Opinion: Let's place a different Cherokee leader on the $20 bill

John Ross. Photo from Wikipedia

Steve Inskeep, the author of the forthcoming Jacksonland: President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross, and a Great American Land Grab, proposes a $20 bill with Cherokee Nation leader John Ross on one side and president Andrew Jackson on the other:
The trouble lies in how Jackson made the country we inherited. His troops massacred Indians. He coerced Native Americans into surrendering land through unjust treaties. In 1830, President Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, supporting a policy to push all natives west of the Mississippi. One result was the Trail of Tears in 1838, when 13,000 Cherokees left their homeland in the Appalachians. Another was a war against Florida’s Seminoles, lasting nearly as long as the war in Iraq.

The story is even worse than is generally known. Jackson and his friends obtained slices of Cherokee real estate for personal profit, and colonized the land with lucrative cotton plantations worked by slaves.

What redeems this as an American story is the resistance of John Ross. A Cherokee of mixed race, Ross navigated between cultures in a way that feels familiar today. As a young man he fought in Jackson’s army. Later he became Jackson’s antagonist, rejecting his efforts to capture the Cherokee homeland in north Georgia and surrounding states.

Ross deserves a prominent place on our currency. But that doesn’t mean Jackson should go completely. He should remain on the $20 bill, but on the flip side — because there’s a flip side of the story.

A $20 bill with Ross and Jackson would set a pattern for other bills. Each denomination should feature two different people who together tell a story, illustrating our democratic experience.

Get the Story:
Steve Inskeep: Should Jackson Stay on the $20 Bill? (The New York Times 5/5)

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