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“I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.” – Harriet Tubman
A new version of the $20 bill featuring Marylander and abolitionist icon Harriet Tubman will no longer appear in 2020, despite previous federal plans.
So, what are the reasons behind the delay? We’ll discuss with a reporter from the Washington Post.
Plus, guests from the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Historic National Park and Harriet Tubman Museum and Education Center shed light on Tubman’s local legacy, including a new mural that’s getting national attention.
Produced by Julie Depenbrock
- DeNeen Brown Reporter, Washington Post
- Angela Crenshaw Assistant Manager, Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park
- Donald Pinder President, Harriet Tubman Organization
KOJO NNAMDIWelcome back. Do you think the $20 bill should be redesigned to feature Harriet Tubman, rather than Andrew Jackson? The new version of the $20 bill featuring Marylander and abolitionist icon Harriet Tubman will no longer be unveiled in 2020, despite previous federal plans. So, what are the reasons behind the delay? We'll talk about what this decision means, plus a look at Harriet Tubman's local legacy, including a new mural in Cambridge that's getting national attention. Joining us from studios at the Washington Post is DeNeen Brown. She's a local enterprise reporter for The Post. DeNeen, good to talk with you.
DENEEN BROWNGood afternoon. Good to be here.
NNAMDIDeNeen, you've been covering this story for the Washington Post. Harriet Tubman had been slated to take her place on the $20 by 2020, on the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment passing, which gave women the right to vote. But now the redesign process has been delayed until 2028. What happened here, exactly, and why the delay?
BROWNWell, last Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced to Congress in response to a question from Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley. He announced that the redesign would be delayed for eight years, until 2028, after Trump is out of -- well, after Trump is out of office. Mnuchin said the department needed more time for counterfeiting issues, which prompted a huge outrage from people who were looking forward to seeing Harriet Tubman's portrait on the $20 bill.
NNAMDIAnd I suspect that a lot of that outrage is fueled by people who are much more expert than I am, who says it does not take eight years in order to put together a $20 that will resist any kind of attempt to duplicate it, correct?
BROWNThat's right. I know the Post editorial board published an editorial that called that reasoning insulting. And another columnist wrote over the weekend that opposing Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, Trump's administration, quote, "messed with the wrong woman." Yeah, they were just saying that it shouldn't take eight years to redesign a bill, and that perhaps this delay was done out of political spite. Many people have said that it's clear that, you know, Trump has called the redesign a pure political correctness. And according to sources, Trump really admires Andrew Jackson, whose image would've been moved to the back of the bill.
NNAMDIYes, Andrew Jackson's reportedly President Trump's favorite president. We should talk about him for a minute, because Harriet Tubman would have been sharing the $20 bill with him, the seventh president of the United States. What can you tell us about Andrew Jackson, about the response to the original Obama Administration decision?
BROWNYeah. Andrew Jackson, as you said, was the seventh president of the United States. He was a really cruel slave owner. In fact, I wrote a story about a runaway slave ad that he published, in which he promised to pay more money for anyone who would give this man who ran away lashes. He was also responsible for the Indian Removal Act, which forced thousands of first nation's people off their land, and forced them on this Trail on Tears and to the Oklahoma territory, where a number of them died on the way. But he's someone that, according to sources, many Trump supporters admire.
NNAMDIYou wrote another story about an artist who created a 3D stamp that could be used to superimpose the likeness of Harriet Tubman over that of Andrew Jackson. Can you tell us a little bit more about this artist and this stamp?
BROWNYes. There's a designer in New York, his name is Dano Wall, and he created this 3D stamp that people can use to superimpose Tubman's portrait over Jackson's. So, what they can do is they just line up the stamp on the $20 and punch it (laugh) with ink, and it basically places Tubman's face over Jackson's. And this artist said that he's been using the $20 bills stamped with Tubman's portrait since 2017.
BROWNHe told me that one of the reasons that he designed this stamp is it was in response to Mnuchin's first announcement in 2018, saying that he would not commit to changing Tubman's -- changing the $20 bill. So, this artist created the stamp. And he said that the reason he felt so passionate about creating the stamp was we live in a racist country, and he said, quote, "Currency, by the virtue of its ubiquity, has the power to spread ideas about who we are as a nation and the ideas we represent." He really admires Tubman for her heroism and, you now, helping dozens, if not hundreds, of people to escape slavery.
NNAMDIYou said he's been using these $20 bills. Are $20 bills that have been stamped with Harriet Tubman's face considered legitimate currency?
BROWNYeah. He said that it's legal, as long as you don't mark the currency to destroy it. You can't stamp advertising on the currency. You can't change the denomination. But, yes, he's been using in transactions in New York and hasn't had a problem with it. He's used it at stores and also at bodegas and vending machines, and hasn't had a problem yet.
