Monday, February 23, 2009

Quilts and the Underground Railroad

Quilts played a big role in the Underground Railroad. The book Hidden in Plain View, by Jacqueline L. Tobin and Raymond g. Dobard, Ph.D., tells the history of quilts during this time.
There were secret symbols in the quilts which were used to communicate messages to escaping slaves. It has become the Underground Railroad Quilt Code. The quilts would hang outside the homes along the way to convey a message. The message may be to get ready, which direction to go, or whether the house was a safe house to hide. Harriet Tubman, known as the conductor of the Underground Railroad, was a quilter and made quilts for the slaves to keep them warm during the nights of hiding in the woods. Many different churches participated, such as the Quakers, by fighting the war against injustice. The stories for many years were passed on through families as a verbal history. This book takes the opportunity to put the verbal history of Ozella McDaniel Williams into written words.
Quilt Patterns that told a story:
Dresden Plate - go to Dresden, Ohio or Dresden, Ontario
Bear's Paw - follow bear's tracks through the mountains
Drunkard's Path - follow a zigzag path
Flying Geese - indicate which direction to go
Monkey Wrench - get tools and belongings together and ready to escape
Stars or North Star - to follow the stars north
There were many more codes including knots stitched into the quilts.
There is a rich history in quilts for African Americans, but also for many different ethnic groups and families.