The Color of Money: Artist Re-Creates Scenes of Slavery Found on Confederate Currency

By Meggett, Linda | Black Issues in Higher Education, March 23, 2001 | Go to article overview

The Color of Money: Artist Re-Creates Scenes of Slavery Found on Confederate Currency


Meggett, Linda, Black Issues in Higher Education


The Color of Money: Artist Re-Creates Scenes of Slavery Found On Confederate Currency

One day, as artist John W. Jones worked at a print shop in South Carolina, he discovered some old Confederate currency that featured a picture of slaves picking cotton. Jones knew that the economy of the Old South depended on slaves who cultivated the land, but the artist says he had no idea the Confederate states circulated money that displayed its most valuable commodities -- slaves and cotton.

He began to investigate, searching the Internet, where he found Web sites on the subject. Now, four years after his discovery, Jones has an art exhibit at the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture at the College of Charleston. The exhibit, titled "Depictions of Slavery in Confederate and Southern States: Confederate Currency -- The Color of Money" features scenes from the old currency.

The 29 oil paintings on display will he there until October, when they will he packed up and shipped as a traveling art show to galleries across the country. When completed, the series will total 55 paintings.

"I didn't know they had slaves on the currency, that's what intrigued me about it," Jones says. "It's almost like one of the best kept secrets. The stuff on the bills were so small, unless you were looking for it you'd miss it," Jones says, "I wanted to illuminate what I saw."

This exhibit goes beyond art into history, Jones says. "It speaks a great deal about how important African Americans were to the economic survival of this country. Their argument that the Civil War wasn't about slavery was nothing but lies.

"The money is additional proof of how significant slave labor was to this country," he says. "It's history and education. Young people, especially Black kids, should certainly see this exhibit to give them an idea of what their ancestots went through."

For Professor Marvin Dulaney, the exhibit's historical significance speaks for itself. "This exhibit is about the truth and how important Africans were to the economy," he says. "This is not a revisionist historian, the Confederate states themselves put those pictures on the currency," says Dulaney, chairman of the College of Charleston's history department. …

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