A Jamaica Plain church is making a statement about racial justice by stamping the face of Harriet Tubman on all $20 bills left in the church collection plate.

Pastor Laura Ruth Jarrett of the Hope Central Church says the church is protesting the U.S. Treasury Department’s delay in placing Tubman, a former slave and an abolitionist, on the front of the $20 bill, and moving the image of anti-abolitionist former President Andrew Jackson, to the back.

Jarrett said the stamps, which use water soluble ink, are an expression of the congregation's commitment to racial equity and against white supremacy.

“The Harriet Tubman stamp is just one of the ways that we express this commitment to racial equity in our congregation,” Jarrett said.

An Obama administration initiative, the Treasury Department announced a plan three years ago to redesign the front of the $20 bill by 2020. But two weeks ago, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin reneged on the decision and said theredesign is formally postponed until 2028.

Jarrett said the church recently began stamping the bills as a public display of the congregation’s desire to follow scripture and the church teachings.

“We believe that the stamp is just one of the things that we're doing as we examine white supremacy's toll on the nation of the United States from slavery to Jim Crow, to the school to prison pipeline,” she said.

Jackson was elected the seventh president of the United States in 1828. His image has been featured on the front side of the $20 bill since 1928, and an image of the White House is on the back. Jackson owned several enslaved people during his lifetime and was an anti-abolitionist. His 1830 Indian Removal Act resulted in the forced displacement of thousands of Native Americans.

Jarrett said the Tubman images are stamped onto the bills with water soluble ink in order to avoid violating laws against defacing currency.

The Federal Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which oversees the production of physical currency, defines defacement as an act that "mutilates, cuts, disfigures, perforates, unites or cements together [a bill] ... with intent to render such item(s) unfit to be reissued."

Jarrett said church members applauded the letter Rep. Ayanna Pressley sent to Mnuchin Thursday asking him to better explain the postponement of the redesign and requesting a "specific timeline of the redesign process."

"Mr. Secretary, representation matters to the American people," Pressley wrote in her letter to Mnuchin. "After 10-months of data collection, the American people overwhelmingly voted in favor of featuring Harriet Tubman - an American icon, hero and patriot - on one of the most commonly circulated bank notes in our economy — the American $20 bill."

Pressley added, "The 2018 midterm elections are clear evidence that our democracy is not truly representative until it proudly includes women and people of color in American government and in American symbols, such as our currency."

Jarrett said the stamp is a small action among the many ways that Hope Central Church works toward justice.

“This is what we understand: That white supremacy is a lie, and that it harms all of the people of our congregation, and of our neighborhood, and of the nation.”

church from marilyn edited.jpg
Hope Central Church on Seaverns Avenue in Jamaica Plain.
Marilyn Schairer WGBH News