 years old and as a child she had been whipped and beaten several times, then as a teenager she suffered a serious head injury, which was struck by the plantation overseer. He lost a lot of blood and since then suffered from seizures and sudden and brief loss of consciousness all his life.
When the Civil War began between the abolitionist states of the Union and those of the Confederacy, who wanted to maintain slavery instead, Tubman worked for the Unionist army as a spy doing a great deal of intelligence, gathering information on how the enemy sentries, identifying any threats such as the first land mines and helping to map locations in South Carolina on behalf of the army. Despite years of service, Tubman never received adequate salary and was never compensated by the army. His intelligence and slave liberation activities have only recently been publicly recognized.
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Due to the uniqueness of her figure in the United States, and to the fact that there have always been only faces of white men on the dollars, the Obama administration’s project to dedicate the 20 dollar bill to her had been told a lot, also because the others new figures that should appear are the leaders of the women’s voting movement (on the $ 10 bills) and singer Marian Anderson (on the $ 5 bills). Now, however, someone is criticizing the Biden administration for the too long time horizon in which these new figures will probably be introduced.
The small office of the Treasury Department that deals with these matters, writes the Washington Post, said that changing the shapes of a banknote is not as easy as it seems, because they must be adapted in such a way as to respect the characteristics that allow the banknote not to be counterfeited. “We are committed to the goal of redesigning the US currency to more adequately reflect the history and diversity of our country,” official Len Olijar wrote in a statement. “But safety remains the key point.”
The group of activists and activists Women on 20s, which is campaigning to introduce female figures in the $ 20 bills, instead accuses the department of being reluctant to change and deliberately lengthening the time. “They are happy to send it for as long as possible, perhaps until cryptocurrencies take the place of paper money,” he told the Washington Post Barbara Ortiz Howard, founder of the group. “They don’t want to make changes, that’s the only explanation for all this nonsense.”
Olijar also added that the program of works to redesign the banknotes is established by a commission called Advanced Counterfeit Deterrence (“Advanced deterrence against counterfeiting”), and according to this program both the $ 10 and $ 50 will be remade before the $ 20, again for security reasons. Two sources from the Treasury Department spoke to the Washington Post remaining anonymous, but they preferred not to say whether current Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen intends to change the program.
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