NNAMDIIn the story you wrote for the Post, you talk about how, quoting here, "Harriet Tubman made men pay for underestimating her." What did you mean by that? Give us some background there.
BROWNWell, she's this amazing, amazing woman in history. She was born -- as many people know -- on the eastern shore of Maryland in 1819 or 1820. When she was a child, she often beaten, but when she was still young, a slave overseer threw a lead weigh, and it hit her in the head, which caused the sleeping spells that we all know of. But in my research, I understand that the man who owned Harriet wanted to sell her as, quote-unquote, "damaged goods." And she said she wished for him to die, and a week later, he died.
BROWNShe helped her brothers escape from slavery in 1849. She kept coming back to Maryland, despite a $40,000 bounty on her head. She came back at least 19 times to save family members and friends. She seemed to be fearless in her attempts to free people, as a freedom fighter. She carried a pistol and told people if they turned back, that they would either be free or die as a slave.
NNAMDISo, nobody was turning back. (laugh)
BROWN(laugh) Yeah, but she's quoted as saying she never lost a passenger and never ran her train off the track. But she was also -- many people don't know that she also helped John Brown plan the raid on Harper's Ferry. And when he was arrested, he was carrying documents that had her name on it. John Brown called Harriet Tubman General Tubman, and also referred to her as he or him.
BROWNAnd I think many people also don't know that she was the first woman to lead a major military operation in South Carolina during the Civil War, which freed about 727 men, women and children. So, she was this amazing abolitionist. At the end of the Civil War, she fought for women's right to vote. Near the end of her life, she established a retirement home in Auburn, New York. She was just this incredible woman.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Funny you mention that. We got an email from Carlos, who says: as a proud part-year resident of Auburn, New York, I want to remind listeners that Tubman is also associated with Central New York State. She was enslaved and lived in Maryland, but she found shelter and residence in Auburn, New York from 1859 to 1913. She was a friend of Seward, Lincoln's Secretary of State, and responsible for Seward's Folly, and acted in the abolitionist and suffrage movements in Central New York.
NNAMDIHer home at 180 South Street is now part of the National Park system. She's buried at Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn. I just felt I needed to complete the record. So, you were just making that reference, DeNeen, to her time spent in Auburn, New York. And she has done so much. She, of course, is famous of saying there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death. If I could not have one, I would have the other. She did, indeed, find her liberty. Also joining me in studio is Angela Crenshaw, assistant manager of Harriett Tubman Underground Railroad State Park. Angela, thank you for joining us.
ANGELA CRENSHAWThank you very much for having me.
NNAMDIYou work as an assistant manager there, which the park in Church Creek, it opened back in 2017. Tell us about the park.
CRENSHAWSo, we're at 17.33 acres. We are the smallest park in the Maryland Park Service System. We highlight the life and legacy of Harriet Tubman, focusing on the importance of her faith, freedom, the community and the landscape. We talk about her early years in Dorchester County. She was born in what is now known as Madison. That's less than five miles from the park. And, as DeNeen mentioned, she received a horrific, nearly deadly head injury in Bucktown, Maryland, which is less than 10 miles from the park.
CRENSHAWAnd we highlight all the skills that were necessary on the Underground Railroad for her to be successful. She learned all those skills on the eastern shore of Maryland, in the Choptank River region. We also highlight her emancipations, when she freed herself from Poplar Neck in Caroline County. She came back over 13 times to free 70, nearly 80 family and friends. And we also highlight her time during the Civil War, where she, on June 1st, 1863, she became the first woman to lead and execute an armed raid during the Civil War. And, of course, we highlight her later years, as well.
NNAMDIThis silly question could only come from somebody who lives in Baltimore or Washington, DC, so let me ask it. Why is the park located on the eastern shore, rather than in a major city like DC or Baltimore?
CRENSHAWThat's not a silly question. We get it frequently. We're located in Church Creek, Maryland, in Dorchester County, because to learn about Harriet Tubman, you have to come to where she was born, to where she was raised, to where she spent her formative years. And that is in the Dorchester County region of Maryland, like I mentioned before, very close to where she was born and where she received a head injury, and where she self-emancipated.
NNAMDIFor listeners who have not been to the park or to Church Creek, Maryland, for that matter, can you describe where it is and what it's like and what it offers?
