A closer look

Bank’s Harriet Tubman card strives to honor abolitionist in wake of absence on $20 bill

More stories from Ta'Leah Van Sistine

Life in the city
December 8, 2021

Photo by Submitted

Under the Obama administration in April 2016, there was an initiative to replace former President Andrew Jackson’s face with Harriet Tubman’s on the $20 bill. 

Now in 2020, though, there are no longer immediate plans to put the former slave, abolitionist and major leader of the Underground Railroad on the $20 bill, but instead, on a credit card

OneUnited Bank introduced the Harriet Tubman card on Feb. 12 with the statement “Let’s make Black history,” according to their website.

“Harriet Tubman not only escaped slavery, she made nineteen missions to bring 300 others … to freedom,” a blurb on the OneUnited Bank website said. “Given her profound impact on American history, she deserves to be placed on the $20 bill.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, under the Trump administration, said in May 2019 the Tubman bill would not be implemented until President Trump leaves office — at least until 2026. 

On their website, OneUnited Bank said they want to put Tubman on a “global payment device” in honor of Black History Month and in hopes Tubman will still be on the $20 bill one day.

“This symbol of Black empowerment in 2020 will pave the way for the Harriet Tubman design on the $20 bill,” the OneUnited Bank website said. 

In her article “I don’t want a Harriet Tubman debit card or a $20 bill. Pay homage — but not like this,” Boston Globe columnist Jeneé Osterheldt said she was “baffled” when OneUnited Bank released the card. 

“Black people were literally used as money,” Osterheldt said. “Harriet Tubman … should never be the symbol of American capitalism.”

The Tubman card was also met with controversy because in the art on the card, Tubman appears to be doing the “Wakanda Forever” salute from the movie “Black Panther,” according to The Washington Post. 

According to Fox News, OneUnited responded to the confusion on Twitter and explained the art actually portrays Tubman using the American Sign Language sign for “love.”

“Harriet Tubman is the ultimate symbol of love – love that causes you to sacrifice everything, including your own life,” OneUnited said in their tweet. “The gesture is the sign language symbol for love. It’s so important that we love ourselves.”

The Miami Herald said the image of Tubman on the card is from Miami artist Addonis Parker’s painting “The Conqueror.” 

Parker told The Washington Post that while the sign for “love” is created by crossing one’s arms and “balling (their) fists” in front of their chest, he needed to move Tubman’s arms up a bit to fit on a debit card. 

According to The Washington Post, OneUnited Bank tried to rebrand itself in 2015 and became a bank that “No longer was … a financial institution that happened to have black owners and customers. It was a black bank that was unapologetic about its identity.” 

Teri Williams, the president of OneUnited Bank, said to The Washington Post that the Tubman card ultimately “made sense.”

“… the card is really an extension of our whole way in which we’ve been communicating to our community,” Williams said. “Black money matters and social justice is intertwined with building economic growth.”

Van Sistine can be reached at [email protected].