Wednesday, January 24, 2007

NY Times - UGRR Quilt Controversy

Check out the January 23rd edition of the New York Times. There's an article about the controversy surrounding the $15.5 million Frederick Douglass Circle being built in Central Park. The plans call for a large granite quilt - with quilt blocks sharing slave escape routes. Algernon Miller is the memorial's designer. Several historians are challenging the memorial on several fronts: 1) there is no documented evidence that secret-coded quilts ever existed, 2) there is no connection between Mr. Douglass and these quilts, and 3) to memorialize secret-coded quilts is to give credence to a myth.

There are several websites that discuss in more details problematic aspects of secret-coded quilts. Check out:

What do you think? Will a historian ever find documented records of secret-coded quilts used by slaves?

Update 4/3/07 - Check out article in Time Magazine, with quotes by Roland Freeman and others.

6 comments:

Karoda said...

I believe it is fair to describe the UGRR idea as speculation and conjecture, but due to so much, so much, of our historical experiences in America are still buried and evolving...I think it is an idea that should remain open to continued research and possibility.

But whatever, the idea is a wonderful seed for creative writers!

Nik said...

It's hard to make a decision about this one. I wrote an article for Black Purl online magazine about the quilt codes. Since there's no hard evidence it's difficult to say that they existed.

Steph said...

I did research on the quilt code in grad school. It is difficult to use "hard" evidence as a way of exploring black history in this period because writings etc. were barred from many blacks. It is important to remember why it was illegal for slaves to read... Anyways, it could be argued that it is irrelevant as to if the quilt code did or did not exist-- as an example of history, it is obvious to see why the code would be considered important. As a folk story, the code is extremely important in remembering the influence that the exploitation of black people in American history has had on black inventiveness in artistry.

cloudscome said...

I just found your blog today, looking for information on this topic. I am a librarain and a quilter and interested in black history so this fascinates me. I have recently read about this controversy on other kidlit book blogs, in reference to Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt. I am going to follow those links and continue to read your blog. I am happy to have found you!

Elle said...

I'm with Karoda. The historian-trained part of me says it is still very "up in the air" until documentation is found. That's so hard given that oral history is often all that African Americans have. Remember Sally Hemmings and the Hemmings family story?

Until then, I think it is more about what it represents.

Chris said...

i think the quilt myth is another brainchild of naive white people who want to erase their guilt over slavery...instead of spending millions to propogate a myth, how about documenting the important role of free blacks on the UGRR? william still was not alone in this effort and we need more research to document the hundreds of african-americans who aided in the slave exodus northward