CRENSHAWYes. We're about 12, 13 miles south of the town of Cambridge, and we're surrounded by Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, which allows us to interpret the landscape, which has changed very little from Tubman's time. We offer a visitors center. We have two junior ranger programs, and we have a number of ranger-led programs that will be happening in the summer, as well. We mention and we talk about the things that were very important to Harriet Tubman, her faith, family, community and the landscape. And we also have a life-size bust of Harriet Tubman to greet our guests as they arrive. One of the things that people are astounded by is that she only stood at 5' tall. We like to say she was small, but mighty.
NNAMDIMany of us vacation on the eastern shore, or travel down to Ocean City or Accokeek. Presumably, this is a place that people can visit on their way down.
CRENSHAWThat's correct. If you just make the right off of Route 50 once you get to Cambridge, we're about 10, 15 minutes from Route 50. We're open every day but Christmas, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and everyone is welcome to come visit us and learn about this amazing woman from Maryland.
NNAMDIThere are a lot of people on the line, so allow me to go first to Tina in Washington, DC. Tina, your turn.
TINAHi, Kojo. Thank you for tuning into me. Hi, Angie and everybody else that's there.
TINA(laugh) You know, I want to emphasize the importance of her being on that money and being on it now. Because she was an American patriot, you know, at a time when women and slaves were not even allowed to be a part of the military. She helped to preserve the Union as we know it today, and she did it at her own peril, knowing also that in her thoughts and everything that she knew, that the slaves had to be freed and to participate to win this war and to preserve the Union.
TINANow, she was referred to as an "unofficial," and I say that with quotations, but she was an official soldier during that time. And she was asked to come there through Governor John Andrews of Massachusetts, because of her work on the Underground Railroad and all the things that she knew and the similarities between the landscape there in Cambridge and also in South Carolina.
TINAAnd also, the other reason is now she is going to be honored in June for her participation in the military as a spy. And she's being inducted as an honorary member into the Military Intelligence Corps Hall of Fame.
NNAMDITina, what is your relationship to Harriet Tubman?
TINAI'm a great, great, great grand niece, three times great.
NNAMDIOkay. No wonder you have such a wide store of information about Harriet Tubman. Thank you very much for sharing that with us. We've got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll be talking with Donald Pinder, president of the Harriet Tubman Organization. But Angela Crenshaw and DeNeen Brown are still with us. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing the life and legacy of Harriet Tubman in the wake of the Treasury Secretary announcing that her image will not appear on the $20 bill in 2020, as expected, that it won't be before 2028. We're talking with DeNeen Brown. She's a local enterprise reporter for the Washington Post. Angela Crenshaw is an assistant manager of Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park. And joining us now by phone is Donald Pinder, President of the Harriet Tubman Organization. Donald Pinder, thank you for joining us.
DONALD PINDERYes. Good afternoon. Glad to be here.
NNAMDIThe Harriet Tubman Organization and the Museum and Educational Center where you work in Cambridge, Maryland, also on the eastern shore, has been getting a lot of attention lately because of a new mural. Tell us what that mural shows.
PINDERWell, the mural is actually so exciting. And the excitement comes when you've viewed the mural, and you get a chance to look in Harriet's eyes. And her eyes seem to be focusing directly on you. And then her other segment is where she has a hand out. And the hand out is, like, for her, she is so glad to help you. And the mural is actually a relationship to one of her escapes, where she takes her niece Kessiah and her daughter off of the Dorchester County Courthouse site, actually, when she's auctioned off.
PINDERAnd the auctioneer and the officers of the court are so interested in getting their lunch, they leave Kessiah and her niece unattended. And this is where Harriet comes in. Harriet comes in, scoops them up. She takes them down to Long Wharf, which is about a quarter of a mile from the courthouse down to High Street, known as a place, as Long Wharf. There, she places them in a rowboat. She escapes by rowing the boat to the opposite side of the Choptank River to Talbot County, and then proceeds to her final destination across the Chesapeake Bay the next day, and to the western shore, where she is assisted and is credited with taking out two more escaping slaves.
NNAMDIWow. An image of a young girl touching her hand to Harriet Tubman's outstretched hand has gone viral on social media. I'm wondering, how did you respond to that when you saw it?
PINDERWell, I was there working here at that particular day. And to know that it was novel idea, because when you take that child, it seems as though she was not afraid of a person that maybe she hadn't seen before or maybe had known everything about what she'd done. But she was brave enough to do that. And now, when we have visitors come, they basically do the same thing. They take pictures beside Harriet Tubman, and then others actually put palm to palm with Harriet Tubman.
NNAMDI(overlapping) We got an email...
PINDERIt's like they're saying, I am so glad to meet you, and appreciate all the things you did for mankind.
