Twitter Reacts to Report on Preliminary Design of the Harriet Tubman $20 Bill

Many Americans were dissatisfied to learn that, according to a New York Times report, that the Treasury Department was already working on the redesign of the $20 bill bearing an image of Harriet Tubman when the Trump administration decided to delay the note's release until at least 2028.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in May that the design of the note would be delayed by six years—and may exclude the former slave and abolitionist altogether.

Harriet Tubman
A portrait of Harriet Tubman (ca. 1820-1913) CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

The bill would be the first to bear the face of an African American, but Mnuchin told Congress that developing new security features took priority, thus making the 2020 design deadline set by the Obama administration impossible to meet.

A preliminary design of the bill, produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and obtained by The New York Times from a former Treasury Department official, shows Tubman in a dark coat with a wide collar and a white scarf. That rendering was reportedly completed in 2016.

The Times article cited an anonymous current member of the bureau who claimed to personally have viewed the metal engraving plate and a digital image of a Tubman bill as it was being reviewed by engravers and Secret Service officials last year.

A U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing employee looks over a sheet of partially printed bills at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington October 23, 2006. A campaign is advocating for anti-slavery campaigner Harriet Tubman to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. Jim Young/Reuters

Current and former department officials reportedly told the Times that Mnuchin's decision to delay the bill was based on the possibility that President Donald Trump would cancel the plan outright and create controversy. (After all, the Times pointed out, Andrew Jackson is said to be Trump's favorite president.)

The new note was to have been designed in 2020 with the goal of releasing it into circulation in 2022. To delay the bill another six years would mean that the decision on when this bill will, if ever, be released will be in the hands of another administration, even if Trump were to serve a second term.

Apropos to the aforementioned security features, former director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing Larry E. Rolufs said that because the security features of a new note are embedded in the imagery, they normally would be developed concurrently, potentially giving additional credence to claims that Mnunchin's explanation for the delay was inaccurate or misleading.

"You want to work them together," said Rolufs, who led the bureau from 1995 to 1997, regarding the integration of design and security features.

Following the May 22 hearing where Mnuchin said he couldn't commit to upholding the decision to place Tubman on the redesigned $20 bill, Congresswoman Joyce Beatty (D-OH) introduced on June 4 the Woman on the Twenty Act of 2019, which would require a $20 bill printed after 2022 to prominently feature a portrait of the abolitionist.

Americans want Harriet Tubman on the #New20, but @stevenmnuchin1 and @realDonaldTrump nixed that plan. That’s why I introduced the #WomanOnTheTwenty Act to get Harriet the recognition she deserves.

— Joyce Beatty (@RepBeatty) June 12, 2019

And with the release of the Times report came an overwhelming reaction from Twitter users. Sewell Chan, Deputy Managing Editor of The Los Angeles Times, wrote, "I fear that women and POC will appear on our currency only after we've moved to a cashless economy."

Adam Serwer, a staff writer for The Atlantic, said the Trump administration's effort to prevent "a *wholly ornamental* gesture against white supremacy" is character-defining. He later noted that his particular concern had little to do with Tubman but with "why the Trump administration cares so deeply about it that they blocked it and then lied about why they were blocking it."

Massachusetts Congresswoman, Ayanna Pressley, who recently wrote to Mnuchin demanding a more detailed explanation for the delay, used the Times report as ammunition in her push to get more information from the secretary.

"Turns out the redesign... was well underway," wrote Pressley. "And yet [Mnuchin] says it'll be at least a decade before it goes into circulation? Nice try, Mr. Secretary - we see right through you & we won't back down."