Thursday, December 24, 2015

Who should be on the new $10 bill? (Here's my vote)

America's first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, is currently featured on the $10 bill.  But the Treasury Department announced this past June that it would change out Hamilton's portrait and put a woman on a redesigned $10 bill.  The new bill will enter circulation in 2020, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of ratification of the 19th (women's suffrage) amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

First, a little historical context about naming $10 bills.  The Treasury issued its first $10 Demand Notes during the Civil War, and featured President Lincoln's portrait.

The first $10 Federal Reserve note was issued in 1914 and featured a portrait of President Andrew Jackson.

Hamilton replaced Jackson on the $10 bill in 1929.

My vote to replace Alexander Hamilton would be Barbara Johns.

In 1951, Johns, then a junior at Robert Moton High School in Farmville, VA, led a student walkout to protest the deplorable and massively inequitable conditions in her segregated school.  The students soon asked for legal representation from the NAACP, and their case was later joined in the U.S. Supreme Court with four other cases, including Brown v. Board of Education.

Many people know about Brown and its impact, but few people today know about Barbara Johns.  I think that her story is compelling, especially for students, because it takes place in a setting with which they are intimately aware, and because it helps them make a real connection between historical events are historical actors like themselves.

I tell Barbara John's story to my students every year on the last day of school. I use it as an opportunity to remind them that history isn't about the past but about their present and future.  On her own initiative, Barbara Johns, a high school junior, started an action that changed the world.  I end by asking my high-school junior students this rhetorical question: And what did you accomplish during *your* junior year?

A memorial to Barbara Johns sits on the grounds of the Virginia General Assembly in Richmond as part of its Virginia Civil Rights Memorial.

I think because of that,  Barbara Johns would be an excellent candidate for consideration to replace Hamilton on the $10 bill.  In any event, selecting, designing, and then defending a candidate would be a great end-of the-year project for our students.

The school where Barbara Johns led her 1951 walkout is now a museum that bills itself as the "student birthplace of America's civil rights revolution."  I'm happy to say that we're taking a group of students there this April.  The museum's website has an excellent selection of links to primary and secondary sources dealing with the fight to end segregated schools in America.

What's your vote?  Share it at #TheNew10.

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