It’s time to put Frederick Douglass’ face on U.S. dollar, Henry Louis Gates Jr. says

"Frederick Douglass has assumed his place not only as one of America’s great orators, but also as one of the writers of the nineteenth century," Gates recently told Axios

Frederick Douglass (1818 - 1895), 1850s.
Portrait of American orator, editor, author, abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass (1818 - 1895), 1850s. Engraving by A. H. Ritchie. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Famed Harvard historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. is calling for the face of Frederick Douglass to be added to a U.S. dollar bill.

Gates, executive producer of a new documentary about the once-enslaved abolitionist on HBO, argues that Douglass’ legacy remains as relevant today as it was in the 1800s, a time when he was the most famous Black man on the planet, according to Axios.

“Frederick Douglass has assumed his place not only as one of America’s great orators, but also as one of the writers of the nineteenth century,” Gates told the outlet. “Was Douglass sometimes conservative, by today’s political standards Absolutely! Was he sometimes radical? Of course, that goes without saying.”

Harvard historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. speaks during the HBO documentary film “Frederick Douglass: In Five Speeches”. (Credit: HBO on YouTube)

His comments come as the likeness of another formerly enslaved abolitionist is expected to replace that of a former president the $20 bill. the $20 bill. Harriet Tubman‘s headshot is scheduled to debut to the public on the currency in 2030. President Andrew Jackson currently appears on the bill.

Frederick Douglass: In Five Speeches, the HBO documentary, unpacks the renowned 19th-century orator’s most famous words with the help of dramatic readings performed by prominent actors.

Putting Douglass on a bill could take years if not decades, according to Axios, as the process for redesigning monetary notes typically takes much longer than coins.

The image of poet Maya Angelou began appearing on U.S. quarters in January in conjunction with the U.S. Mint’s American Women’s Quarters Program, a move Congress authorized in 2020.

The Treasury Department previously said the Tubman $20 would be unveiled by 2020, the year the nation commemorated the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

Harriet Tubman’s portrait to the front of the $20 bill. (Photo: U.S. Treasury Department)

That was before former President Donald Trump took office. Trump previously called plans to replace Jackson’s face with Tubman’s on the $20 bill “pure political correctness.”

His former U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told Congress in 2019 that the Tubman $20 wouldn’t happen until 2028 due to anti-counterfeiting measures being taken in the bill’s redesign.

Mnuchin cited similar reasons in June 2020 when he revealed that the Tubman $20 wouldn’t debut until 2030, according to the New York Times.

Have you subscribed to theGrio podcasts, Dear Culture or Acting Up? Download our newest episodes now!

TheGrio is now on Apple TV, Amazon Fire, and Roku. Download theGrio today!