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

Tour Schedule
Critical Acclaim
Press Reviews
Artist Statement
View Exhibition
Exhibition Catalogue
Feedback Form
Your Comments
Public Lectures
Avery Research Center



Art shows Old South's slavery images

Web posted Thursday, May 22, 2003
| Morris News Service

ATLANTA - Artist John W. Jones almost missed the inspiration for the work that now brings him fame.

The Army veteran was working in a blueprint shop seven years ago when a customer asked him to enlarge a $10 bill issued in 1853 by a private South Carolina bank.

As he executed what was an everyday task for him, he suddenly noticed a small image of black slaves on the bill.

"I'd seen Confederate money before," said the freelance artist, who is a descendant of slaves, "but I never really paid attention to what was on the currency."

During the next year, Mr. Jones immersed himself in the history of Southern money, traveling to see private collections and purchasing antique paper bills on the Internet and at flea markets.

His area of interest focused largely on money issued in Southern states between 1850 and 1865, the year the Civil War drew to a close and all Southern money was rendered useless.

Mr. Jones was amazed by the currency's depiction of American slaves: happily picking cotton, smiling broadly under the hot sun.

"They were deliberately done by the South to promote to the North that slavery wasn't as bad as it seemed to be," said Mr. Jones, 53, a South Carolina native. It was then that he decided to reproduce the images in a series of enlarged acrylic-on-canvas paintings, using a full spectrum of color not available to 19th-century printers.

"It's history. It's history that has been hidden for many years," Mr. Jones said. "I'm not trying to make this grand statement. It speaks for itself. This is not revisionist history. This has been on that money for a long time."

More than two dozen of Mr. Jones' works will be on display at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in downtown Atlanta until Dec. 15.

The exhibit, Confederate Currency: The Color of Money, includes several decades worth of Southern bank note images from such locales as Savannah, Ga.; Charleston, S.C.; Richmond, Va.; and Tallahassee, Fla. The collection includes the oldest known currency ever to feature black Americans: a $5 bill issued in 1820 by the Farmers & Merchants Bank of Augusta.

So far, Mr. Jones has made 87 paintings. His buyers, including rap music mogul Russell Simons, have offered as much as $7,000 to own one of the works.

A careful look at the collection shows how the slave art evolved over the decades before the Civil War.

The initial bills from Augusta offer a snapshot from a seemingly typical day on a Southern cotton farm. Slaves work the ground, devoid of almost any emotion - showing neither joy nor pain.

But 30 years later, as the acquisition of Western territories fueled the debate over slavery, the Southern money began to show blacks with different attitudes. Strong, robust black women easily carried cotton bales as if they were loaves of bread. Children frolicked with their parents as they worked the fields. Smiles and sunshine are ubiquitous.

"You never see slave children being sold, or slaves being whipped," Mr. Jones said.


John W. Jones: Artist has made 87 paintings from the images on the Old South currency.


WHAT: Confederate Currency: The Color of Money

WHERE: Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site

Visitor Center

450 Auburn Ave.

Atlanta, GA 30312

WHEN: Through Dec. 15

TIME: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (until 6 p.m. from Memorial Day to Labor Day)

COST: Free

For more information, call (404) 331-6922 or go to