NNAMDIGot an email from Constance: I'm outraged at the delay in putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. Tubman was one of my childhood heroes, especially after I saw the great Ruby Dee portray her on TV. And my admiration for Tubman has grown in subsequent years. I think Trump's and Mnuchin's decision to delay the design is pure racism, and is plain to a racist element in his base. But then, here is Paul in Arlington, Virginia. Paul, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PAULGood afternoon, Kojo, and your guests. I wanted to point out something in relation to redesigning of American currency, and that is that the US Treasury lost a lawsuit in 2008. And under the terms, they were required to do as many other countries, most other countries do, and that is make their currency accessible to blind and old vision people, so that one could tell what the denomination of the currency is by touch. They have still delayed the redesign, and the excuse they give most often is, it's because of security concerns.
PAULSo, as I have read about and followed the issue of Harriet Tubman being added to the $20 bill, and then recently heard the reason for the delay, I've heard that before.
NNAMDIDeNeen Brown, have you?
BROWNWell, I read a story about it last year, where Mnuchin said that they were -- well, he wouldn't commit to putting her portrait on the $20 bill, but...
NNAMDIIn addition to security, our caller is saying that it has also to do with accessibility for...
BROWNNo, I haven't heard that in my reporting.
NNAMDIOkay, Paul. Thank you very much for your call. Back to you, Donald Pinder. You and your family have deep roots in Dorchester County, Tubman country. Can you tell us a bit about your own family's connections to that area?
PINDERWell, I would have to take you back to my great, great, great grandfather and his wife. And then I would be that fourth generation behind them. And their property was located approximately two-and-a-half miles, two miles from the Broadus farm, where Harriet Tubman and her brothers and sisters grew up. Now, the complexity of this is Ben was not always in the household, because Ben, her father, was owned by Dr. Andrew Thompson, which was another slave owner. Now, he married Harriet.
PINDERBut, as you know, since there were seven or eight children, there had to be some communication, and then some good times. Because if that didn't exist, the family would not be as it was. So, the good part about my grandfather and others, their ways of communication were not ancient, but they were somewhat remote, because of the fact that the only time slaves could normally communicate with each other was when they went to church. And that had to be the avenue that they used for most or all of their news, and even planning and some other social events during that time.
NNAMDIThat is a fascinating story. Mindy Tweets to us: I was on the shore this weekend, and made a side trip to Cambridge to the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Park, and visited the new mural and some other spots. It was an important educational trip, worth everyone's time to visit. And True Bless Tweets: I've been proposing for years that the US government create a new $25 bill featuring Harriet Tubman. That $25 bill would be very practical and popular, and raise the awareness of Tubman, give her brand new financial territory, not old and revised. Here's Joyce in Columbia, Maryland. Joyce, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOYCEI was wondering whether or not there could be organized trips from Montgomery or Howard County to the Harriet Tubman site on the eastern shore. People are taken to casinos on (laugh) buses. Why not go to the eastern shore, to Harriet Tubman?
CRENSHAWHello, and thank you for your question. There are a number of guides or outfitters that could meet you in other places, pick you up via bus and bring you to the eastern shore, so you could explore Cambridge, the Harriet Tubman mural and the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park and visitor center in Church Creek. So, those options are available. I think you can check out VisitDorchester.org for more information on that, and other stops on the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad byway.
NNAMDIHere is Lucy in College Park, Maryland. Lucy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LUCYHi, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. So, I learned a bit about Harriet Tubman in a recent class at the University of Maryland. And one thing I noticed that was pretty interesting is that she has a lot of connections to the later African American feminism or womanism movement in the '70s. And because, in their founding document, the Combahee River Collective, they stated that no one is free until we are all free. And I think Harriet Tubman embodied that perfectly in that she continually came back to Maryland to free other members of her family, and similarly in the Combahee River raid, when she was the first woman to direct a military action.
LUCYSo, I think that's something that's a lasting legacy of Harriet Tubman. And I guess my question would be, to the guests, if they have any other comments on how Harriet Tubman is still impacting activism today, whether it be racial or gender-based activism.
CRENSHAWDefinitely. A lot of our guests come to the park, and they want to be inspired, not just reading about Tubman's history, but to feel it and experience it. And, as I mentioned earlier, standing at only 5' tall, I think that speaks volumes to what she did in life. We have a number of quotes in the visitor center from Tubman and people that were active on the Underground Railroad, or as we call them, the original Team Tubman, including a resistance quote, about how you have to speak up for yourself and you have to do what's right. And that is basically at the core of Harriet Tubman's life.
CRENSHAWShe was born enslaved. She knew that slavery was wrong, so she emancipated, and then she came back for her family and friends multiple times. And that is a very inspirational story, because she was runaway property. She could've been taken back into slavery, beaten and killed without any warning at all. So, once again, that is very, very inspiring, and that's something you'll feel and experience at our visitor center.
