The Observer heard recently that the U.S. Mint is planning to boot President Andrew Jackson to the back of the $20 bill in favor of the great Underground Railroad conductor and abolitionist Harriet Tubman, which immediately made Yours Truly ask: What the hell took 'em so long?
Don't get us wrong. While we can't quite say we've got nothing against ol' Andy Jackson — he was, after all, the guy who really kicked off America's wholesale genocide against Native Americans, including marching the Cherokee west on the infamous Trail of Tears — we do think he was deserving of the spot on the double sawbuck, if only for the fact that he owned a parrot named Poll who so disturbed Jackson's funeral with her nonstop cursing that Rev. William Menefee Norment, who officiated over Jackson's trip downstairs, saw fit to write about it in his memoirs. Norment wrote that Poll was so excited by the crush of emotion at the funeral that she "let loose perfect gusts of cuss words," to the effect that funeralgoers were "horrified and awed at the bird's lack of reverence." In Poll's defense, The Observer has known a few parrots in our day, and we can attest to the fact that reverence is not their strong suit. Another fact: Jackson owned a 1,400-pound wheel of cheddar cheese — a.k.a. "The Cheshire Mammoth Cheese" — which he kept in the entryway of the White House so visitors and the unwashed masses could pop in and whittle off a hunk for a snack whenever they wished.
We didn't make up that stuff about the parrot or the giant cheese, by the way. You can Google it.
But back to Tubman getting her spot on the $20: Though The Observer soon moved on to idolize old dead folks like Jefferson, Hemingway, Susan B. Anthony, Jonas Salk and Nikola Tesla, in elementary school we were solidly Team Harriet, who we learned about as a voracious reader in the kids' section of the library. She was, hands down, our favorite historical figure until age 15. Selfless heroism has always been the thing that gets under our rhino hide, and Harriet had it in spades.
Born a slave in 1822 on a Maryland plantation, she escaped to Philadelphia when she was 27. Then, instead of getting as far away from the slaveholding South as she could without falling into salt water or crossing the Arctic Circle, Harriet turned around within a year and became a conductor on the Underground Railroad, risking her own life and freedom to creep back into the slave states under cover of night and steal away dozens of slaves and guide them to safety, including her own family. After the Fugitive Slave Act was passed and even non-slaveholding states became a danger zone for escapees, she smuggled former slaves as far north as the Canadian border. When the Civil War broke out, she volunteered as a nurse, scout and spy. In June 1863, she helped lead a raid on Combahee Ferry in South Carolina that freed 750 slaves. After the war, she retired to upstate New York, where she was active in the effort to secure women the vote. She died there in 1913.
So no flash in the pan was Harriet, no politically correct pick for the $20 bill, either, though there's been much grumbling from the loony Right that she is. If anybody deserves to be there, it's hard to imagine one more deserving than her, who was upholding the constitutional promise of birthright freedom for all Americans long before the white folks got around to recognizing it. How the hell is this woman not the subject of a stirring, Oscar-bait movie yet?
The Observer, for one, will be proud to spend our Harriets. As for anybody who disagrees with the face swap on the $20 to the point of righteous indignation, you're welcome to express your displeasure by mailing the offending bills right on over to The Observer. They'll spend just fine for us.