New paper money designs to depict stirring stories of Freedom, Liberty

?Good coin and paper money designs tell stories about the nations and the people that issue them. In a few years, U.S. paper money will starting telling new stories — of a refusal to be enslaved, of the fight for women’s suffrage, of the battle for civil rights — by returning historical vignettes to our notes.

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew finally ended months of speculation when on April 20 he announced that a portrait of Harriet Tubman would shove Andrew Jackson’s portrait off the face and onto the back of the $20 note.

Tubman was the popular choice in a poll conducted by Women on 20s, a women’s rights advocacy group. It is easy to understand why Tubman was the popular choice: Born a slave in Maryland circa 1822, she developed a growing thirst for freedom. Escaped in 1849; was returned to her owners. Escaped again, this time for good. Risked her freedom and life again and again by returning to the South to rescue family members and others from bondage. Though an advocate of nonviolence, she nonetheless supported John Brown’s efforts to free slaves and to create a safe home for them. Served in the Union Army during the Civil War as a nurse and spy, even leading men in an armed assault. After the war’s end and the abolition of slavery, she took up a new righteous cause — women’s suffrage, joining with Susan B. Anthony in the good fight. In short, she lived an amazing life.

But Tubman’s story will not be the only new tale to be told on our future paper money. Lew also announced that the backs of the $5 and $10 notes will be redesigned as well, with the now familiar structures on the two notes (the Lincoln Memorial on the $5 note and the Treasury Building the $10 issue) retained but gaining scenes of historic events conducted in the name of liberty and freedom at both sites.

The back of the $5 note will show historical vignettes of the growing movement for equal rights for African Americans in the 20th century: Marian Anderson’s triumphal 1939 operatic performance in front of 75,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial after being denied a venue at one of the capital’s segregated concert halls; Martin Luther King’s stirring “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 before a crowd of hundreds of thousands. A portrait of Abraham Lincoln, who preserved the Union and helped end slavery, will remain on the face of the note, the two sides meshing perfectly in telling a shared story.

Similarly, Alexander Hamilton, our first Treasury secretary and a financial genius, and the Treasury Building will remain on the $10 note, but the back will feature scenes like the March 1913 gathering at the Treasury facility of women’s suffrage advocates and a vignette honoring Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul for their contributions to women’s suffrage.

Historical vignettes have largely disappeared from our paper money. Their return, with stirring new stories, should be exciting.