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

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Title: Confederate Currency: 
The Color of Money
Artist: John Jones
Editor: Dr. Gretchen Barbatsis


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Click to order Color of Money Prints by John W. Jones



For Immediate Release 

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A collection of paintings and currencies offers an opportunity to confront  
the legacy of slavery in the United States 

CHARLESTON, SC – In the tradition of a West African griot, artist John W. Jones  
brings to light the story of enslavement that the South chose to tell of  
itself by the images its banks and governments engraved on their currencies, 
before, during and, even in some cases, after the Civil War. Through his  
magnifying glass he found haunting intimations of human thought in the tiny  
vignettes which show black families working together in the cotton fields,  
mothers toiling with babies on their backs and young children doing the labor  
of an adult; they show scenes of white owners admiring the wealth of their  
land and their slaves and of overseers keeping watch with a whip. 
But Jones, himself a son of the South, also found a story of empowerment in  
these tiny images, and that is the story we find in the colors of the bold  
and uncomplicated acrylics that he chooses to bring these characters and  
settings to life. Unlike the servitude portrayed by engravers who had the  
power to compel their subject’s complicity in their depiction, these images  
of his ancestors spoke to Jones of their “strong and indomitable character.”  
He saw in them “a will to survive and carry on the qualities they brought  
from Africa.” By releasing them from their bondage on the monochrome  
currencies, Jones gives his noble ancestors the voice the engravers had taken  
from them.  
There is yet another story in this collection of paintings and currencies,  
however. By juxtaposing each painting with the currency containing its  
original image, Jones creates a story of confrontation. As he says, “the  
paintings empower the slaves by giving them a voice that asks us not to  
reflect on them as the objects in the monochrome engravings on the 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.” Through  
this visual storytelling structure, where the past is both background and  
foreground to the present, the artist creates a compounding point of view  
that will not allow us to contain the meaning of slavery as a story of the  

The story of enslavement, of empowerment and of confrontation told in the  
paintings and currencies of this exhibition and accompanying catalogue  
compels viewers and readers alike to examine slavery’s legacy of social  
injustice– racial profiling, institutional discrimination and racism, voter  
disenfranchisement, police brutality and higher incarceration rates for  
blacks. The content of the images also speaks profoundly to the national  
dialogue engaging reparations as well as racial healing. 
The first documentation of images of slavery on Confederate money in one  
collection, Confederate Currency: The Color of Money exhibition catalogue  
finally puts this important piece of American history in the history books.  
Each of the 83 paintings in the exhibition is reproduced in full color along 
with the currency from which the image is taken. Additional currencies which  
provide evidence of how individual vignettes were selected for use by many  
different banks and government issuers are also included. One particular image
of a slave carrying a basket of cotton appeared on 21 different currencies.  
Artist John W. Jones provides an Introduction to the exhibition catalogue,  
and Curtis Franks, the exhibitions' Curator and Director of Museum Education
and Programs at the Avery Museum in Charleston, SC, writes the Forward.
Scholarly essays and a slavery time-line provide historical context and analysis
of the content as well as the experience created by this storytelling dialogue
between paintings and currencies. Authors include Gretchen Barbatsis, Professor 
of Telecommunication at Michigan State University, Richard G. Doty, Numismatist 
and Curator of American History at the Smithsonian Institution, Wilmot A. Fraser, 
Professor of African American Studies, retired from Cheyney University Pennsylvania,  
Jack McCray, writer with the Charleston Post and Courier, and Donald West,  
Instructor of History, Humanities and Government at Trident Technical College  
of Charleston. The exhibition catalogue is edited by Gretchen Barbatsis. 
The exhibition catalogue provides a unique reference work for historians,  
museum professionals, students and general readers as well as paper money  
collectors. It serves as a valuable resource for symposiums, conferences,  
lectures and classroom or community based educational projects.  
For a schedule and information
about the national tour, contact Exhibitions Plus, Inc. E-mail address –