Slaves secretly guided by quilts

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Each patch on the intricate quilts helped take slaves one step closer to the freedom they'd only dreamed about.

One patch symbolized what items they should carry on the long journey to Canada. Another represented the zig-zag path to take in order to avoid getting caught.

"The slaves knew the code, but no one else did," said Stella Robertson. "It was ingenious. Each block represented how they were to escape."

Inspired by the struggle and courage of those who escaped slavery, Mrs. Robertson and other Beulah Grove Baptist Church members made a replica of one of the quilts slaves used to help guide them through the Underground Railroad more than 200 years ago.

The quilt, along with others, is part of the Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History's African-American Quilt Exhibition.

Quilts from New York and other parts of Georgia are also part of the exhibition starting Sunday, said Christine Miller Betts, the executive director of the museum.

Beulah Grove's quilt project, which began in December and was completed last month, was a way to bond and create something meaningful as their ancestors did years ago, said Barbara Seigler, a church member and quilter.

For the past 17 years, the exhibition has showcased the significance of quilts in black culture, Mrs. Betts said.

"During slavery, people made their own quilts because they needed the warmth. Now, it's an emerging art," she said. "They used old pieces of clothing, burlap bags and whatever they could find."

Quilts also told stories about family and served as a memorial for slaves who could not afford tombstones or other memorials for family members, said Margaret Gray, another Beulah Grove member and quilter.

Church members learned of the Underground Railroad connection to quilts from the book Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad, and now they would like to share the history with Augustans, Mrs. Seigler said.

The Beulah Grove quilters plan to offer quilting classes early next year and will continue to tell the history of quilts, Mrs. Gray said.

"This is important," she said. "It took a lot of courage to take something and communicate it nonverbally to help them to freedom."

Reach Stephanie Toone at (706) 823-3215 or stephanie.toone@augustachronicle.com.

QUILT EXHIBITION

The African American Quilt Exhibition will be on display from Sunday to Nov. 30 at the Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History, 1116 Phillips St. An opening reception will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday at the museum.

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whitescorpion
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whitescorpion 10/02/08 - 11:46 am
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The quilts in the picture

The quilts in the picture don't seem to communicate anything. I wonder why they didn't show pictures of the actual quilts.

..........
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.......... 10/02/08 - 12:50 pm
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---One patch symbolized what

---One patch symbolized what items they should carry on the long journey to Canada. Another represented the zig-zag path to take in order to avoid getting caught.
"The slaves knew the C O D E , but no one else did," said Stella Robertson. "It was ingenious. Each block represented how they were to escape."----

...the shapes are all code. The quilt they've shown is a replica of a real quilt used.

GaMedic
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GaMedic 10/02/08 - 05:48 pm
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Love my gradmother's quilts

Love my gradmother's quilts but never knew that quilting had such an important place in American history. Gives me a great idea for an activity with my preschool students! They'll be making a "coded" quilt to tell their own story. Thanks for the story -can't wait to see the quilts in person.

danaanne
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danaanne 10/02/08 - 08:55 pm
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If this is a replica, then

If this is a replica, then they copied a quilt that actually exists? Quilt historians and African American History Historians would love to see it. HIPV is a work of fiction. The Slave Quilt Code is a myth. Any teacher or historical society that wants to discuss this subject should research it intensely. Many of the quilt patterns that were supposedly used are not found in civil war era quilts...most are actually Depression Era patterns. ..long after the Civil War and Underground RR ended. Please do an online search for "Underground Railroad Quilt Myth" as well as for "Giles Wright".
George Washington did not chop down a cherry tree, Betsy Ross did not sew the first American Flag, and Paul Revere did not alert the Colonists that the British were coming.
If someone were to find an actual quilt with UGRR signs and symbols, many historians would be interested in seeing it.
There is a lot of history in quilts. And African American slaves did make quilts. They also used a lot of symbolism in their quilts. But none with a UGRR quilt code has yet to be found. Shame on Ms. Toone, and the museum, for not researching this controversial topic better.

