US Coins

Legislation seeks commemoratives honoring Harriet Tubman

This signed albumen print of Harriet Tubman (right) illustrates the abolitionist and former slave in 1868 at about age 46. Background image is Tubman in her later years.

Images courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Separate bills introduced March 11 in the House and Senate seek commemorative coins in recognition of the 2022 Bicentennial of Harriet Tubman’s birth.

The coins, however, would be issued in 2024, since the two allowed commemorative coin programs are already congressionally authorized for release in 2022, each a three-coin program.

The House Tubman bill, H.R. 1842, was introduced by Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, D-N.Y., and the Senate version, S. 697, was introduced by Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev.

If Tubman commemorative coins are approved, they would be released years before a new $20 Federal Reserve note with her portrait is expected to be released, possibly around 2030. President Biden has already resurrected the initiative to put Tubman’s portrait on the face of the $20 Federal Reserve note, to replace that of Andrew Jackson. The process stalled under the administration of former President Trump, after the concept was authorized late in the administration of President Obama.

H.R. 1842, the first of the two bills introduced seeking Harriet Tubman commemorative coins, is for three coins — a gold $5 coin, silver dollar and copper-nickel clad half dollar. The text of S. 697 was unavailable when this article was edited.

The gold $5 coin would have a maximum production and release in Proof and Uncirculated versions across all numismatic products of 50,000 coins in at least 90 percent gold, no more than 400,000 silver dollars in .999 fine silver and up to 750,000 copper-nickel clad coins.

The proposed coin designs would reflect Tubman’s legacy as an abolitionist, with the obverse of at least one coin to depict her visage.

Proposed designs would be selected by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen after consultation with the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, The Harriet Tubman Home Inc. in Auburn, New York, and the Commission of the Fine Arts, and review by the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee.

The retail price of each $5 coin would include a $35 surcharge; for the dollar, a $10 surcharge; and for the half dollar, a $5 surcharge.

The net proceeds, after the U.S. Mint recoups all of its production and associated costs, would be split evenly by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and The Harriet Tubman Home Inc. “for the purpose of accomplishing and advancing their missions.”

Her legacy

As Araminta ‘‘Minty’’ Ross, Tubman was born into slavery circa March 1822 — the year was not recorded and she was not sure of it — on the plantation of Anthony Thompson in Dorchester County, Maryland. In the fall of 1849, she escaped from Poplar Neck in Caroline County, Maryland, with the help of the Underground Railroad network, heading north to freedom in Pennsylvania.

With the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act as part of the Compromise of 1850, operations to help enslaved persons escape became more dangerous, and she continued to risk her life to rescue them from slavery, escorting her refugees to Canada.

During the 1850s, Tubman made 13 trips back to Maryland, guiding approximately 70 enslaved persons to the North, including family members, and providing instruction to about 70 more, who found their way to freedom on their own.

During the American Civil War, she served as an armed scout and spy for the Union Army.

Tubman distinguished herself as the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the Civil War, the Combahee River Raid in June 1863, resulting in more than 700 enslaved persons in South Carolina being freed.

Tubman died at about age 90 or 91, on March 10, 1913.

Congressional restrictions

Mint reform and appropriations legislation approved in 1996 limits the number of commemorative coin programs annually to no more than two.

The two 2022 programs are authorized under the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor Commemorative Coin Act, Public Law 116-247, and Negro Leagues Baseball Centennial Commemorative Coin Act, Public Law 116-209.

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