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For the first time in over 100 years, famous American women will appear on U.S. paper currency. Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill, a group of suffragists will be added to the $10 bill and the $5 bill will show Eleanor Roosevelt and singer Marian Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the changes.
It has been a much anticipated decision, but the United States' currency is in for the first changes in a long time, giving new prominence to civil rights and women's history in this country.
The familiar greenbacks haven't seen a new face in almost 90 years. And when the Treasury Department announced last year a woman might grace a bill for the first time in history, there was jubilation from American women, but a backlash from Alexander Hamilton fans, who were upset over anyone replacing him on the $10 bill.
The first secretary of the treasury, Hamilton has become a darling of popular culture with the runaway success of the Broadway musical named after him. There was plenty of feedback and even some indignation at the suggestion Hamilton might be replaced.
Today, after much speculation, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced it's the seventh president of the United States, Andrew Jackson, who loses his spot on the front of the $20 bill. He will be replaced by Harriet Tubman, the Civil War anti-slavery activist and a leader of the Underground Railroad.
Hamilton stays put on the $10 bill, but the reverse side will now include leaders of the women's suffrage movement, including Susan B. Anthony, and another abolitionist, Sojourner Truth.
The $5 bill also gets an update to include civil rights leaders such Marian Anderson, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King Jr.
I caught up with Treasury Secretary Lew earlier today.
Secretary Jack Lew, thank you for joining us.
JACK LEW, Secretary of the Treasury: Great to be with you, Judy.
So, big decision, the first time a woman is going on the face of a piece of U.S. currency that's in wide circulation.
Why Harriet Tubman?
You know, when we started the public discussion of this almost a year ago, I said it's been almost 100 years since we have had a woman on our currency, and that had to change, and it had to change as soon as possible.
We went through a process of listening. And I kind of did it the old-fashioned way. We actually listened. Heard from well over a million people in one way or another, responses through handwritten notes and e-mails and tweets and retweets.
And the amount of support and interest in Harriet Tubman was quite impressive. It showed that the story of Harriet Tubman means a lot to people of all ages in this country, and it speaks to something very important about American democracy.
Here, a woman born a slave, illiterate her whole life, can, after spending countless trips going back and forth freeing people on an individual basis, worked for the Army to help — as a spy, help them find their way into battle in the Civil War, and then be a founder of the women's suffrage movement, how that can change our country. And I think that's — it's a tremendous American story.
Now, by all accounts, you changed your thinking here at Treasury.
There were reports it was going to be a woman to replace Alexander Hamilton. There was reliable reports it was going to be Susan B. Anthony, the leader of the women's suffrage movement in this country. Why change?
What we did was, we widened the lens.
It became very clear, listening to the amount of interest and response, first of all, that the $20 bill had a special resonance, because we all use it so much, because we get it in money machines, that it's the bill where, if we wanted to put a woman on a bill that people were going to feel was the bill that they use, the $20 bill had a special meaning.
And we also — I came to the conclusion fairly quickly as we were listening that there's a lot more here than just one square inch of one bill. We ought to be looking at the whole series $5, $10, and $20.
And once you start doing more things, it gives you the ability to tell more stories. So, for example, on the back of the $10 bill, we're going to tell the story of women's suffrage. We will have images of the leading suffragists, five incredible women.
We are going to have a depiction of a demonstration, a rally on the steps of the Treasury Building demanding in 1913 that women get — be given the right to vote. And on the back of the $5 bill, we are going to have a image of Marian Anderson and Eleanor Roosevelt, when Marian Anderson couldn't sing in a concert hall in Washington because of segregation, and the steps of the Lincoln Memorial were open to her to sing to 75,000 people.
So, it tells a lot of stories, this series of decisions.
So, is it fair to say it's more of a focus on civil rights than it is on gender?
At the beginning, we said it's going to be a focus on democracy. I would call it a focus on democracy.
It's how you use your voice in a democracy to effect change. See, you look at a series of individuals and the stories that are going to be depicted. What it says is that change in this country doesn't just come by what we do in the halls of Washington. It's what individuals do in their actions.
It looks as if you were influenced by the success of this Broadway musical "Hamilton." Were you?
You know, candidly, we decided pretty early on as we were listening to have a broader approach.
And I think that it would be an overstatement to say that it's a response to that. I heard almost immediately when I made my announcement in June from people who said, don't take Alexander Hamilton off of our money. And I said, don't worry. He's always going to be on our money. You can't work in this building without feeling that you stand on his shoulders.
And I think what we came to was a much bigger approach, and one that is powerful in telling a series of stories, and it involves the $20, the $10, and the $5, not just one bill.
I ask about Alexander Hamilton because, clearly, there's another side of the Hamilton story, the philandering, leaving his family penniless, and the rest of it.
I think that the contributions that Alexander Hamilton made to building our economy and our system of government are legendary.
And the loyalty of his wife to preserving his memory is also legendary.
Why do you think it's taken so long to get a woman on the currency?
You know, it's a good question, Judy.
I'm not sure I can answer it. Obviously, from my perspective, it took too long. That's why, in June, when we announced we were doing it, we had to do it, and we had to do it on the next bill that comes out. And we're doing that.
I have been working on this, literally, since I started here at Treasury. The work began before I got here. But it's not something that we wasted any time on. And I think it's long overdue.
And when will we actually see this? I mean, you know, women's groups are already saying it's taken so long already. Now we have to wait years more for this to be in circulation.
So, the plan is that, in 2020, the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage, all three images, all three designs will be revealed in their final detail.
And after that, the production process will begin. I have already instructed the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to work as quickly as possible to make that process go as quickly as possible. And I have talked — the two offices in government that have authority over this are the Treasury and the Federal Reserve board.
I have talked to the chair of the Federal Reserve, and we agree on two things. One, have to make sure our money is safe, and we should move this process as quickly as we can.
Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew, thank you very much.
Great to be with you, Judy.
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