Tubman

FILE - In this May 2016 photo, Rep. John Katko speaks during the 42nd annual Harriet Tubman Pilgrimage Celebration at Fort Hill Cemetery.

Sarah Jean Condon, The Citizen

U.S. Rep. John Katko released a letter Friday inviting Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to Auburn and urging him to support putting Harriet Tubman's likeness on the $20 bill. 

Katko's letter came one day after Mnuchin wouldn't commit to a newly designed $20 bill with Tubman, a famed abolitionist and civil rights icon, on the front of the note. 

The comments surprised Auburn's elected representatives and local supporters of efforts to celebrate Tubman's life. 

Tubman's great-great-grandniece, Pauline Copes Johnson, hoped Mnuchin wouldn't reverse the decision that was made in 2016 when his predecessor, Jack Lew, announced that Tubman would appear on paper currency. 

"I don't like the sound of it because I think Harriet deserves to be on the $20 bill," she said. 

Before Lew's action, Katko, R-Camillus, partnered with U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, to introduce legislation that would require the Treasury to put Tubman's likeness on U.S. paper currency. 

The bill had bipartisan support. There were 19 cosponsors — 12 Republicans and seven Democrats. 

In his letter to Mnuchin, Katko said putting Tubman on the $20 bill "is a fitting tribute to a woman who escaped slavery and devoted her life to advancing the freedom and equality of African-Americans and the rights of women." 

Tubman was born in Maryland. After escaping slavery, rescuing others and serving as a spy for the Union Army during the Civil War, she settled in Auburn. 

Sites relevant to her life, including her brick residence and the Home for the Aged on South Street, are part of the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park established in January. 

"I invite you to pay a visit to Auburn so that you can fully experience the legacy of Harriet Tubman," Katko wrote to Mnuchin. "Her life has inspired countless individuals and continues to be a beacon of hope and unity for many. It is only fitting that we honor this American hero by memorializing her likeness on the $20 bill." 

Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.

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