Banking on Marian Anderson for currency, Treasury chief visits singer’s Philly past

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Jillian Patricia Pirtle and U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew look at the dresses on display at Marian Anderson house. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Jillian Patricia Pirtle and U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew look at the dresses on display at Marian Anderson house. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Marian Anderson’s image soon will be on the back of the $5 bill.

And the head of the U.S. Treasury came to Philadelphia for a first-time look at Anderson’s home.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew was serenaded as he toured the the civil rights pioneer’s home near 20th and Catherine streets.  

Adding Anderson to the $5 bill is a way of recognizing her work to break color barriers.

One of the most celebrated singers of the 20th century, Anderson was known for singing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 when she was not permitted to sing to an integrated audience in Washington’s Constitution Hall.

“Marian Anderson’s concert was an enormously important event,” said Lew. “Life today is different in this country because of what happened on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that day.”

Anderson, who died in 1993, was the first black performer to appear at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

Lew said the redesign of paper money is about honoring people beyond presidents and political figures.

“We’re actively working on the $5, $10, and $20 bills,” he said. “They will come out in an order by security requirements to make sure our currency is safe.”

The next secretary of the U.S. Treasury will have to approve the changes.

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