Without checking your purse or wallet, name the person whose portrait graces the $20 bill.
Now, whether you know the answer or not, state honestly if you would miss that individual’s picture on U.S. currency if it were replaced with another image.
Easy question: Is the person on the $20 bill a man or a woman?
It has to be man because everybody knows there are no women on any U.S. paper currency. And that’s something hundreds of thousands of people want to see changed.
There is a strong campaign underway called “Women on 20s” that has captured the attention of the country and a senator from New Hampshire, Jeanne Shaheen, who has filed legislation that would authorize creation of a citizens panel to advise the secretary of the Treasury on the issue.
The Women on 20s movement is going forward quickly with online voting for the female Americans want to see replace Andrew Jackson, the seventh president, on the $20 bill. And the hope is to get the current president’s backing on a recommendation.
Having started with a list of 100 women, the group narrowed the number to 15, including women’s suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony, American Red Cross founder Clara Barton, Shirley Chisholm (first black woman elected to Congress), women’s rights activist and abolitionist Sojourner Truth, and Texas Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, none of whom made the final four that recently were announced after some fierce voting.
The finalists are: Eleanor Roosevelt, the first wife of a president to take an active role in public policy; abolitionist Harriet Tubman, known for her many trips to the South to lead slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad; Rosa Parks, the seamstress whose refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus sparked a boycott that launched the Civil Rights Movement; and Wilma Mankiller, a Cherokee who became the first elected female chief of a Native American nation in modern times.
Mankiller’s inclusion makes a political statement, because if she were selected to replace Jackson on the $20 bill, she in effect would be displacing the president who signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830. That is one of the reasons people think that Jackson, of all the presidents on paper currency, would be missed the least.
Jackson, whose picture was added to the $20 note in 1928 — replacing Grover Cleveland — was said to despise paper currency, preferring gold and silver instead. So it shouldn’t be an insult to him and his memory for a woman to take his place.
It is long overdue that a female image appear on American greenbacks, a notion that President Barack Obama said is a “pretty good idea” when he responded to a letter from a 9-year-old girl asking why there were no women on dollars.
Women have appeared on coins. The Susan B. Anthony dollar, first minted in 1979, was not widely circulated primarily because of its size (shaped more like a quarter). And in the late 1990s the Sacagawea dollar was produced. Neither coin is being minted today.
Martha Washington’s portrait did appear on the front of the $1 Silver Certificate in 1886 and 1891, and along with her husband on the back of the 1896 silver certificate.
In this day when the country is discussing gender equity issues, this is just one more step toward equalization.
I have my favorite among the four finalists, and it’s an easy choice because of her remarkable courage and extraordinary work.
Tubman’s 19 trips to the South to free slaves, her service as a spy for the Union Army during the Civil War, and her later fight for education and property for freed slaves are feats that make her worthy of such an honor.
I’d like to know how you would vote.
To cast an official ballot go to www.womenon20s.org.
Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sundays and Wednesdays.