gnx
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gnx 10/03/08 - 02:13 am
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As danaanne pointed out, many

As danaanne pointed out, many of the patterns referenced in 'quilt codes' are patterns known to have not existed until 60-70 years AFTER the civil war. It was only AFTER Oprah promoted the book about Ozella Williams that the quilt code story suddenly bloomed and within a few years people were repeating the story as fact, even though there is no supporting evidence of quilt codes to be found in any of the 1930s WPA interviews and, in fact, the first mention of quilt codes isn't made until about 1987. One of the patterns used in Ozella's code is the Double Wedding Ring pattern - a pattern not created until the 1920s. Another, Bow Tie, was not introduced until around 1956. Additionally, it appears that no quilts with the UGRR code dating to the time of the UGRR exist, even though there are still hundreds of quilts, both African and European in design, dating to that time still in existence.

karmakills123
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karmakills123 10/03/08 - 06:32 am
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LOL..I thought everyone knew

LOL..I thought everyone knew about the "quilt Myth"...oprah does it again... and some of the gullible public eat it up.(change your diet)...and yes Toone should know her story before writing, but what about all those ladies that truly believe this stuff...whose gonna tell them the truth??? As much as some folks try you just cannot rewrite History to suit your own fancy.You understand that ozella williams was trying to sell a book...nothing more.

griesella
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griesella 10/03/08 - 06:55 am
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Perhaps the Beulah Grove

Perhaps the Beulah Grove quilt makers could enlighten us as to what they believe the squares to represent and why. Anybody know the ladies?

danaanne
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danaanne 10/03/08 - 07:53 am
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Your average quiltmaker knows

Your average quiltmaker knows very little about quilt history. I don't fault the quiltmakers. I fault Ozella Williams, Oprah, and other authors like Eleanor Burns who propagate the myth, most of the time with dollar signs in their eyes. Barbara Brackman came out with a wonderful book about the subject. Ms Brackman is a quilt historian. A quilter today is entitled to make a quilt celebrating the escape from slavery, and put blocks in it with special meaning...to them...it is wrong to assume that quilts other quiltmakers made over 100 years ago, had any other intention other than warmth. Unless we have the history of the quilt.

HYPOCRITES 08
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HYPOCRITES 08 10/03/08 - 09:59 am
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Only in Augusta does the

Only in Augusta does the NAYSAYERS run rampant.

JesusIsComing
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JesusIsComing 10/03/08 - 10:55 am
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danaanne, Thank you so much.

danaanne, Thank you so much. I read the story and was picking up on the exaggerations but knew nothing about the UR quilt myth. I know that escaping slaves had a whole lot of help from White and Black Abolitionists - I recently visited the hometown of Gerrit Smith in NY - so it would be odd that they would not know about the quilts. Thanks for sharing the truth.

jaywcee
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jaywcee 10/03/08 - 12:35 pm
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Please research before

Please research before reporting on myths disguised as truth. Failing to check facts is journalism at its worst. There is absolutely no evidence other than the verbal "story" of one person to back up this premise. Unfortunately, it is something we want to believe so it has perpetuated like Washington chopping down a cherry tree which is another historical MYTH.

I recommend reading, "Betsy Ross redux: The Underground Railroad Quilt Code." Copy located here:

http://www.ugrrquilt.hartcottagequilts.com/

Other reading for enlightenment from renowned African American Historian, Giles Wright:

http://historiccamdencounty.com/ccnews11.shtml

http://www.antiquequiltdating.com/Hidden_in_Plain_View_-_The_Secret_Stor...

And..for a list of historical references on the MYTH:

http://www.antiquequiltdating.com/UGRR_index.html

Perpetuating this myth cheapens the real African American experience and history. The truth of slavery needs no added revisions to make it more exciting.

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