WASHINGTON – Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said Tuesday that the reaction to his plan to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill and add civil rights and suffragette leaders to U.S. currency has been “overwhelmingly positive.”
“I have not been in a store or on the street since we have made the announcement when somebody hasn’t come up to me and thanked me and told me how important it is and what it means to them,” Lew said during an appearance at an economic conference in Los Angeles sponsored by the Milken Institute.
Last summer, Lew announced that he would replace the portrait of Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill with a famous woman.
But after Hamilton fans objected, Lew said he decided that the redesign should “go large” and he proposed redesigning the fronts and backs of not just one bill but three — the $5 bill, the $10 bill and the $20 bill.
“We said we were going to listen and we actually listened. And we got a lot of great advice,” Lew said, referring to more than 1 million comments Treasury received about the currency redesign.
Lew said the one thing he could not alter was the order in which the bills are scheduled to be redesigned. That process is dictated by the need to update the anti-counterfeiting designs on the current bills.
“The thing I can’t cut corners on is the stability of our currency,” Lew said. “To open it to the risk of counterfeiting was not an option so the sequence was pre-set.”
The $10 bill is the next scheduled to be redesigned, but Lew has said the design work for all three bills will be accelerated with the aim of having them all completed by 2020.
Hamilton’s portrait will remain on the front of the $10 bill. The back, which now features the Treasury building in Washington, will be redesigned to commemorate a 1913 suffragette march that ended on the steps of the building. It will also feature famous suffragette leaders including Susan B. Anthony.
The $5 bill will retain Abraham Lincoln on the front. The back, which now features the Lincoln Memorial, will be redesigned to include important civil rights events at the memorial including Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech and a 1939 concert by African-American opera singer Marian Anderson.
Tubman, the abolitionist and former slave who was a leader of the Underground Railroad, will replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill. She will become the first African-American featured on U.S. paper currency and the first woman on paper currency in a century.
Jackson, the nation’s seventh president, will be moved to the back of the $20 bill, which will also retain an image of the White House on the back.
Jackson’s supporters have been unhappy with this move but Lew said Tuesday that the redesign would continue to honour Jackson who “contributed to our history in important ways.”
“I have actually found that the wholeness of the approach has made a pretty positive impression,” Lew said. “I am feeling pretty happy about it.”
The new designs represent the most sweeping changes to the nation’s paper currency since 1929.