NNAMDIThank you for your call, Lucy. Angela Crenshaw, you grew up in Baltimore. Do you remember learning about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad when you were in school?
CRENSHAWYes. I just learned the basics, that Harriet Tubman was a conductor on the Underground Railroad, and that was about it. I had no idea she was born on the eastern shore of Maryland, not very far from Cambridge. I had no idea she had done military action, she traveled up and down the Eastern Seaboard, and she was involved with so many other things. And that's been very inspirational to me in my life. And I can say that for our other staff members, as well.
NNAMDIHere's Yasman in Bowie, Maryland. Yasman, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
YASMANHello, Kojo. Thank you so much for taking my call. And good afternoon to your guests, as well. Let me first express my outrage at the decision to delay putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. I find that to be so objectionable. The reason for my call, in addition to that comment, is to really give a shout-out to the museum. I had the pleasure of visiting the museum and the park as part of a church trip, and it made for an excellent outing. But I really wanted to give a shout-out to the high quality of the exhibits, the display, the aesthetics, the narration, all of the content, and that lovely statue that greets you as you walk in. And you would be just amazed how small she was.
YASMANSo, I wanted to commend the staff for doing such a great job with the interpretation, but also to say that the surrounding area really does give you a good feel for what it was during the time when Harriet lived. And one of those aesthetics, or one of those features that really comes to mind is the store where Harriet Tubman was standing at the time when someone threw a counterweight and hit her in the forehead. So, we had a chance to visit that store. It's decorated almost in exactly the same way. And someone showed us an actual counterweight, which is what was used. Someone thought that she was stealing an item from the store, the owner, and picked it up and threw it, which is a heavy, iron object that is used to balance a scale. And it pretty much knocked her out. So, she was...
NNAMDI(overlapping) And affected her for the rest of her life, as a matter of fact. But we're running out of time, but before we do, Angela Crenshaw, could you tell the story of the Combahee River raid?
CRENSHAWSure. On June 1st, 1863, Harriet Tubman and Colonel James Montgomery, as well as some troops from the Second South Carolina and the Third Rhode Island battalion left the Port Royal Region of South Carolina, and they chugged about 20, 25 miles up the Combahee River. And the whole point was to disturb the Confederate supply. They flooded rice fields, which was the crop then. They emancipated over 700 people. They burned down plantations and set fire to just about anything they could. And they also disturbed a major transportation route, a bridge and a port across the Combahee River.
CRENSHAWDuring that raid, there were no injuries on Tubman's side. And after the raid, once these 700-plus people were free, Tubman stayed down there to teach them various skills, such as how to cook or clean, so that they could have some respect for themselves and learn their own skills and be able to support themselves. And also, after that raid, about 10 days later, 100 to 110 men signed up for the Union Army. So, that was a boon for the Union Army, as well. We highlight that, as well as the Bucktown Village Store incident that your caller mentioned. And we have a two-pound weight, as well as a recreated scale at the visitor center that people can pick up and see the weight of a two-pound weight, and see the scale, as well.
NNAMDIAmazing stories. Angela Crenshaw is an assistant manager of Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park. Thank you so much for joining us.
CRENSHAWThank you for having me, and I'd like to invite everyone to the park.
NNAMDIDonald Pinder is president of the Harriet Tubman Organization. Mr. Pinder, thank you for joining us.
PINDERAnd thanks for having me. And we also invite anyone that comes to the eastern shore of Maryland to stop by the Harriet Tubman Organization in downtown Cambridge at 424 Ray Street.
NNAMDIDeNeen Brown is a local enterprise reporter for the Washington Post. DeNeen, thank you for joining us.
BROWNThank you so much. It's great to talk with you.
NNAMDIOne person who wrote a lot about this history of the Confederacy, slavery and the ongoing legacy of the Civil War was Tony Horwitz. He was the author of books like "Confederates in the Attic," and has just released "Spying on the South." He was a guest on this show several times, including once to talk about John Brown. He passed away yesterday while on book tour in Washington, DC. May he rest in peace.
NNAMDIThat's it for the show today. Just a reminder that you can join me for an evening of fun, food and music with the go-go band Trouble Funk and the Blue High School marching band and special guests. That's the Kojo 20 celebration on June 6th. Go to KojoShow/20 for ticket information. And don't forget to meet us back here tomorrow. We'll be talking about the possibility of an Asian American gallery within the Smithsonian. Plus, boys and girls often have very different chores at home. How do those early experiences shape us and affect what we do in life? That all starts tomorrow at noon. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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