Depictions of Slavery in Confederate and Southern States
Color of Money
SC- Artist John Jones says there's no doubt what was important to the South in
the days of the Civil War.
"Cultures tend to put on their money what is important to them.
Slavery was important to the South because it was on their money,"
says the 51-year-old Jones, himself a descendent of slaves. "You can use that little cliché … "It's right on
the money.' "
In an exhibit entitled "Confederate Currency:
The Color of Money," the artist from Columbia displays bright
acrylic paintings reproducing scenes shows everything from slaves tilling fields
to hauling baskets of cotton.
The exhibit at the College of Charleston's Avery Research Center for
African History and Culture has drawn national publicity and focused renewed
attention on the portrayal of slaves on Southern money.
"They rather idealize things," Jones says. "If you notice,
you never see anything with any hardships like slaves being whipped or something
like that. It's always happy - most
of them are just happy picking cotton."
It's the national embarrassment," adds Robert W. Hoge, curator of
the American Numismatic Association.
Jones became aware of the scenes on the currency a few years ago when
working at a print shop. Now a
full-time artist, he began painting the scenes as part of a series portraying
the plight of blacks from Africa to slavery in the South.
So far, he has painted about 45 currency scenes, and most have sold for
between $1,500 and $3,000 with the bank note included.
He plans to publish a book of prints and take his exhibit on the road.
The United States Civil War Center at Louisiana State University also
currently has an online exhibit showing engravings of slavery from Confederate
Scenes of agriculture, including slaves, were put on Southern bank notes
and Confederate currency because of agriculture's importance to the region, and
to the banks' bottom line.
In the years before the Civil War, banks issued their own bank notes.
And, because engraving was expensive, the same images often appeared on
notes for different banks.
Printers used to visit bankers who would select images for notes from a
catalog of engravings, much the way people today order checks.
More engraving lines were added to some images for Southern banks to make
workers look black.
Currency during the first half of the 19th century showed all
aspects of American life and many engravings were probably based on paintings,
Hoge says. In the years just before
the war, Southern states used money to portray slavery as positive, Richard
Doty, a numismatist with the Smithsonian Institution, writes in Jones' book.
"Southern bank notes featuring vignettes sympathetic to slavery
would be good for Southern morale. But
they might do some good up North as well" if they were circulated there, he
Engravings showed slaves happy in their work.
One $50 bill from a bank in Montgomery, Ala., showed a slave smiling.
"There is nothing on the notes which shows slavery in an unfavorable
light, " Hoge agrees. "But
there are some that appear more ominous and you will see an overseer."
Net: Confederate Currency: The Color of Money: (www.thecolorsofmoney.com)