Artist Dano Wall has made a proactive step toward modifying US currency, catalyzed by Donald Trump’s rejection of introducing Harriet Tubman’s likeness to the $20 bill. Wall has created a 3-D printed stamp to replace the face of Andrew Jackson with that of Harriet Tubman with the bills in your own wallet.
Wall told the Awesome Foundation about his motivations:
I was inspired by the news that Harriet Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, and subsequently saddened by the news that the Trump administration was walking back that plan. So I created a stamp to convert Jacksons into Tubmans myself. I have been stamping $20 bills and entering them into circulation for the last year, and gifting stamps to friends to do the same.
In 2016, former Secretary Jacob J. Lew announced the $20 bill would be redesigned to feature Tubman’s face on the front, relegating Jackson’s face to the back of the bill. When the decision was announced, many argued it besmirched her legacy to force this pivotal figure in the abolition of slavery to share the bill with one of its most powerful protectors. Some activists have denounced the use of Tubman’s likeness on American money at all, citing the contradiction of Black enslaved people — Tubman included — being degraded as currency under American chattel slavery, and now feigned as a marker of social progress in American capitalism.
This country, and its government, have a serious problem with representation. Who we choose to honor as a society affects the moral attitudes that are baked into us as we grow up. The impact that seeing the face of Harriet Tubman staring back at you from a $20 bill should not be underestimated. This sort of representation can subtly but deeply affect someone’s conception of themselves and their place in society.
In 2017, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says the US Treasury was no longer “focused” on the redesign. In recent months, Trump pushed back on the decision, calling it “pure political correctness,” adding, “Well, Andrew Jackson had a great history, and I think it’s very rough when you take somebody off the bill.”
In regards to the “great history” Trump cites: Jackson was the seventh president of the United States, an anti-abolitionist, slave owner, and responsible for the Indian Removal Act. The act, also known as the Trail of Tears, was a forced relocation and mass genocide of Native American nations, in part carried out to make room for plantations and expand slave ownership in the young country. (Jackson is arguably the evilest president in United States’ history — no small feat.) Considering the Trump Administration’s own violent responses toward immigrants (which many have branded as ethnic cleansing), his co-sign of Jackson’s “greatness” shocked few.
In her upcoming book, Omarosa Manigault Newman alleges that Trump, when shown an image of Tubman, said: “You want me to put that face on the twenty-dollar bill?”
Wall says he hopes to make 100-200 additional stamps to circulate as gifts, museum donations, or prizes. He says he may raise money for the Southern Poverty Law Center through auctions or raffles, or mail them anonymously to public officials.
The designer invites those interested to download and print their own versions of the stamp on Thingiverse. He says, “I would like to see Tubman $20s entering circulation is sufficient numbers to generate conversation about the proposed, now abandoned, plan to replace Andrew Jackson with her.” For those lacking the technology, many public libraries now host 3-D printers.
Wall also provides a wealth of information about the project and Tubman’s legacy on the website tumbmanstamp.com.
P.S. – For anyone quick to decry the project as an illegal defacement of U.S. currency, here’s a comprehensive analysis of how you’re wrong.
Update, 3/1/19, 11:00 am: Since the original publication of this article on September 21, 2018, Dano Wall has raised $3,000 for charity through the sale of these stamps. The designer has also found a way to manufacture Tubman stamps in large quantities, which are now available for purchase on Etsy.
“I’ve gotten about 400 stamps out into the world in the last year, but would like to get more into people’s hands, especially now that I feel totally confident about the product,” Wall told Hyperallergic in an email, adding, “It might sound wildly unrealistic but my ultimate goal has become to hit 5%–10% of the $20s in circulation, at which point it would be difficult to ignore.”
To complete that goal, he would have to stamp 4.8 million to 9.6 million Tubman $20 bills (compared to the total 9.5–9.6 billion $20 bills in circulation, according to the Federal Reserve).
Update, 5/23/19, 12:06 pm: Yesterday, May 22, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that the Harriet Tubman $20 bill would be postponed until at least 2026. The program, spearheaded under the Obama administration, was planned to be unveiled in 2020. It has been speculated that Mnuchin hesitated to cancel the bill outright in fear of backlash against President Trump (who once called the bill “pure political correctness”), and instead delayed until after the latest possible end to a Trump presidency.