The headline is enticing: "When will Harriet Tubman adorn the $20 bill."
When indeed? It's been a little over four months since President Joe Biden took office and soaked up praise in his early days for pledging to look for ways to "speed up" the process of putting abolitionist, Civil War spy Underground Railroad conductor and hero Tubman on the front of the $20 bill, replacing Tennessean and President Andrew Jackson, who owned enslaved people and forcibly relocated Native Americans.
"But," the Washington Post story notes, "there is little evidence that the administration has taken any steps to accelerate the schedule set out years ago by a small agency within the Treasury Department. Despite the growing national push to honor the contributions of women and people of color — and Biden's personal promise to do so — Tubman is still not set to appear on the $20 by the end of Biden's first term, or even a hypothetical second term. If the current timeline holds, it will have taken a full 16 years to realize the suggestion of a 9-year-old girl whose 2014 letter to then-President Barack Obama publicly launched the process."
Treasury officials say changing the portrait on the $20 is not as simple as it sounds, largely because of the need for sophisticated anti-counterfeiting features.
Cry us a river. It will take 16 years to do that? Three presidential terms or more?
The Treasury announced the currency change in April 2016, and the plan was to have it done by 2020 to commemorate the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.
But then came the 2016 election. In 2019, the Trump administration's Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin delayed the bill's release, and he blamed the delay — from 2020 to 2028 — on counterfeiting design issues. Curiously, anti-counterfeiting design plans for new $10 and $50 bills continued forward without a hitch. And we should mention that Mnuchin's boss, the former guy, complained that putting Tubman on the currency was "pure political correctness."
A June 2019 New York Times report noted that current and former treasury department officials said Mnuchin chose the delay to avoid the possibility that his president would cancel the plan outright and create even more controversy.
If that's the case, put this train back on track. Our nation and the Treasury Department and even Biden should truly be embarrassed that this is taking so long. Folks, we managed to get COVID-19 vaccines developed at light speed, why can't we get a new face — a woman's face — on a $20 bill?
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire, took it step further in an interview with The Post:
"If we can put a helicopter on Mars, we ought to be able to design a $20 bill in less than 20 years," she said. "It's all about commitment."
We understand that there have been some other important priorities on Biden's to-do list. Shots in arms, for one. And he has made some strides for diversity — like choosing a woman of color for his vice president.
Add to the list that he ordered the Oval Office be cleared of a portrait of Jackson, who oversaw the Indian Removal Act that led to the "Trail of Tears." The former guy had installed the Jackson portrait because someone told him they admired the nation's 7th president for his populism and frontier image.
Biden also recently became the first president to visit Tulsa in commemoration of a race massacre there, and he gave a bang-up good speech at the same time.
He needs to make the Tubman $20 bill happen, too.
If we were talking about putting another photo of another white guy on this bill, would anti-counterfeiting features fit any better?
We have George Washington on the $1, Thomas Jefferson on the $2, Abraham Lincoln on the $5, Alexander Hamilton on the $10, Jackson on the $20, Ulysses S. Grant on the $50 and Benjamin Franklin on the $100. Even Grover Cleveland (who?) was on the now-defunct $1,000.
But we're talking about an image of a Black woman, and there has never been a Black person on any U.S. currency, nor has there been a woman on a bill in the modern era. Susan B. Anthony is on a dollar coin, but when was the last time you even saw — much less used — one of those?
The Post story noted that changing America's money "has long been a glacial process," and that the blue thread that appears in the recently released $100 bill took the government a decade to develop.
Here's hoping it doesn't take as long to get Tubman and other women on currency as it did to persuade men to grant women the right to vote.
The 19th amendment was first introduced in Congress in 1878. It finally was passed by Congress in 1919 and ratified a year later — all in all, a process of 42 years.
Surely we are better than this.