Twitter’s Outraged Over Harriet Tubman Doing Black Panther’s Wakanda Forever Salute


There really is no inappropriate time to celebrate the life and valor of Maryland abolitionist Harriet Tubman, and since the official establishment of Black History Month by President Gerald Ford in 1976, February has become a particularly fitting period to commemorate the woman who earned the nickname of Moses for her successful liberation of more than 70 slaves by way of the network of secret routes and safehouses known as the Underground Railroad.

But while there’s no inappropriate time, there are certainly inappropriate ways, and one Boston-based bank has struck upon a remarkably tactless one. The African-American-owned OneUnited Bank, founded in 1968 as the Unity Bank & Trust Co., elected to observe the month by issuing limited edition Visa Debit Cards featuring Tubman’s likeness as what the company calls “a symbol of Black empowerment.” And while that alone may not have caused an uproar, the image portrays Tubman as displaying the Wakanda Forever salute popularized by 2018’s Marvel Cinematic Universe movie Black Panther, which hasn’t gone down too well over on Twitter.

The Academy Award winning film broke ground by featuring the first African superhero in a title role, and the reaction to the use of the gesture has been decidedly unfavorable.

This is not the first time that Tubman’s portrait was meant to be used on a financial instrument, of course. In 2016, during the final year of President Barack Obama’s second term, United States Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced that Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson on the redesigned twenty-dollar bill, and although a prototype was prepared for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the decision was eventually walked back by Lew’s successor, Steven Mnuchin in 2017.

Tubman was memorialized in a far more respectful fashion in Perfect World Pictures’ 2019 biopic Harriet, which starred English actress and singer Cynthia Erivo as the eponymous hero. The film also features Zackary Momoh as Harriet’s husband, Joe Alwyn as her former owner, Janelle Monáe as a Philadelphia boarding house owner and Hamilton star Leslie Odom Jr. as writer, historian, and Underground Railroad conductor William Still.

Odom will appear as Aaron Burr, third Vice President of the United States, in the theatrical release of a recording of the Broadway play on October 15th, 2021. Harriet Tubman, meanwhile, will continue to appear on OneUnited Bank’s debit cards until the negative response becomes too overwhelming to ignore.