Tubman $20

Fake $20 bills with Harriet Tubman's face are passed around during a town hall meeting held Aug. 31, 2015, by the U.S. Treasury Department at the Wesleyan Chapel at the Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls.

U.S. Rep. John Katko and two of his Democratic colleagues in Congress are urging President Donald Trump's administration to advance plans to put Harriet Tubman's likeness on the $20 bill. 

Katko, R-Camillus, issued a joint statement with U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings to express concern that the Treasury Department is stalling a plan announced in 2016 to make Tubman the new face of the $20 bill. 

Cummings, D-Maryland, and Katko have introduced legislation in the House that would require Treasury to put Tubman on the $20 bill. Shaheen is the sponsor of the Senate bill. 

"We urge the administration to follow through and expedite the redesign of the twenty," the members said. "In lieu of progress by the Treasury Department, we hope Congress will pass the Harriet Tubman Tribute Act of 2019 to make it clear in statute that the redesign of the twenty must honor Harriet Tubman and in a timely fashion." 

Federal, state and local officials worry that the Treasury Department won't follow through on the plan. In 2017, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin wouldn't commit to putting Tubman on the $20 bill. 

Shortly after the Treasury Department announced plans to redesign paper money in 2016, then-candidate Trump criticized the decision to replace former President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. He blamed "political correctness" and while he believed Tubman was "fantastic," he argued that she should be placed on another denomination of paper currency. 

Katko, whose district includes the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in Cayuga County, has been an advocate for placing Tubman on paper currency since his first year in office. In 2015, he was inspired by the annual Tubman pilgrimage in Auburn and sponsored legislation to put the abolitionist's likeness on an unspecified denomination of paper money. 

Cummings and Katko reintroduced the bill in 2017. That year, Katko sent a letter inviting Mnuchin to visit the Tubman park in Auburn. 

In February, Katko met with Mnuchin and discussed the status of the $20 bill's redesign. The treasury secretary told him that the agency's focus is security upgrades for paper money. Other changes — putting new faces on the currency — will be decided later. 

Cummings, Katko and Shaheen agree that Tubman is worthy of having her likeness on paper money. The American icon escaped from slavery and, using the Underground Railroad, freed dozens of slaves. She also served with the Union in the Civil War. 

Later in her life, she lived in Auburn. Her brick residence and the Home for the Aged, which she established, are part of the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park. 

Tubman died in 1913. Her grave site is in Auburn's Fort Hill Cemetery. 

"Harriet Tubman's fight for equality and freedom embodies the American spirit and she deserves to be featured beside our founding fathers," Cummings, Katko and Shaheen said. "Our currency should finally reflect the important role women, and women of color, have played in our nation's history." 

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


Online producer and politics reporter

I have been The Citizen's online producer and politics reporter since December 2009. I'm the author of the Eye on NY blog and write the weekly Eye on NY column that appears every Sunday in the print edition of The Citizen and online at auburnpub.com.