The new $20: Harriet Tubman’s important connection to New Jersey
The U.S. Treasury on Wednesday announced that President Andrew Jackson’s portrait would be replaced by Harriet Tubman on the face of the new $20 bill.
Tubman is one of the most celebrated women figures in U.S. history as one of the most prominent conductors of the Underground Railroad, a network of secret trails and safe houses that helped escaped slaves from the South flee north.
But many may not know that she also is an important figure in New Jersey history. Not only did the Underground Railroad run through the Garden State, but Tubman based part of her operations in Cape May County during the years that she helped lead more than 300 runaway slaves to safety.
Tubman was born a slave circa 1820 in Maryland as Araminta Ross. She escaped from her plantation in 1849 when she was about 30 years old and moved to Philadelphia.
From 1849 and 1852 she worked as a hotel worker in Cape May, raising money for the Underground Railroad, according to the New Jersey Historical Commission.
She helped hundreds of runaway slaves escape through Maryland and New Jersey between 1850 and 1860, all the while with a Maryland bounty on her head — some say has high as $40,000.
New Jersey at the time had more all-black communities than any other northern state, providing runaways with safe havens along their perilous journey to freedom.
Tubman is credited with being one of the first American women to help plan a military campaign, advising Union troops on their assault on plantations along the Combahee River in South Carolina, which freed more than 700 slaves.
She also aided the notorious abolitionist John Brown in his failed 1859 raid on a federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia.
Tubman was one of the inaugural inductees into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2008.
"While she spent only a few years in New Jersey, we are proud that her reputation as an icon of freedom and courage began here and proud to have her so well known by schoolchildren across the state," the Hall of Fame says.
Tubman was the top vote getter last year in a poll conducted by Women on 20s, which campaigned for including a woman on the face of U.S. paper currency.
"Not only did she devote her life to racial equality, she fought for women’s rights alongside the nation’s leading suffragists," the group said Wednesday.
"We are gratified to have sparked a conversation about the symbols and historical figures that define us as a nation. But until Secretary Lew commits to inclusion of women in the portrait gallery of paper currency in the near future, we see work ahead."
The decision to place Tubman's portrait on the $20 likely means that Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew has decided to keep Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill, a victory for those who had opposed his initial plan to remove Hamilton.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-438-1015 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.