Things at the Tubman Museum of African American Art, History and Culture in Macon were already busy, as staff members were getting ready for the 20th annual Pan African Festival coming up this weekend.
Then came word that Harriet Tubman, whose story inspired the museum’s name, will grace the $20 bill.
“This is so exciting. We are absolutely thrilled,” said Melanie Byas, the museum’s director of marketing and digital strategy. “This is really awesome.”
Although they had heard Tubman was being considered, no one from the Treasury Department gave the museum advance word of the decision. It took staff members by marvelous surprise.
Tubman, who led dozens of other slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad, would be the first African-American and the second woman to appear on the front of American paper currency, the AJC reported previously. Martha Washington, the wife of the first president, appeared on a $1 silver certificate in the 1880s and 1890s. In the 1860s, Native American Pocahontas appeared on the back of a $20 bill.
“Our paper bills are like pocket monuments to great figures in our history,” Women On 20s Executive Director Susan Ades Stone said in May 2015. “Our work won’t be done until we’re holding a Harriet $20 bill in our hands in time for the centennial of women’s suffrage in 2020.”
The museum that bears her name features a Tubman exhibit but doesn’t focus on her exclusively, instead offering numerous exhibits and programs highlighting many different aspects of African American culture and history. Byas is thrilled not only that Tubman is being honored, but also at the prospect that today’s news will inspire people to appreciate her anew.
“We don’t really take the time to study history, unless we are historians, in this country,” she said. Wednesday’s announcement, she said, may very well change that.