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Harriet Tubman becomes first African-American to adorn US currency

Published 20/04/2016

Harriet Tubman is the first woman on US paper currency in 100 years (AP)
Harriet Tubman is the first woman on US paper currency in 100 years (AP)

A woman who was born into slavery will become the first African-American to adorn US currency.

Harriet Tubman, an African-American abolitionist, will be featured on the front of the 20 dollar bill, US treasury secretary Jacob Lew announced.

She will also be the first woman depicted on US currency in 100 years. She will replace president Andrew Jackson, who will move to the back of the bill.

In addition, the back of the 10 dollar bill will be redesigned with leaders of the suffrage movement.

The back of the 5 dollar bill be redesigned to honour events at the Lincoln Memorial that helped to shape US history and democracy and include civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

Tubman, who was born into slavery in the early part of the 19th century, escaped and then used the network of anti-slavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad to transport other slaves to freedom. After the US civil war, Tubman, who died in 1913, became active in the campaign for women's suffrage.

Various groups have been campaigning to get a woman honoured on the nation's paper currency, which has been an all-male domain for more than a century.

The last woman featured on US paper money was Martha Washington, who was on a dollar silver certificate from 1891 to 1896. The only other woman ever featured on US paper money was Pocahontas, from 1865 to 1869. Susan B Anthony and Sacagawea are on dollar coins.

Mr Lew also settled a backlash that erupted when he announced an initial plan to remove Alexander Hamilton, the nation's first treasury secretary, from the 10 dollar bill in order to honour a woman. Hamilton will remain on the 10 dollar note, Mr Lew said.

Instead, the treasury building on the back of the bill will be replaced with leaders of the suffrage movement to give women the right to vote, including Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul.

Harriet Tubman on the US twenty dollar bill. AFP/Getty Images
Harriet Tubman on the US twenty dollar bill. AFP/Getty Images

An online group, Women on 20s, said it was encouraged that Mr Lew had responded to its campaign to replace Jackson with a woman. But it said it would not be satisfied unless Mr Lew also committed to issuing the new 20 dollar bill at the same time that the redesigned 10 dollar bill is scheduled to be issued in 2020.

The 10 dollar bill is the next note on Treasury's redesign calendar, and it aims introduce updated protections against counterfeiting. That redesign was scheduled to be unveiled in 2020, which marks the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote. Mr Lew had often cited that connection as a reason to put a woman on the note.

However, the effort ran into strong objections from supporters of Hamilton, who is enjoying renewed popular culture interest with the hit Broadway musical Hamilton.

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