Who Is Harriet Tubman And Why Is She on The 20 Dollar Bill?

To have one’s face on the legal tender of any country is a great honour which is often given as a reward for one’s unmatched contribution to his/her country. When on the 20th of April 2016, Jack Lew, the then the United States Treasury Secretary had announced that his administration planned to include a portrait of Harriet Tubman on the 20-dollar bill, the world went crazy with questions. Since then, there has been an increased interest in the life and legacy of this woman whose face might be on the 20-dollar bill.

Harriet Tubman was an African American slave who escaped to eventually become an abolitionist and a political activist. Her story has been told countless times, especially in her two biographies and she has been nationally and globally praised for her work as a nurse, a spy, a Civil War scout, a suffragist, and a civil right activist. This article will be getting elbows deep in history to explore the life of this phenomenal woman. It also attempts to answer the burning question of why she would be on the 20-dollar bill.

Who is Harriet Tubman?

Named Araminta Ross at birth, she was born into slavery circa March 1822 in Dorchester County, Maryland. Her parents, Harriet Green and Ben Ross, were slaves owned by Mary Pattison Brodess and Anthony Thompson respectively. Her mother worked as a cook for the family where she was owned while her father was a woodsman who worked on a timber plantation.

As a child, Harriet Tubman was beaten excessively by her masters and at some point, even sustained a traumatic head injury after a heavy metal hurled by a slave master at another slave had hit her instead. The result of this injury was that she suffered pain, seizures, bouts of dizziness, and hypersonic spells throughout her life. This suggests that perhaps Harriet suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy as a result of the injury. She also witnessed “Strange Visions” which she described as visions from God. She was raised as a Methodist and Harriet Tubman lived the rest of her life being very religious.

As a slave child, Harriet Tubman worked odd jobs such as inspecting muskrat traps in the marshes of the home of a planter named James Cook. As a child, she suffered from the disease measles and had to be sent back home so she could be taken care of by her mother. With age, she began working bigger jobs such as driving oxen and even hauling logs. Her mother filled her with bible stories which she loved greatly and she developed a very deep passion for her faith in Christ, spending a good part of her life preaching the teachings of the Old Testament.

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Harriet Tubman got married in 1844 to a free man named John Tubman and immediately after marriage changed her first name from Araminta to Harriet, perhaps to honor her mother. In 1849, she fell very sick and was not very useful as a slave so her master tried to sell her off. She prayed to God to change him or kill him. A few days later he died, making Harriet feel guilty for her prayers. After the death of her master, to avoid being sold again, Harriet escaped from slavery alongside her brothers Ben and Henry on the 17th of September, 1849.

Why Is She on the 20 Dollar Bill?

Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman

After her escape from slavery, Harriet Tubman also helped free about 70 other slaves. She embarked on about 13 missions and it was reported that she never lost a slave. In fact, she was nicknamed Moses because she led people to their freedom. She is recognized as one of the earliest people who helped bring an end to slavery in America. Apart from freeing slaves, she helped John Brown, the abolitionist to recruit men for his raid and also served as a spy and armed scout for the Union Army during the American Civil War. She also helped fight for the right of women to vote in America.

After the 2016 announcement to include Harriet Tubman on the 20-dollar bill along with President Andrew Jackson, Jack Lew had ordered for the redesign of the bill and intended that it would be circulated sometime in 2020. However, the 2017 US Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin had said that although it was something to consider, he would not commit to it as there were more pressing issues to attend to.


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