In 2016, Harriet Tubman was voted to become the first African American to appear on a US banknote. The $20 bill featuring Tubman’s likeness was scheduled to be unveiled in 2020 – to align with the centenary of the 19th amendment to the US constitution, which gave women in the US equal voting rights to men.

In a blow to intersectional women’s rights, the Trump administration has now announced that production on the note had been halted.

US treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin announced the news on Wednesday. “The primary reason we have looked at redesigning the currency is for counterfeiting issues,” he said in response to questioning from Democrat Ayanna Presley. “Based upon this, the $20 bill will now not come out until 2028.”

Tubman escaped slavery in 1849 at around the age of 27, following a lifetime of abuse, and used her freedom to help at least 70 other people still imprisoned as slaves. She spent the rest of her life campaigning for the abolition of slavery and women’s suffrage.

Tubman’s sheer strength and determination in the face of the greatest adversity has made her an icon of female resolve.

When the news was announced that she had been voted to appear on the $20 bill, former treasury secretary, Jack Lew said: “I have been particularly struck by the many comments and reactions from children, for whom Harriet Tubman is not just a historical figure, but a role model for leadership and participation in our democracy.” 

Read on for an extract from the book She: A Celebration of 100 Renegade Women and to learn about Tubman’s extraordinary life.

Harriet Tubman (c.1822 – 10 March 1913, USA) Abolitionist

(Alice Skinner)

“Abolitionist Harriet Tubman crossed the border into Pennsylvania with a bounty on her head, having travelled over ninety miles fleeing her slave owners in Maryland. She had no intention of returning to chains.

Born into slavery, Tubman worked as a field hand. Abused by her owners, she carried with her lifelong injuries. In 1849, Tubman made her escape to the free states in the north. But she didn’t stop there.

Determined to free her family and other slaves, she risked her life, returning to the south using a network of safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. Tubman made the perilous journey almost 20 times over eight years, guiding around 70 slaves to freedom and evading capture, despite the reward for her internment increasing by the day. Her courage earned her the nickname ‘Moses’.

When the Civil War broke out, Tubman turned to nursing and was later recruited as a scout and a spy. After the war, she spent her meagre earnings helping former slaves and campaigned passionately for women’s suffrage. An exemplar of humanitarianism and courage, Tubman’s unfaltering determination and willingness to risk her own life for others earned her a place in history. In 2016 she was overwhelmingly voted to be the first African American to appear on a US banknote.”

Extracted from ‘She: A Celebration of 100 Renegade Women’ by Harriet Hall, published by Headline Home is out now, £12.99. You can buy it here


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