Barry Saunders

Saunders: Replacing Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman is a good monetary trade

This image provided by the Library of Congress shows Harriet Tubman, between 1860 and 1875. Tubman will be on the new $20 bill, making her the first woman on U.S. paper currency in 100 years.
This image provided by the Library of Congress shows Harriet Tubman, between 1860 and 1875. Tubman will be on the new $20 bill, making her the first woman on U.S. paper currency in 100 years. Library of Congress via AP

Potato, potahto. Tomato, tomahto.

You say political correctness, I say great day in the morning. Great day in America.

How could any American feel anything but proud of our country after what happened last week, when the U.S. Treasury Department announced that the $20 bill will soon bear the face of an abolitionist, a woman named Harriet Tubman, and other denominations would have the images of more women who’ve contributed to America?

Easy. A presidential candidate, whose name I’ve vowed to be the only journalist in America never to write, called the honor a capitulation to “political correctness.”

Another candidate, whose name none of us will ever mention after the current political madness ends because he’ll return to irrelevancy, said perhaps Tubman should be honored with a $2 bill. (That was Ben Carson’s Solomonic solution.) He also objected to genocidal, law-breaking, Supreme Court-defying Andrew Jackson being moved to the back of the $20 to make way for Tubman. Oy!

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker said in a statement last week that Jackson’s “actions as president resulted in a genocide of Native Americans and the death of about a quarter of our people. It remains the darkest period in the Cherokee Nation’s history. Jackson’s legacy was never one to be celebrated, and his image on our currency is a constant reminder of his crimes against Natives. It’s been an insult to our people and to our ancestors, thousands of whom died of starvation and exposure and now lie in unmarked graves along the Trail of Tears.

“This is a small but meaningful vindication for them, and for our tribal citizens today. The Cherokee Nation applauds the work of Oklahoma Senator James Lankford, the U.S. Treasury and all those who recognized the injustices committed at the hands of President Jackson, and worked to replace his image with the image of Harriet Tubman, whose legacy represents values everyone can be proud of.”

Right on, Chief.

Is Tubman the first woman to deserve being so honored?

No. Neither is she the first woman or the first African-American on U.S. currency. Who can forget the unlamented Susan B. Anthony dollar – unlamented not because she was unworthy, but because the danged thing looked and felt like a quarter and I kept sticking it in vending machines trying to buy a Zagnut bar.

There was also currency featuring scientist George Washington Carver and educator Booker T. Washington, both of whom – like Tubman – were ex-slaves. I have a Booker T. half dollar someone gave me years ago, and I have resisted the urge to look it up and see if it’s worth more than a 50 cents. (You can, though.)

It’s unfathomable that anyone who professes to love this country could argue that Eleanor Roosevelt, Mary McLeod Bethune and Anthony, among others, don’t deserve a place of honor on our money. The only thing missing is the return of a Native American to it: the image of Lakota Chief Running Antelope was placed on a $5 bill in 1899.

Anyone who knows me knows that if I have one fault it’s that I’m too sympathetic. In this case, my heart aches for those whose upbringing, prejudice and chauvinism obscure the significance of what this decision means for America.

No one should have to walk around with money bearing pictures of people they despise or deem unworthy. That is why, perhaps subconsciously, every time I went into Brothers III or the 14 Karat Dinner Theater clubs – if you have to ask, don’t ask – I’d immediately unburden myself of a couple of despicable Andrew Jacksons and ask for 40 George Washingtons or eight Abe Lincolns.

I sometimes feel guilty over the times I’d offer to trade “this big ol’ nickel for that little, bitty dime” with a younger cousin. That worked out great for me, until he wised up and demanded his money back the next year when he went off to college.

In hopes of alleviating the suffering of bigots everywhere, I am making a similar offer: I’ll trade you one of your hero Andrew Jackson for two Harriet Tubmans. Just send them to this newspaper in care of me.

  Comments