About a year ago, the US Treasury announced that a woman would replace Andrew Jackson as the face of America’s $20 bill. Last week, we found out that woman would be Harriet Tubman. The news of her taking Jackson’s spot attracted some backlash (ahem, Donald Trump), and rejoicing from others.
Tubman’s legacy is one of fierce determination to defy the institutional racism that defined America in the early 1800s. She worked tirelessly to give others a chance for freedom and dignity in the face of unthinkable circumstances. If anyone deserves a place of honor within American culture, it’s Harriet Tubman.
Here are just a few reasons why Tubman’s face on the $20 bill is a perfect addition to American wallets everywhere.
1. She Was Willing to Suffer With and for Those Who Suffered
Even when she was a young girl, Tubman had a strong will and loyalty to her fellow slaves. A white man once asked her to help restrain a slave who had gone to the store without permission. Tubman refused and the slave escaped. But the slave’s owner threw an iron weight at his slave, but he missed and hit Tubman instead. She suffered from seizures, headaches, and hallucinations the rest of her life but never let it affect her work.
2. She Rescued Her Family From Slavery
Tubman escaped from Maryland in 1849, where she was born around 1822, and fled to Philadelphia. After her escape, she worked as a cook in Baltimore and New Jersey, raising money so that she could return to help rescue her family. Then, according to a BBC story, “In 1854, by then a veteran of the escape business, [the man who owned them] finally freed her three younger brothers, Ben, Henry and Robert. And in 1856 she rescued her parents, who had been granted their freedom but were suspected of helping others escape.” She later went back to Maryland to get her husband, but he had run away with another woman.
Undeterred, Tubman decided she would help others escape to freedom, too. Her determination and belief in the right to freedom for all people motivated the rest of her life decisions. A writer in Smithsonian Magazine writes that Tubman “believed in freedom when she shouldn’t have had a chance to believe in freedom.” And she believed in freedom for all.
3. She Invented and Ran the Underground Railroad
Of course, this is what she’s most famous for doing. But a lot of people don’t realize how truly incredible her “Underground Railroad” was. Everything about Tubman’s strategy, from beginning to end, was ingenious. She often left during the night, specifically on Sundays in the winter when no one was outside because of common Sabbath practices and the weather. In those days, too, it was a law that local newspapers could not post missing persons ads until Monday mornings, a fact Tubman took advantage of regularly. Her attention to details like these illustrate her ingenuity—and explain her success rate.
Her escape plans were, despite Tubman’s illiteracy, well-planned and well-executed. Some sources report that she led more than 13 expeditions during her life and helped to free hundreds of slaves. The number is hard to track, but some sources say Tubman led as many as 300 people to freedom in Canada and other free states. These journeys were long and difficult and her skills and sleuth tendencies kept many people alive, including children. She would often use natural remedies for sicknesses and to hush crying babies—because, again, she was awesome.
One source says, “She would later recall with pride that she ‘never lost a passenger.’” Her commitment to these people, and her feisty personality, led her to carry a pistol on her journeys north. Anyone who desired to return south or give up was threatened with the gun. Tubman knew how important it was to keep the Underground Railroad safe and secret; deserters were not an option, and in Tubman’s words, “Dead Negroes tell no tales.”
Her strong personality helped her passengers trust her with their lives. The Smithsonian profile reports that “Timid slaves seemed to find courage in her presence; no one ever betrayed her. She affirmed her faith in God in her statement ‘I always tole God, Im gwine to hole stiddy on to you, an you’ve got to see me trou [through].’”
4. She Hid From Authorities Like a Character in a Movie
Seven years after her own escape, there was a $40,000 reward offered for her capture. Once while waiting in a train station, Tubman heard two men talking about her wanted poster. She quickly grabbed a book—which she could not read—and pretended to read, hoping it was facing the right direction. The men never noticed her, and she continued her journey.
5. She Believed God Led Her Work
She refused to guide slaves north without listening for God’s leading first. One of the writers I read reported that, “Tubman said she would listen carefully to the voice of God as she led slaves north, and she would only go where she felt God was leading her. Fellow Abolitionist Thomas Garrett said of her, ‘I never met any person of any color who had more confidence in the voice of God.’”
6. Her Nickname Was ‘Moses’
When The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 required certain states to return escaped slaves, she did not quit but changed her tactics and escape routes. Through these journeys, she earned herself the nickname of “Moses”—because she was leading her people away from slavery into freedom. I mean, come on.
7. She Was an Early American War Hero
Tubman was the first—and reportedly only—woman to ever help with a raid during the Civil War. She helped guide Combahee River Raid, which liberated approximately 700 slaves in South Carolina. She also worked with the Union Army as a cook and nurse, but later became a scout and spy. One writer says she “played a decisive role in planning and carrying out a military operation. … In other words, the amazing thing about Tubman’s role during the raid was not that she was in her element, but that she was so far outside it.”
8. She Trusted God Throughout
Tubman continuously trusted God. One author writes that “no matter how dire the situation, Tubman, who was deeply religious, operated on the unshakeable belief that God would provide.”
9. She Credited God With Everything She Accomplished
And then she always credited God for her success. Looking back on her accomplishments, she said: “Twant me, ’twas the Lord. I always told him, ‘I trust to you. I don’t know where to go or what to do, but I expect you to lead me,’ and He always did.”
Tubman’s fearless devotion and belief in God’s care sustained her through each season of her life as she essentially redefined selfless living.
From an enslaved woman to abolitionist, war spy and nurse to an historical icon, Tubman’s face on the $20 bill is more than appropriate for America’s future. It’s an awesome way to honor her legacy and encourage those who come behind her to continue working for justice and the betterment of those around them.
is a writer and editor living in Louisville, Kentucky. She's on Twitter at @RuthAnneIrvin