Should Hamilton be Next on the Currency Chopping Block?
Historian Gerald Horne says replacing Jackson with Tubman is a step in the right direction but many more could be purged and replaced with abolitionists
SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew is expected to announce on Wednesday the decision to replace former president Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman on the U.S. $20 bill. To address the significance of this we are joined by Gerald Horne. Gerald holds a John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African-American Studies at the University of Houston. Gerald, thank you so much for joining us today.
GERALD HORNE: Thank you for inviting me.
PERIES: So, Gerald, what is the significance of all of this?
HORNE: Well, the first part of the significance is that Andrew Jackson, a former slave owner and probably a slave dealer who will live forever in infamy for his role in expelling indigenous people, Native Americans, from the U.S. Southeast, contrary to a decision rendered by the U.S. Supreme Court, expelling them along what is now referred to as the Trail of Tears, is now cast into the dust of history. That is profoundly significant. As for Harriet Tubman, as you may recall, she was a leading abolitionist, a woman of African descent who more than once went into the South and rescued enslaved Africans from the bonds of slavery. She is a significant figure. To the extent that who goes on your currency sends a signal as to what direction the nation is headed in, this is a positive sign.
PERIES: So, Gerald, many decisions are being made about our currency and who appears on them, so while they’re removing Andrew Jackson, apparently they’re keeping Hamilton on the $10 bill. What is the significance of that?
HORNE: Well, recall that before Andrew Jackson was purged there was serious discussion about purging Alexander Hamilton from the U.S. currency. Unfortunately, the runaway successful Broadway musical Hamilton, the so-called rap and hip-hop musical which has glorified and prettified Hamilton’s image, led Jacob Lew to retreat from what I considered to be a laudable idea of purging Alexander Hamilton. I would say, however, that he should be next on the chopping block.
PERIES: And tell us a little bit more about Hamilton, given the historian you are.
HORNE: Well, keep in mind that Alexander Hamilton was born in the Caribbean. Recall that in the middle of the 18th century London considered the Caribbean to be more valuable than the North American mainland. The problem was that Africans outnumbered Europeans sometimes at a rate of 20:1, and therefore there were constant slave rebellions. And so like many Europeans, Hamilton engaged in what could easily be called a case of white flight, fleeing to the North American mainland where he married into one of the most affluent families in New York City. A slave owning family, by the way, which makes rather curious the portrayal of Hamilton in 2016 as some kind of abolitionist. Probably to his dying days he was attended to by enslaved Africans. It’s also fair to say that Hamilton could justifiably be called the [captain] of the 1 percent. He was a leader of finance capital. He was the early Secretary of Treasury of the nation United States of America. Certainly I think it would be highly appropriate to purge him from the U.S. currency.
PERIES: And Gerald, finally, what other significant figures are there in African-American history which the community that’s advocating for these changes could highlight, in your opinion?
HORNE: Well, Frederick Douglass, the great 19th century abolitionist. Sojourner Truth, the great 19th century abolitionist. And if we’re going to really be courageous, I would suggest Paul Robeson, the great 20th century socialist. Perhaps the tallest tree in our forest, speaking of the black forest and the U.S. forest. An all-American football player at Rutgers, a lawyer, a singer, an actor, and most of all, a political activist on behalf of anti-racism and peace. I can think of no better signal to our youth than putting Paul Robeson on U.S. currency.
PERIES: All right, Gerald. Thank you so much for joining us, and we look forward to having you, again, very soon.
HORNE: Thank you for inviting me.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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