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Strange Fruit: Harriet Tubman On The $20 Bill?

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Hours before we went into the studio this week, rumors started swirling on the internet: Harriet Tubman would be on the $20 bill.

It's something we'd heard before, as part of a wider effort to get a woman on U.S. paper currency. But when it looked like it would be Tubman specifically, we had mixed emotions. Tubman fought against enslavement, a system that made money off the oppression of black people. Is putting her on money disrespectful of that legacy? Or is it poetic justice?

We spent most of this week's episode unpacking the pros and cons with activist Chaz Briscoe and WFPL's new Digital Editor, Jonese Franklin.

Briscoe feels less ambivalent than some. He hates it. "It's a complete betrayal of Harriet Tubman's legacy as an abolitionist. To codify her within a system that was built on the backs and oppression of black people does a huge disservice to her legacy," Briscoe says. "Harriet Tubman was about the freedom of black people, so why re-inscribe that into a system that still has no space for black people?"

But Jaison points out the importance of representation. "I know what it means for me as a black gay man to turn on the television and see Jussie Smollett," he says. "So to what degree is it an important gesture, even if it is just a gesture, that young people now will see a black woman on a dollar bill?"

After we recorded the show, we learned that Andrew Jackson wouldn't be removed from the bill but moved to the back, with Tubman on the front. So Tubman will share a bill with Jackson — himself an enslaver, who was also famously ruthless to Native Americans.

Later in the show, a discussion about a teen who was arrested for filling his McDonald's water cup with soda leads to some true confessions of fast-food misbehavior.

Laura is LPM's Director of Podcasts & Special Projects. Email Laura at lellis@lpm.org.

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