The US Treasury department is reviving plans to replace former president Andrew Jackson on the $20 note with the image of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, after Donald Trump put the brakes on the idea.
The move underscores the cultural shift that has accompanied the change of administration in Washington this month, with Joe Biden moving to honour a symbol of the fight against slavery.
Tubman is best known for carrying out a series of intrepid missions to free about 70 people by making use of the so-called Underground Railroad to help slaves escape. She would be the first African-American featured on US currency if the plan is implemented.
“It’s important that our notes, our money . . . reflect the history and diversity of our country and Harriet Tubman’s image gracing the $20 note would certainly reflect that,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters in a briefing on Monday. “So we’re exploring ways to speed up that effort.”
The White House plans for the $20 bill came as Janet Yellen, the former Federal Reserve chair, was confirmed to be the next Treasury secretary — and the first woman to hold the job. Ms Yellen was approved with an overwhelming margin of 84 votes to 15, with many Republicans joining Democrats to give her the green light.
“When the American people elect a president, and when that president selects qualified and mainstream people for key posts, the whole nation deserves for them to be able to assemble their team,” Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate, said on the floor of the upper chamber, as he announced his backing for Ms Yellen.
Under Treasury secretary Jack Lew, Barack Obama’s administration had announced plans to place Tubman on the $20 note. The effort was derided by Mr Trump during the 2016 campaign as “pure political correctness”. His Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, subsequently put the plans on hold.
Mr Trump is a longtime admirer of Jackson and had a portrait of the seventh US president in the Oval Office, which has since been removed by Mr Biden.
The speed at which the Biden administration confirmed that it wanted to press ahead with plans to place Tubman on the $20 bill highlights the importance of racial justice issues to the new administration.
Last week Mr Biden signed one of his first executive orders on racial equality, including revoking the “1776 commission” set up last year by Mr Trump to offer a “patriotic education” to Americans and stamp out efforts to highlight the history of slavery.
The Biden administration’s economic agenda, which Ms Yellen will shepherd, aims specifically to reduce some of the income and wealth gaps suffered by African-Americans that have become even more glaring during the pandemic.
During the campaign, Mr Biden had vowed to invest at least $30bn to help minority entrepreneurs, and press the Fed to do more to monitor racial economic gaps.