Historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. Calls For Frederick Douglass’ Face On US Currency Bill

Historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. Calls For Frederick Douglass’ Face On US Currency Bill

Harvard historian and prodigious cultural entrepreneur Henry Louis Gates Jr. is pressing to keep the timeless essence of abolitionist and Black writer Frederick Douglass alive. He is calling for Douglass’ face to be on a U.S. currency bill.

According to Axios, the famed literary critic argues that Douglass’ legacy, which began during the 1800s, remains relevant to the nation today.


“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.”

In 2017, Douglass appeared on a commemorative U.S. quarter. He was depicted seated at a writing desk with his home in Southeast Washington, D.C., in the background. However, the process for his placement on a bill would typically take a lot longer than a commission for coins. In fact, as per Axios, it could take several years, if not decades, “to study it, design it, and introduce new anti-counterfeit measures for banking systems.”

Gates’ comments follow after the recently released documentary, Frederick Douglass: In Five Speeches, streaming on HBO Max. He serves as executive producer on the film, which explores the life of the fiery orator through his speeches aimed to hold the nation accountable for perpetuating slavery.

The documentary was inspired by Yale historian David Blight’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom. Directed by Julia Marchesi, the film features Nicole Behari, Colman Domingo, Jonathan Majors, Jeffrey Wright, and Denzel Whitaker performing Douglass’ famed speeches such as “What, To The Slave, Is The Fourth Of July?”

Meanwhile, 19th-century abolitionist Harriet Tubman is scheduled to appear on a redesigned $20 bill planned for release in 2030.