Many have seen this picture of a male slave exposing the horrific scarring on his back. To many the image is a disturbing reminder of the brutal and inhumane treatment of blacks during slavery. However, few people know the name of the man pictured in the image. Oliver Gordon is the man pictured in the image. Gordon received the scars from being beaten in the fall of 1862. The beating was so severe that it left him with welts across his back. It took him 2 months to recuperate from his injuries. During his recuperation, Gordon decided to attempt an escape.
He ran away in March 1863. After discovering Gordon’s escape, his master began to pursue him. Bloodhounds were used to track him down. Figuring that his master would try to recapture him, Gordon rubbed onions on his body to throw off the dogs scent. Gordon made it successfully to a Union Army camp in Baton Rouge 10 days on the run. His journey was approximately 80 miles.
The scarring on his back was discovered and photographed when Union Army medical personnel examined him when he enlisted in the Union Army after his escape. He was asked to have his back photographed to highlight the cruel treatment of slavery. The photo was mass produced and widely sold and distributed. Little is known about his life after enlistment in the Union Army.
With the image being widely sold and distributed, it would be interesting to know if Gordon was ever compensated for the use of his image?
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