Harriet Tubman postage stamp, 1978. Public Domain. (c)2019
I had intended to share a post about my attendance at the new Tubman-Seward statue dedication in upstate New York, and I will do that later in the week. But then with the announcement that the Tubman twenty dollar bill was postponed, I wanted ot share some of my thoughts o that, and that will follow, however these last two weeks have been noting short of coincidences if there really are such things.
Harriet Tubman was one of those historical figures remembered from childhood, the elementary grade lesson watered down and never addressed again.
When I saw the opportunity to attend the statue dedication, I took it, and I was moved beyond what I could have expected. So much so that the next day, I drove my family there. While we were there we met a woman and I got to share some information with her about Harriet and William Seward. She in turn told us about a food truck gathering with proceeds going to ARC. We went over, had a good lunch, and helped a great coase.
Then, yesterday I attended the last of a four week series at a retreat center. This one was called A Dreamer’s Mind, and the presenter began with the story of Harriet Tubman! I leaned even more than I’d learned at the dedication, and after all of these meetings with Harriet throughout the last few weeks, I know quite a bit more and I feel as though I’m carrying a small piece of her with me. Not a bad companion.
This was what I wrote at the first reflective time:
“Well, well, well, we meet again! LOL!
She’s everywhere for me recently. I have two blog posts that I’m preparing for and having just been to her statue at the library, she’s on my mind quite a lot in the last two weeks.”
And I think this is why when the decision to put Harriet on the $20 was reversed, or postponed or whatever the Secretary of the Treasury called it, it hit me a little harder than it normally would have. In fact, Harriet’s appearance on the $20 bill came up in the group conversation, and no one else had heard about the postponement except for me. It isn’t the same as others’, but sometimes I feel as though being so aware of what’s going on in the world is my cross to bear. It’s one anyway. A topic comes up, and I know something. Do I speak out? Or stay quiet as if this public information is a secret because I’m the only one in the room who’s heard it?
In this case, I spoke up. I usually speak up. I will admit to being snarky and just a little petty where the President’s involvement was concerned, and I apologized to the two women I was speaking to (although they didn’t disagree with my sentiment) and was able to say what I wanted to in a more diplomatic, all audience inclusive way.
I think the President’s a racist; at a minimum a bigot who believes every negative stereotype about minorities. I also think that since the President admires Andrew Jackson, he doesn’t want to replace him with a black woman. It’s really that simple. He could have taken the high road and said, ‘you know what, I didn’t make this decision, it was already set in motion, let it continue,’ but this President’s pettiness knows no bounds.
It’s not just that President Jackson was also a racist or even that he wasn’t a great president or stand out human being, but the fact that he perpetuated the genocide of millions of Native Americans by force marching them west, and not providing for them as promised in the treaties of the Grant Administration should be enough to keep him off the bill in the first place. White Europeans took this land. }That is our legacy. It doesn’t determine our future, but we need to acknowledge it, and at the same time acknowledge the Native Americans, not as a collective, but as individual tribes with different cultural and religious practices. They were here first, and it is our obligation as Americans to never forget their sacrifice. Despite being involuntary, it was still a sacrifice that every American should know.
What does this have to do with Harriet Tubman?
We acknowledge her existence in the way we water down what we deem too controversial. I’ve learned things in the past two weeks that I’ve never heard of about her, and she is taught in every school in America. She lived and died and is buried in my home state of New York. How did I not know these details of her life?
One thing that Harriet Tubman’s face on our money is a step towards recognizing who built this country. Our monies, for the most part represent our founding; our history. We need and should know our history, and having it represented on our money is wholly appropriate. But slaves also built this country. They sacrificed their families and their lives. Once freed, they build their lives from nothing. The pioneered the west. The raised crops. They’ve done everything free Europeans did except they did it under much worse conditions that are still seen in many ways today.
I look forward to Harriet Tubman (and other women and people of color) being included in our country’s public representation, on money, naming streets and buildings, and other ways we express our gratitude for our historical counterparts.
I want to share this conversation on Nicolle Wallace’s show, Deadline: White House about the change in the status of the $20 bill.
For anyone who wishes to have their own (legal tender) Tubman Twenty, here is a link for the stamp. I have not ordered one, so I do not know anything about this seller.