Depictions of Slavery in Confederate and Southern States Currency
Original Acrylic on Canvas Paintings by

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Posted on Sun, Feb. 08, 2004

Notes inspire artist's work

Artist John W. Jones doesn't see himself as a teacher.

Yet through his thought-provoking paintings of Confederate money, he teaches an important lesson in history.

His exhibit, Confederate Currency: The Color of Money, Depictions of Slavery in Confederate and Southern States Currency, will be on display through Feb. 29 at the Broward County Main Library.

Through his vibrant paintings, Jones illustrates how and why many banks and governments in the South engraved depictions of slaves on their currency before, during and after the Civil War.

''All our lives we were told we were worthless,'' said Jones, a self-taught artist. ``Obviously slavery and cotton was important to the South. Otherwise it wouldn't be on their money.''

Jones was inspired to start the project about seven years ago when he was working at a blueprint company in Charleston.

''A client brought one of these notes in and asked me to scan and print it out large,'' Jones said. ``I noticed there was slaves on it. I'd seen Confederate money before and never knew what was on it until that day.''

Jones went on eBay and ``hit the jackpot.''

He started collecting the bills, each with a minuscule drawing, of such subjects as black families working in cotton fields and overseers keeping watch. He began reproducing them on a larger scale using bright, eye-catching colors.

''I painted these exactly as I saw them, without revision,'' he said. ``To bring back to life what I saw.''

Many of the images show figures in what Jones' calls ``an unnatural state of bliss.''

Some of the images originated in northern banks. Printers in the South simply ''recycled'' those illustrations, changing the white laborers into black slaves, keeping the identical image. This is represented in Jones' piece Slave Picking Corn. A white farmer depicted on a $3 note from Washington, D.C., is later adapted into a Virginia note with a smiling black slave carrying a basket of corn.

Jones feels the use of such widespread depictions of happy slaves helped to mislead the public on the issue of slavery.

It is part of a history not well documented, Jones said.

''Ninety-seven percent have never seen Confederate money, let alone what's on it,'' Jones said.

One image, Slave Mother and Child shows a portrait of a happy mom with her child in hand, depicted during a time when families were actually being separated and children sold.

Another shows an overseer with a whip sitting upon his horse, looking over a field where slaves are picking cotton.

It's ''a fascinating story and a historical piece,'' said Tanya Simons-Oparah, outreach services director at the library. She saw the detailed catalog of the traveling exhibit before it arrived in Fort Lauderdale.

''It blew me away when I read the book,'' Simons-Oparah said.

The collection is unfinished, Jones said.

He has already painted scenes from more than 100 Confederate bills. Sixty will be displayed at the library, next to reproductions of the bills. He will paint more as he acquires them.

''I hope that it will give people a sense of enlightenment and African Americans a sense of empowerment,'' Jones said.



Posted on Wed, Feb. 11, 2004


Southern currency with images of slaves inspires artist

Eight years ago, John W. Jones was working as a graphic artist at a Charleston blueprint shop when a customer asked him to enlarge a Confederate bank note.

The result was Southern currency that showed etched images of slaves -- picking, hauling, bailing cotton. They were healthy and orderly and clean. And smiling.

''I had seen plenty of Confederate money, but never really paid any attention to it,'' says Jones, who lives in Columbia, S.C. ``This is something that has been hidden in plain view for the last 138 years.''


These images launched Jones' journey into the history and legacy of the Deep South. He combed the corners of the regions looking for more money, bank notes, and bonds. They were plentiful.

Slaves working with cotton. Slaves harvesting turpentine. Slaves working the fields. All printed on currency -- from a $1 note issued by Southern Bank in Tennessee to a $50 Revenue Bond scrip issued by the state of South Carolina.

Jones studied the images, sat with them, allowed them to shape his thoughts. Then Jones did something else: he put paint to paper, creating acrylic portraits inspired by the images. Some are exact reproduction, others are reinterpreted.

Sixty of those paintings and the original money are on display at the Broward County Main Library titled Confederate Currency: the Color of Money (Images of Slavery in Confederate and Southern States Currency) .

Many of the images on the currency capture slaves who appear compliant, if not happy, with the institution.

''They showed the slaves as smiling to deliberately minimize the harshness of slavery. It was propaganda Southern states used to shed a positive light on slavery,'' Jones explains.

Jones, a painter since he was 6 years old, says there is power in both the currency and the portraits they inspired.

''The paintings,'' Jones says, ``empower the slaves by giving them a voice that asks us not to reflect on them as objects in monochrome engravings on currency, but rather, to join with them to confront the meaning of a system, past in one sense, painfully persistent in others, which enslaved them.''


Posted on Sun, Feb. 08, 2004


What: Confederate Currency: The Color of Money, Depictions of Slavery in Confederate and Southern States Currency

When: Through Feb. 29

Where: Broward County Main Library, 100 S. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale, gallery six

Cost: Free

Talk: Dr. Thomas Ryan, of Broward Community College, will speak at 7 p.m. Feb. 17 on 'Slavery and Its Impact on the Southern Economy.' To register, 954-357-7464.

Information: 954-357-7444. To view Jones' work, see


 April 19 through June 30: The Black World History Museum, St. Louis, Mo.

 July 12 through Aug. 6: St. Joseph's Historic Foundation, Durham, N.C.

 Aug. 14 through Sept. 30: Rosa Parks Museum, Troy State University, Montgomery, Ala.

 Oct. 10 through Dec. 31: African American Atelier, Greensboro, N.C.