Depictions of Slavery in Confederate and Southern States Currency
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Painter discovers, depicts other side of Slavery

By Earlesha Butler
Monitor Staff

Friday, August 2, 2002

   When one of John W. Jones' graphic design customers asked him to enlarge a Confederate dollar bill six years ago, his work changed society's view of slavery in a powerful way.

   While making the enlargement, Jones noticed a small picture of slaves picking cotton from their master's field on the bill.  Jones was amazed at the images.  He later used the Internet to find 120 different Confederate bills - all with slaves depicted on them.

   Jones, who has been painting since 6, began to paint the images of the slaves on canvas.  Such images include a painting called "Moneta, Woman Goddess of Might." The painting features a black woman sitting in a field, wrapped in a rich purple sheet, holding cotton in her left hand and a bag of gold coins under her right arm.

   "My goal was to give the slaves a voice that they didn't have," said Jones, 52, a former graphic designer, who lives in South Carolina.

   Jones' paintings have been featured in more than 216 media outlets, including The New York Times, USA Today, Time and CNN, according to his Web site. ( Jones is selling his book, "Confederate Currency: The Color of Money," at Booth 148 at the NABJ convention. He also exhibits his work at the Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee.

   People learn from his art work.  Ninety-seven percent of the people he talks to never realized that slaves were pictured on American money, he said. Although inhumanity and brutality, Jones works to show in his art that slaves had happy times.  One smiling emphatically while hauling a bale of cotton.  Another shows a man carrying hay, smiling over his right shoulder at his dog.  Both images depict the dignity of the men's work, he said.

   Jones' paintings form a lasting value in the black community, said Joahne Penney, a business reporter in Chicago.  There is nothing more historically valuable than seeing slaves on Confederate currency, Penney said.  "The pictures speak volumes," she said. 

   Chuma Nwokike, Jones' assistant, said the paintings are more than just artwork; they are  a part of black history. " History informs art, which in turn artfully reveals history in a compelling experience of discovery," he said.

   In addition to enlightening the black community, Jones' paintings also inform the white community.  Because his works display powerful images, they attract blacks and whites alike, Jones said.

   His paintings, he said, give every generation of blacks an opportunity to learn their history. "Anybody who doesn't know about their past is bound to repeat it."