These Controversial Harriet Tubman Memes are Spreading Like Wildfire

April 23rd 2016

On Wednesday afternoon, the U.S. Treasury announced that it would replace former President Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill with the famed Black abolitionist Harriet Tubman.

While the move was mostly celebrated as a worthy tribute to an American hero and an important step in increasing diverse representation, Tubman's placement on the $20 wasn't without detractors.

Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump dismissed the move as "pure political correctness" and echoed the suggestion of former Republican candidate Ben Carson that the founder of the Underground Railroad be placed on the $2 bill

And yet, a popular meme has emerged showing that Republicans have indeed found something to love about the Obama Administration's decision to replace Jackson with Tubman:

First things first, let's investigate the substance of the claim:

Was Harriet Tubman a Republican?

The short answer: probably. While her listed affiliation is not provided by historical records, she supported Republican President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and was a "nurse, a cook, and a spy" in the Union Army.

Given that Tubman clearly supported the Republican platforms of preserving the Union and abolishing slavery through fighting the Civil War, it's safe to say that she was on board with what the party stood for at the time.

Did she carry a gun?

Indeed, she did. Leading hundreds of slaves out of the South to freedom was dangerous work, and Tubman carried both a pistol and an ivory-handled sword during missions. In fact, Tubman's weapons are still on display at Florida A&M University.

Tubman's placement on the $20 bill has also re-popularized stories of her threatening to shoot runaway slaves who lost their courage on the Underground Railroad, apparently telling them "you'll be free or die."

The memes are factual, but are they honest?

While the memes are accurate, they lack some context. Tubman may have been Republican, but at a time when the party supported a strong federal government and broad social justice platform. And, indeed, Andrew Jackson's supporters would go on to create the Democratic Party, which offered a robust states' right platform. However, the two parties' platforms would dramatically shift at around the turn of the 19th Century, eventually culminating in Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "New Deal," which Republicans opposed.

It's impossible to say which party Harriet Tubman would support were she alive to today, but suffice it to say, the Republican Party she mostly likely aligned with during her lifetime no longer exists.

As far as the "gun toting" part goes — both Republicans and Democrats of today are likely to agree that freeing humans from the shackles of slavery justifies carrying a single shot pistol.

So, what is this meme really trying to say?

In short, the meme is trying to point out a hypocrisy in the Obama administration and its supporters; it calls out the alleged irony of Democrats celebrating a) a Republican and b) a gun owner.

However, the meme actually reveals a much greater truth that has nothing to do with Tubman's stance on politics: despite their disagreements on various policy issues, both Democrats and Republicans of today should agree that Harriet Tubman was a hero.

Share your opinion

Are you happy that Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the $20?

No 18%Yes 82%