When Slaves Adorned American Currency

Confederate Currency

It’s been a few months since I published anything at The Daily Beast, but Wednesday’s announcement that Harriet Tubman will soon adorn the $20 bill prompted me to briefly reflect on African Americans that once adorned Confederate currency. I enjoy writing for TDB. For one it connects me to a much broader audience, but I usually don’t have the opportunity to go into much detail on the topics covered and often the references that I consult are left out for one reason or another.

I just happened to have recently re-read parts of Ian Binnington’s recent book, Confederate Visions: Nationalism, Symbolism, and the Imagined South in the Civil War (University of Virginia Press, 2014), which includes a nice chapter on currency and its connection to nation building. It proved to be very helpful for this particular column and I wanted to make sure that I acknowledged it. Not sure how much attention this book has received, but it is definitely worth your time.

10 comments… add one
  • Ian Binnington Apr 22, 2016

    Thanks for the kind words, Kevin. Much appreciated. I enjoyed the article.

  • Sylvia Rodrigue Apr 22, 2016

    There’s an online exhibit called “Beyond Face Value: Depictions of Slavery in Confederate Currency” at http://exhibitions.blogs.lib.lsu.edu/?p=566.

  • Rob Baker Apr 22, 2016

    I had completely forgot about this, thank you.

    It’s fascinating that slavery is making a return to the currency in a more refreshing way. Harriet Tubman embodies the rejection of that institution.

  • bob carey Apr 22, 2016

    Kevin,
    I just watched a lecture from the Abbeville Institute. This lecture stated that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery. Now I discover that scenes from a slaves life adorned the currency of a nation which didn’t embrace slavery. I’m confused. LOL
    Keep up the good work.

  • Barbara C Batson Apr 25, 2016

    And there was an earlier exhibition, Confederate Currency: The Color of Money, for which artist John W. Jones created canvas paintings based on the images of enslaved people on southern currency: http://www.colorsofmoney.com/. The exhibition was organized originally by the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture at the College of Charleston.

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