Harriet Tubman’s Legacy Continues to Make History and Break Stereotypes

Legacy. Recently, at our annual Moreno Valley Unified School District employee-recognition event, Saluting Education, one of our honored educators used that word to describe what she’s creating with her exemplary teaching. Taking the long view of her work, she said that the knowledge and skills she’s passing on to her elementary students are a legacy that will live on and continue to make a positive contribution long after her time on earth is finished.

I was reminded of that when I heard the news that Harriet Tubman’s portrait will soon grace the $20 bill. That simple change of portrait will guarantee that millions of people here and around the world will now learn something about the important life and legacy of Harriet Tubman. People will learn of her humble beginnings as a slave and her courageous escape from slavery. They will learn that instead of simply saving herself, she immediately turned around and risked her life to rescue her family from slavery, and then saved hundreds more via the Underground Railroad, moving many of them all the way to Canada when the Fugitive Slave Act threatened their hard-earned freedom even in the northern states.

ALWAYS REMEMBER, YOU HAVE WITHIN YOU THE STRENGTH, THE PATIENCE AND THE PASSION TO REACH FOR THE STARS TO CHANGE THE WORLD.

Of course, whether Harriet Tubman would be pleased that her portrait on American currency will join the likes of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Ben Franklin, I cannot say. But I believe she would be pleased to know that her legacy of commitment to human rights and American civil rights is being celebrated more than a century after her death.

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer,” Tubman said. “Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”

Honoring her with a portrait on the $20 bill will help draw her out from the pages of history and bring her words and accomplishments to life again, and she will continue to serve new generations as a history-maker and stereotype-breaker. I have to believe that she would welcome the idea that generations more than a century removed from her own lifetime will now learn how much can be accomplished for humanity by someone of such humble beginnings. That’s a legacy worthy of celebration.

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