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Harriet Tubman to be first African-American on US currency
[WASHINGTON] Anti-slavery crusader Harriet Tubman will become the first African-American on the face of US paper currency, and the first woman in more than a century, when she replaces former President Andrew Jackson on the US$20 bill.
The US Treasury Department said on Wednesday that Ms Tubman, who was born into slavery in the early 1820s and went on to help hundreds of slaves escape, would take the center spot on the bill, while Mr Jackson, a slave owner, would move to the back.
Introduced alongside a slew of changes to the US$5 and US$10 notes as well, the redesign gives the Treasury "a chance to open the aperture to reflect more of America's history," Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said.
A new US$10 bill will add images of five female leaders of the women's suffrage movement, including Sojourner Truth and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, to the back, while keeping founding father Alexander Hamilton on the front.
The reverse of a new US$5 note will show former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr, officials said. Former President Abraham Lincoln will remain on the front.
Mr Lew said the designs should be unveiled by 2020 and go into circulation "as quickly as possible," although he declined to say when. He said the US$10 bill was scheduled to go out first, citing security needs.
The long-awaited decision to replace the seventh president of the United States with Ms Tubman followed months of outreach by the Treasury regarding which woman should be featured on a bill.
The debate began when the Treasury announced plans in June to feature a woman on the US$10 note, prompted partly by a young girl's letter to President Barack Obama that criticized the lack of women on US currency and a social media campaign last year called "Women on 20s."
Mr Hamilton's growing celebrity status, due largely to a Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway musical about his life, "Hamilton," created by Lin-Manuel Miranda, propelled an effort to keep the first US Treasury secretary on the US$10 note and to replace Mr Jackson on the US$20 bill instead.
Mr Jackson, a hero of the War of 1812's Battle of New Orleans, was president from 1829-1837. But he has been criticized for his treatment of American Indians and ownership of slaves.
After considering hundreds of candidates, Mr Lew said Ms Tubman was chosen for her leadership and work helping others.
"It's the essential story of American democracy about how one person who grew up in slavery, never had the benefit of learning how to read or write, could change the course of history," he said.
Ms Tubman grew up working on a Maryland plantation and escaped in her late 20s. She returned to the South to help hundreds of black slaves to freedom and worked as a Union spy during the Civil War. She died in 1913.
Women have not been depicted on US bills since Martha Washington, who was on the US$1 silver certificate from 1891 to 1896, and Pocahontas, who was in a group picture on the US$20 bill from 1865 to 1869.
On coins, Sacagawea, a Native American who assisted the Lewis and Clark Expedition, is featured on the gold dollar, and suffragist Susan B Anthony is on the silver dollar. Deaf-blind author and activist Helen Keller is on the back of the Alabama quarter.
Ms Tubman became the top-trending hashtag on Twitter shortly after the news broke on Wednesday, with more than 100,000 tweets and mentions online.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who is campaigning to become the first female US president, praised Ms Tubman as "a woman, a leader, and a freedom fighter" on Twitter and said she could not think of a better choice.
Some Twitter users applauded Treasury's decision to keep Mr Hamilton on the US$10 bill.
Actress Mara Wilson (@MaraWritesStuff) tweeted at Mr Miranda, the "Hamilton" creator, saying: "@Lin-Manuel First you win a Pulitzer, now you're affecting US currency. Get some rest!"