By Rosemary Eng
Canada beat us to it, unveiling March 8 its new $10 bank note bearing the image of Black Nova Scotian Viola Desmond.
Fittingly on International Women’s Day, Desmond was remembered for standing her ground in 1946 and refusing to leave whites-only seating in a movie theater. She was jailed for 30 days. Her act of defiance eventually led to the abolition of Nova Scotia segregation laws.
The Bank of Canada announced in late 2016 that Desmond would be on a bank note in 2018, and it has happened.
In contrast, the U.S. Treasury announced in 2016 a proposal to replace Andrew Jackson, the 7th U.S. president who eventually became a wealthy slave owner and who opposed the abolition movement, with Harriet Tubman on the $20 bank note. Tubman was an abolitionist who courageously rescued enslaved people via the Underground Railroad.
President Barack Obama joked after the announcement that when he leaves the presidency he was going to “earn me some serious Tubmans.”
That optimism went out the window when U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in interviews early this year that if Andrew Jackson was to be replaced on the $20 bill it would be to thwart counterfeiting.
As for Tubman, Mnuchin said on television, “right now we have a lot more important issues to focus on.”
Bank of Canada Governor Stephen S. Poloz said at the Desmond dollar unveiling, “thanks to past innovations, such as the introduction of polymer, counterfeiting rates remain low, and our bank notes last longer and wear better.”
That said, Canadian Minister of Finance Bill Morneau emphasized the new Canadian $10 bill is more a “constant reminder of Viola’s story (which) will help inspire a new generation of women, men, girls and boys to fight for what they believe in….”
The unveiling ceremony was held at Halifax Central Library in Nova Scotia. It was in Halifax that Viola Desmond established the Desmond School of Culture.