The Faces On Our Money

I’m glad that Harriet Tubman will become the new face on the front of the $20 bill.  When I read, in connection with the announcement that the twenty will be redesigned, that no woman has been featured on U.S. paper currency in more than 100 years and no black woman has appeared on American bills, ever, I thought those were ridiculous omissions that should be corrected as quickly as possible.  Tubman, who bravely led escaping slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad and then advocated for universal suffrage and women’s rights, is a great choice.

why-we-could-soon-see-harriet-tubman-on-the-20-billI’m not sorry that Andrew Jackson has been booted off the front of the $20 bill and moved to the back, either.  Sure, Old Hickory may have beaten the Brits at the Battle of New Orleans and been a strong proponent of the federal government at the time the southern states first started talking about secession, but he was a slaveholder who “owned” 150 human beings at the time of his death.  You can talk all you want about Andrew Jackson being a product of his era and his place, but given his slaveholding past, putting him on the face of one of the most used American bills in this day and age is just wrong.  I’d take him off the bill entirely.  We can learn about Jackson during history class, but we don’t need to see him every time we are paying for our lunch.

For that matter, I’d like to see the decision to put Harriet Tubman on the twenty start a process of moving away from politicians being the only faces on our currency.  I’m as big a fan of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln as anyone, but I’m heartily sick and tired of politicians being the default option for coins, currency, or the names of public buildings.  There’s a lot more to America than dead Presidents.  How about thinking outside the box, for once, focusing on the richness of American culture, American invention, and American accomplishment, and coming up with some non-political figures to feature on our paper money?  I’d rather have Louis Armstrong, Thomas Edison, Marie Curie, young Elvis, Dr. Martin Luther King, Lucille Ball, Dr. Jonas Salk, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and Neil Armstrong in my billfold any day.

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Westward, Ho

Today the footprint of the Webner family gets a bit broader.  For the first time, one of the members of my immediate family crosses over the mighty Mississippi to establish a toehold in the traditional west.

Richard will move to Columbia, Missouri, to begin work at the graduate school of journalism at the University of Missouri.  He’ll be relocating to the land of prairie and prairie dogs, where herds of buffalo thundered across the open plain and huge flocks of passenger pigeons darkened the skies, where grass grew waist-high and rippled in the wind like the waves of the sea, where the Dakota, Kickapoo, and Shawnee once roamed, trappers plied their trade, settlers built cabins and broke the sod.

The residents of Webner House have lived and worked and gone to school at various locations in the eastern half of the country but have never lived in the western states.  I’ve always had a romantic notion of the American West, where so many of the themes running through American culture — the fearless and hardy pioneer, the rugged cowboy on the lonesome prairie, the self-made individuals looking for opportunity and success in new towns — were first written.  I’m looking forward to visits to Missouri to see whether those deep chords of Americana still are sounded where the West began.

Bob Dylan And The Congressional Medal Of Freedom

The White House has announced that Bob Dylan soon will be receiving the Congressional Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.  He will be joined by fellow recipients Toni Morrison, John Glenn, and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

I’m skeptical of such honors — often they seem motivated more by political considerations, or a desire for higher ratings for the awards show, than by an effort to recognize those who truly have had a profound impact on our society — but there is no doubt that Bob Dylan is deserving of such recognition.

In fact, you could argue that Dylan’s entire career has been about freedom.  Starting from his roots as a folk singer who wrote classics like Blowin’ In The Wind and The Times They Are A-Changin’, to his famous decision to go electric, to his leadership role in the protests against the Vietnam War, and then to his willingness to experiment with different musical styles, including involvement in the Traveling Wilburys, as his career progressed, Dylan always has been willing to challenge authority, display his sharp wit, and follow his own star, wherever it might lead.  His uniquely American personal journey has produced a staggering amount of tremendous music, too — great albums like Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde, The Basement Tapes, and, more recently, Modern Times, and a huge library of great songs like Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, Positively 4th Street, and Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.

America’s leadership role in the world is as much cultural as economic or military.  Bob Dylan’s songs have demonstrated, for all the world to see, what memorable beauty a free person in a free country can create.  His music has been a great ambassador for the concepts of personal liberty that America was founded to preserve.  I’d say it’s about time our government formally recognized what Dylan’s fans recognized long ago.

From Grandpa’s Bookshelf: The Masters of Achievement

One of the largest — and most tattered — books on Grandpa’s bookshelf is a volume called Masters of Achievement.  From its condition, it obviously was a favorite, read over and over again.  What kind of book was so well-thumbed?

Masters of Achievement was published by the Frontier Press Company of Buffalo, N.Y. in 1913.   To quote its title page, it seeks to tell the stories of “the World’s Greatest Leaders in Literature, Art, Religion, Philosophy, Science, Politics, and Industry.”  It tells you something about the people of that era, and what they considered to be important, that figures from literature, art, religion, philosophy, and science all take precedence over politics — and that leaders of “industry” are included at all.  Of course, 1913 was a time when Americans welcomed industry and celebrated the bursting economic growth of a still-young, rapidly growing nation.

The breadth of the book also is surprising.   It does not focus only on Americans or modern figures.  The first hundred pages are devoted to writers, starting with Homer, Aeschylus, and Sophocles.  The section on religious figures discusses Zoroaster, Confucius, Buddha, and Mohammed, and the philosophers include Socrates, Plato, Descartes, and Spinoza.  The political and military leaders come from a broad range and feature Alexander the Great, Charlemagne, Alfred the Great, Charles V, and Peter the Great.

Finally, you notice who isn’t included.  Masters of Achievement does not discuss sports stars, or actors, or musical performers.  Obviously, they weren’t considered figures who made significant achievements.  American culture — so overwhelming and pervasive today — receives nary a mention in a volume that is hundreds of pages long.

If a book like Masters of Achievement were published today, what do you think it would look like?  How many pages would be given over to NFL players, rappers, and people like Paris Hilton or the Kardashians who are “celebrities” for some inexplicable reason that has nothing to do with actual accomplishment?

From Grandpa’s Bookshelf:  A Noble Horse

From Grandpa’s Bookshelf:  Optimism Amidst The Great Depression

From Grandpa’s Bookshelf:  Grandma’s Book Of Sayings

The book