Canada’s Viola Desmond civil rights heroine banknote wins international awards while the U.S. Harriet Tubman banknote proposal stagnates

By Rosemary Eng


Canada can give the U.S. a lesson or two or three about how to use national currency to honor a civil rights heroine.

Viola Desmond ‘s image is on Canada’s 10 dollar banknote

Nearly three years ago the Canadian government asked Canadians to suggest a person to feature on a new $10 banknote and 26,300 suggestions were received. In short order the choice became Viola Desmond, a civil rights pioneer from Nova Scotia. In 1946 she was arrested for refusing to leave a whites-only seat in a movie theatre while waiting for her car to be repaired.

Last year the Desmond bill was released, and at the same time bumped up Canadian awareness of the obscure incident when Desmond, then 32, was jailed merely for sitting in the wrong theater seat.

Last month, the $10 Desmond bill won the International Bank Note of the Year design award for 2018 among a field of international competitors.

All this happened while the idea of honoring Harriet Tubman, the former slave and abolitionist who helped hundreds of fugitive slaves escape to Canada along the Underground Railroad lay in the doldrums.

A U.S.. bank note honoring Harriet Tubman still has not materalized

President Barack Obama in 2016 said Tubman would replace America’s 7th President, Andrew Jackson on the US$20 bill. Jackson’s personal wealth is acknowledged to have been based on slave labor on his Tennessee cotton plantation.

Jackson lived from 1767 to 1845, and Tubman from 1820 to 1913. She escaped to freedom in 1849.

As America waited for imminent news on a new Tubman bill the New York Times reported last June that  “Images of Tubman, which were featured prominently on the Treasury Department’s website at the end the Obama administration, were removed when Mr. Trump’s Treasury Department overhauled its website….”

It was reported last year when former White House adviser Omarosa Manigault Newman’s book, “Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House” was released that President Donald Trump said, “You want me to put that face (Tubman’s) on the twenty dollar bill?”

Trump was reported to say that maybe Tubman could possibly be on the little used $2 bill.

That was the last straw for Dano Wall and co-workers at a small New York design company which works with a laser cutter and 3D printer.

Viola Desmond

Dano, 33, created a rubber stamp with the image of a young Tubman and aligned it with Jackson’s eyes, nose and mouth on the $20 bill so Tubman could overlay Jackson on the front of the $20 bill.

He claims it’s legal as long as the security features and denomination of the bill are not obscured and does not make the bill unfit for reissue. He says he’s used $20 Tubman bills with no problems. So far he has sold about 500 Tubman stamps on Etsy for people to transform their own Jackson bills.

The news about stalling on Tubman “made my blood boil,” he said. Keeping up awareness of the promised Tubman bill “seemed like the right thing to do.”



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *