The US Treasury has just announced that it is going to add some new faces to its currency, in the biggest change since 1929. This will mean that from 2020 there will be women on US banknotes for the first time in a century. As well as Eleanor Roosevelt, suffrage leaders Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Alice Paul will all feature.
The change is also a major moment for American black history: Tubman, Marian Anderson, the internationally renown contralto, Sojourner Truth, the abolitionist and women’s rights activist, and Martin Luther King Jr. will be the first African-Americans – male or female – to appear on US federal currency.
The only American currency previously to depict African-Americans was Southern Confederacy banknotes, but then only as slaves. Now we have a celebration of both African-Americans and women, and a recognition in the faces on the banknotes of the troubled history of the US in terms of both slavery and race.
This seems very timely, given the racial tensions that clearly exist in the country and the well noted racial disparities in wealth, sentencing, exposure to environmental hazards, education, and job opportunities. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times reminds us that the wealth disparity between blacks and whites in America today exceeds what it was in South Africa during apartheid, and points to the long negative legacy of slavery and post-slavery oppression on African-American communities. He wrote a series of important articles on this in 2014 entitled When Whites Just Don’t Get It, which he then revisited in April this year “because public attention to racial disparities seems to be flagging even as the issues are as grave as ever.” He urges white people to recognise the racial bias which exists and to “engage in these uncomfortable discussions of race…The challenge is to recognize that unconscious bias afflicts us all — but that we just may be able to overcome it if we face it.”
Check out Down at the Crossroads post on Harriet Tubman, former slave and abolitionist, who, after escaping to the North from her brutal experience of slavery in Maryland in 1849, bravely returned some thirteen times and brought with her what she called “over 300 pieces of living and breathing property to the promised land.”