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.

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

Purchase your copy today!

10 comments… add one
  • Barbara C Batson Apr 25, 2016 @ 3:52

    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.

  • bob carey Apr 22, 2016 @ 5:17

    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.

  • Rob Baker Apr 22, 2016 @ 4:58

    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.

  • Sylvia Rodrigue Apr 22, 2016 @ 4:37

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

  • Ian Binnington Apr 22, 2016 @ 3:48

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

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