Tubman on the $20? Correct, isn’t always political

April 24, 2016

harriet-2The beauty of our modern calendar is not so much in the static dates we use to plan our lives and countdown the days, but in what lies behind them: An endless river of memories and recollections, within its banks the ebb and flow of humanity itself; Each date a cache of historical treasure free for the taking.

The third week of April is as good as any to illustrate.

We start our journey learning that our Income Tax Day April 15th is shared with Thomas Cromwell’s appointment as Chief Secretary to the King in 1534 (Cromwell was the architect behind Henry VIII’s breaking England away from the Catholic Church so as to marry his mistress Anne Boleyn).  82 years earlier, a guy by the name of Leonardo Da Vinci was born in Vinci, Italy, 460 after that the technological marvel of its day, the HMS Titanic slipped below the icy waters of the North Atlantic sending over 1500 souls to their death, and just 3 years ago the brothers Tsarnaev unleashed their Boston Marathon terrorist attack.

The 16th marks the day that the Jewish fortress Masada fell to the Romans, future bicycle maker Wilbur Wright was born, Bat Masterson had his last gun fight in Dodge City, and Apollo 16 launched from Cape Canaveral for the fifth moon landing in human history.

On the 17th you hear Geoffrey Chaucer first telling his Canterbury Tales, watch as Ellis Island processes almost 12,000 people in a single day, see the Ford Mustang introduced, and breathe a sigh of relief as Apollo 13th splashes safely down in the South Pacific.

The 18th dawns with the laying of the cornerstone of St. Peter’s Basilica, James Doolittle leading the first air raid on Japan, an afternoon with Babe Ruth’s 3 run homer against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium’s first game, and a night time ride with Paul Revere.

American history bookends the 19th with the birth of the American Revolution on Lexington Green and the senseless slaughter of 168 innocents in the Oklahoma City bombing.

We end this week’s float trip on the 21st with Romulus founding Rome, Sam Houston at the Battle of San Jacinto securing Texas’ independence from Mexico, and the opening of the Seattle World’s Fair.

What’s that?  I missed the 20th?  And so I did. Call it saving the best for last.

For from this year forward, future travelers through the date of April 20th will note that alongside the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1871 and Billie Holiday recording her civil rights song “Strange Fruit” in 1939, will be the announcement by Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew that anti-slavery activist, Union spy and true American hero Harriet Tubman would be replacing Andrew Jackson on the 20 dollar U.S. banknote.

To many Jackson is “Old Hickory”, the hero of the Battle of New Orleans.  To others he was an opportunistic, slave holding politician.  To American history he is our 7th President and the founder of the modern day Democrat Party.  But to me, above all else he is the man behind the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and ultimately the Trail of Tears that treated Native Americans no differently than Nazis marching Jews into the gas chambers.  The thousands of men, women and children that died under Jackson and his approved successor Martin Van Buren are forever reminders of the worst of the worst of human behavior.

Whatever else Jackson might have done can never erase the stain of the slaughter that he oversaw.

And while some are calling the Tubman decision just more political correctness run amok I cannot agree.  Sometimes things just happen because they are the correct thing to do.  This is one of those times.

PUBLISHER NOTE:  A version of this column first appeared in the Sunday, April 24th print edition of the Joplin Globe.

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