Ben Carson: Harriet Tubman would ‘turn in her grave’ if she knew she was on the $20 bill

The former presidential candidate said the abolitionist icon would become 'the new face of American debt slavery’


Rachael Revesz
New York
Tuesday 26 April 2016 21:29 BST
Ben Carson dropped out of the presidential race in March and endorsed Donald Trump
Ben Carson dropped out of the presidential race in March and endorsed Donald Trump (EPA)

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Former presidential candidate and Republican Ben Carson has spoken out against freedom fighter Harriet Tubman being placed on a new $20 bill, arguing that she would be horrified to become “the new face of American debt slavery”.

Mr Carson, in an op-ed for IJ Review, said the modern form of slavery is the national debt and that every child is born with a “negative net worth” - he said it would take three years of slave labour for a child to repay the debt they are born with.

Therefore, he argued, the abolitionist icon who was born on a slave plantation in Maryland and who escaped to form an underground network for other African Americans would “turn in her grave” if she knew she was about to be printed on the bill.

“She would revile the cheap trick being pulled on African Americans in getting them to support this nearly bankrupt symbol of American debt,” he wrote. ”It is amazing how, just as the currency dwindles down to near worthlessness – all of a sudden the Government wants to invoke Harriet Tubman as a symbol on the twenty dollar bill.”

He called out the move as an “empty gesture” and a “disgrace” that president Obama is trying to “rush through” the current administration.

It's a potentially controversial view, but one that many civil rights activists may agree with, and more palatable to people than his previous comments. During his presidential campaign he voiced his opinion that one dead body with bullets in it is better than taking away the second amendment, he has called for "transgender bathrooms" to avoid "making everyone else uncomfortable", and said he would not advocate "putting a Muslim in charge of this nation".

The move to replace the image of Andrew Jackson, the seventh president, on the $20 bill was led by campaign group Women On 20s.

The campaign leaders said they were ready to claim victory but only if the new bill was issued by 2020, in time to mark the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote.

Ms Tubman was born in 1822 and escaped at the age of 27 when she managed to travel on foot to Philadelphia. She returned to the South many times to help free other slaves by establishing safe houses and an underground network.

Mr Carson argued that slaves were seen as property and were used as collateral for debt obligations, so her escape and her help to free around 300 others resulted in weakening the slavery system through “miring it in debt".

“The cynical pandering to race, and the exploitation of a real American hero in order to mask the highway robbery being enacted by the Fed and the U.S. Government is nothing short of a disgrace,” he said. "It is one thing if they want to rob the American people blind, but quite another to do it in the name of a true freedom fighter.”

Cultural commentator and New York hip-hop radio host Jay Smooth said in May last year that it was problematic to honour Ms Tubman’s work to free people from slavery “by putting her face on the reason we were in slavery”.

Donald Trump, who was endorsed by Mr Carson after he quit the presidential race in March, also weighed in on the debate, arguing the move was a result of “pure political correctness”.

“Andrew Jackson has a great history, and it seems rough to take someone off the bill,” he said during an interview with NBC last week.

“I think Harriet Tubman is fantastic,” he added. ”I would love to — I would love to leave Andrew Jackson and see if we can maybe come up with another denomination. Maybe we do the $2 bill or we do another bill.“

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