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It Is Time To Put Martin Luther King Jr. On The 20 Dollar Bill


In Slate magazine, Jillian Keenan wrote pretty eloquently why Andrew Jackson should not be on the 20 dollar bill: 

My public high school wasn’t the best, but we did have an amazing history teacher. Mr. L, as we called him, brought our country’s story to life. So when he taught us about the Indian Removal Act and the Trail of Tears, Andrew Jackson’s campaigns to force at least 46,000 Cherokees, Choctaws, Muscogee-Creeks, Chickasaws, and Seminoles off their ancestral lands, my classmates and I were stricken. It was unfathomable that thousands of Native American men, women, and children were forced to march West, sometimes freezing to death or starving because U.S. soldiers wouldn’t let them bring extra food or blankets. It was hard to hear that the Choctaw Nation lost up to a third of its population on the death march. It was disorienting to learn that what amounted to ethnic cleansing had come at the insistence of an American president. But then it was lunchtime, and we pulled out our wallets in the cafeteria.
Andrew Jackson was there, staring out from every $20 bill.
We had been carrying around portraits of a mass murderer all along, and had no idea. Andrew Jackson engineered a genocide. He shouldn’t be on our currency.
Having explored both the left and right poles of this country's political spectrum, there are fundamental truths. The Holocaust, the Japanese internment, segregation and genocide against Native Americans are historical acts that most in this country abhor. While the Holocaust took place in Europe, it is an event that somehow was impactful for Americans and violates their usual disinterest in the world besides America. To have the one president who most unapologetically forced genocide on the country's native population stapled on our currency is gross.

It's also true of this country that the twenty dollar bill is the most often used currency. On average, most of my day's purchases are alone within the $5-20 range so I use "Old Hickory's" face alot if I have cash and not a debit or credit card on hand.

What's also true is that Martin Luther King Jr. is by and far one of our country's most significant figures. I'm sure there are quite a few conservatives who detest him - who wish we hadn't rolled back segregation, that his birthday should not have been a holiday (though it was conservative president Ronald Reagan who made that happen) - but they largely are very quiet about it. It is political death to speak ill of MLK and, while Republicans were not present at the anniversary of the Million Man March last year, that coincided with a Republican Party that is in the wilderness politically.

If this country is at the point, despite all its insane faults, to elect a black man named Barack Hussein Obama as president for two terms, I think it is at the point where it's most often used currency could be replaced by a man most Americans admire and respect. We should also consider replacing the $50 bill as well - the placement of Ulysses S. Grant never really made sense to me. Grant did help win the Civil War but Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt (who committed some acts arguably as detestable as Andrew Jackson's), Dwight Eisenhower or John F. Kennedy seem like figures of more importance to the average American.

King was never president and never ran for office and that too makes his possible inclusion on the 20 dollar bill even more alluring. Benjamin Franklin is prominently placed on the most desirable banknote - the $100 dollar bill. Franklin was never president either but, like King, he was extremely important to the founding of this country and provided a great deal of its wisdom.

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Michael Orion is a blogger, writer, artist and photographer based in the Bay Area. Besides his maintenance and promotion of Radical Second Things, he contributes to the San Francisco newspaper SF Western Edition, where he writes about local non-profit organizations.

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Radical Second Things is a liberation theology themed blog that has clear cut goals - we see the structural decline of the United States and much of the west and hope to present alternatives that will offer "a preferential option for the poor" as more become vulnerable.

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