Where is Whipped Peter’s Photo Now?

Image Credit: Cowan's Auctions/Wikimedia Commons

Apple TV+’s historical film ‘Emancipation’ follows the true story of Peter, a slave who ends up in a Confederate slave camp while the Civil War progresses. When Peter comes to know about the abolition of slavery, he runs away from the camp to the Union Army camp in Baton Rouge. Upon arriving at the camp, two photographers capture Peter’s back, which makes it clear that he had been tortured in the past. In reality, as the film depicts, the photograph taken by William McPherson and J. Oliver, which is globally renowned as “The Scourged Back,” became an integral part of the Civil War history. Naturally, the viewers must be wondering about the whereabouts of the original photograph. Well, here’s everything you need to know about the same!

Where is Whipped Peter’s Photo Today?

Whipped Peter’s photo AKA The Scourged Back is currently in the National Portrait Gallery, located in Washington, D.C., which is a part of the Smithsonian Institution. The photograph is exhibited at the East Gallery 111, as part of the “2022 Rehang of Out of Many: Portraits from 1600 to 1900” and “Civil War Gallery Rehang” exhibitions. McPherson and Oliver’s original photograph first appeared in a journal named Harper’s Weekly along with an article about Peter, formerly known as Gordon.

McPherson and Oliver’s original Whipped Peter photo//Image Credit: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

The Scourged Back became widely popular after its publication in Harper’s Weekly. “This card-photograph should be multiplied by the hundred thousand, and scattered over the states. It tells the story in a way that even Mrs. Stowe [Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’] cannot approach; because it tells the story to the eye,” Theodore Tilton, editor of The Independent, wrote in 1863. “If seeing is believing—and it is in the immense majority of cases—seeing this card would be equivalent to believing things of the slave states which Northern men and women would move heaven and earth to abolish!” Tilton added.

Even though nearly 160 years have passed since McPherson and Oliver took the heart-rending photograph, its relevance hasn’t diminished since it reminds us of the horrors Black people had to endure as slaves. The Scourged Back showed “these were real people with real experiences. It was taken to present a visual narrative of the horror of slavery during the Civil War,” Barbara Krauthamer, one of the pivotal historians of slavery and emancipation, told BBC. “What often gets lost is the focus on the man himself – the story of this man who understands that the Civil War is an opportunity to literally take ownership of his body and his life,” Krauthamer added.

The Scourged Back was also presented by Joey McFarland, one of the producers of ‘Emancipation,’ at the Los Angeles premiere of the film. “I have the photo. This is the original photograph from 1863. I wanted it to be here tonight. I wanted a piece of Peter to be here tonight,” McFarland told Variety at the occasion. “Sadly to say, so many artifacts and photographs have not been preserved or curated or respected. And I took it upon myself to curate and build a collection for future generations,” the producer added. McFarland’s actions, however, were severely criticized.

“I wholeheartedly apologize to everyone I have offended by bringing a photograph of Peter to the ‘Emancipation’ premiere,” McFarland responded to the criticisms. “My intent was to honor this remarkable man and to remind the general public that his image not only brought about change in 1863 but still resonates and promotes change today,” he added.

Read More: Where and When Does Emancipation Take Place?

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