The Ohio State University at Newark

Ohio State Newark Associate Professor Celebrates Tubman on $20 Bill

The Ohio State University at Newark Associate Professor of African American and African Studies Tiyi Morris, Ph.D., calls the announcement that Harriet Tubman will be the new face of the $20 bill “news worthy of celebration.” Morris’ interdisciplinary research and teaching focus combines the fields of American History, Black Studies and Women’s Studies.

“Despite the mixed reviews the announcement has prompted, a Black woman on U.S. currency is long overdue,” said Morris. “Currency is a significant representation of a nation’s history and values, and the fact that heretofore African Americans have been omitted from such an opportunity is yet another example of how far we are from being post-racial.”

In April, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced that Andrew Jackson will move from the front of the $20 to the back, making way for Tubman. She'll become the first woman ever to front a U.S. banknote.

Tubman died in 1913 at the age of 91. She escaped slavery in the south and eventually led hundreds to freedom through the Underground Railroad. However, the story doesn’t end there. After the slaves were freed, Tubman supported the effort to grant women the right to vote.

“One of the arguments against having Tubman on the bill is that she will be a constant reminder of slavery,” said Morris. “However, placing Tubman on the $20 bill is no more a perpetual reminder of slavery than Andrew Jackson’s or George Washington’s face. In fact, I would argue that Tubman is less of a representation of slavery than Jackson, Washington or any other slave owner. Instead Tubman exemplifies resistance, liberation, courage, wisdom, justice and determination. Through her image, we will be constantly reminded of the power of Black women, even at a time when they were legally the most powerless members of society. At the same time, she represents a story that is not often acknowledged – that of Black women’s agency as important historical actors who helped shape our nation. Black women’s experiences have so frequently been ignored and denied that we too often forget that their lives, perspectives and contributions have been essential to our nation’s development. Without their full inclusion, our history is at best, an incomplete one.”

The final concept designs of the new $20 bill are scheduled to be completed and unveiled by 2020, the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

“Tubman’s life, like the lives of many Black women, is one that provides an important counter narrative to the traditional American story. Whiteness and maleness have become synonymous with progress, advancement and American values because they are the ones who have traditionally been represented,” said Morris. “Thus, a Black woman’s inclusion on our nation’s currency is one step toward shifting our consciousness away from the traditional normalization of white patriarchy. Tubman was a champion of freedom and justice who survived against formidable odds and, thus, is one of the best representations of the ideals upon which this nation was founded.”

The Ohio State University at Newark offers an academic environment that’s challenging but supportive with world-renowned professors and access to Ohio State’s more than 200 majors. It’s where learning comes to life. Research, study abroad and service learning opportunities prepare students for their careers in ways they never expected.

Buckeye Voices Blog - Morris Talks about Tubman on the $20