Three years ago, former President Barack Obama's treasury secretary unveiled plans to replace a former slaveowner president with a famous abolitionist on the $20 bill. This week, The New York Times reported that a basic design for the bill was already well underway, but Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin delayed the Harriet Tubman $20 bill until President Donald Trump leaves office.
In April 2016, Jack Lew — Obama's treasury secretary — announced that Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson, a president known for his support of slavery and forced removal of Native Americans, on the front of the $20 bill. When Lew made this announcement, the redesigned $20 bill was slated to be unveiled in 2020, CNN reported. But Mnuchin said last month that technical reasons would delay the design until 2026.
Last month, Mnuchin tried to explain the delay when he testified before Congress. He had no role in deciding whether or not the $20 bill should be redesigned, he told lawmakers, but he was focused on improving the anti-counterfeiting security features of American currency, starting with the $10 and $50 bills.
“The ultimate decision on the redesign will most likely be another secretary down the road," Mnuchin told Congress, per The Hill.
However, a preliminary redesign for the $20 bill was actually completed in late 2016, The New York Times reported, before Trump even took office.
The Trump administration's decision to delay replacing Jackson on the bill has been met with widespread backlash. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan sent a letter to Mnuchin earlier this week, asking the treasury secretary to follow through on the decision to put Tubman on the $20 bill in time for the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage in 2020.
Tubman, who was born in Maryland, "dedicated her life in selfless service to others and to the cause of freedom,” Hogan wrote in his letter.
Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley also sent a letter to Mnuchin last week, Newsweek reported, urging him to explain the Treasury Department's decision to delay the release of the redesigned $20 bill. According to The Hill, it was a series of questions from Pressley that finally prompted Mnuchin to announce the bill's delay during a congressional hearing last month. Mnuchin told Pressley at the hearing that the bill's unveiling would be postponed until 2026, The New York Times reported, and that Americans likely wouldn't see Tubman's portrait on any of their $20 bills until 2028.
Pressley and Hogan are not the only ones who are frustrated. Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, one of the $20 redesign's proponents in the House, called the delay "unacceptable."
“Our currency must reflect the important role women, and especially women of color, have played in our nation’s history," Cummings said in a statement last month.
According to The New York Times, Mnuchin said he was concerned that Trump would cancel the Tubman redesign altogether, so he delayed it before the president could do so. Trump has publicly praised Jackson on numerous occasions, and he even hung a portrait of Jackson in the Oval Office, per The Hill. At the beginning of his administration, Trump also paid a visit to Jackson's tomb in Tennessee, CNN reported.
The Obama-era decision to replace Jackson with Tubman was part of a broader effort to put more women on American currency, per CNN. Tubman was born into slavery, and following her escape, she returned to the South the help other enslaved people obtain their freedom.