Were quilts, with special patterns, used to assist slaves attempting to escape to freedom by way of the Underground Railroad?
Stories tell of quilts, made by slaves using sacks or scrapes of fabric stitched with various geometric patterns, containing codes that assisted slaves using the “Underground Railroad” to escape to freedom. Some historians believe there is no truth to the slave-quilt-code theory, while others provide compelling arguments in support of the use of quilts in the Underground Railroad. The debate is even more interesting when the African heritage of the slaves is included in the debate. Furthermore, Blacks made use of quilts to tell their stories by utilizing codes within the figures of mixed quilt chunks. There existed numerous children's books, which show this type of storytelling (Johnston, 1995). Quilts or else "Show Ways" have also informed of the pathway towards freedom inside its story (Johnston, 1995). According to Tobin and Dobard (1999), quilts were being hung out a window, which grants directions towards fleeing slaves. According to Darish (1990), the foundation for the use of slave quilt codes has roots in African culture and relates to the many methods of communicating information used by Africans. This is significant when related to the use of designs sewn onto fabric to convey messages and/or information (Darish, 1990). The research supports the fact that slaves maintained much of their cultural traits and often infused their culture with the culture of their slave masters and textiles were an important component of the African culture particularly on the west coast. The correlation between African textiles and the quilts used to guide slaves during the Underground Railroad is detailed in the literature. The geometric patterns, stitching, dyes, and meaning on both the quilts and textiles have some resemblance to the patterns used in Kuba cloth of the Kuba people in the Congo and the cloths of other groups in Africa however,...
References: Tobin, J., Dobard, R., et al. (1999). Hidden in Plain View:A Secret Story of Quilts and the
Siebert, W. (1967). The Underground Railroad: From Slavery to Freedom. New York, NY:
Arno Press & the NY Times.
Johnston, T., De Paola, T. (1995). The Quilt Story. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, Inc.
Fry, G.M, (2002) Stitching from the Soul: Slave Quilts From the Antebellum South. North
Carolina: Chapel Hill and London
McDermott, G. (1992) Anansi the Spider. New York: Henry Holt & Company, Inc.
Ringgold, F. (1992) Aunt Harrier’s Underground Railroad in the Sky. New York: Crown
Wright, G. (1988). Afro-Americans in New Jersey: A short history. Trenton,
New Jersey: Historical Commission
Wright, G., Wonkeryor, E. (1992). Steal Away, Steal Away… A guide to the
Underground Railroad in New Jersey
Wright, G. (2000). Critique of Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the
Levin, H. (2001). New Jersey’s underground Railroad myth buster: Giles Wright
is on a mission to fine tune Black history
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