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1. From: Paul Finkelman [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] it is almost entirely nonsense made up in the last few years by people who *want* it to be true; how could uneducated illiterate fugitive slaves know about the "signs" on quilts but NO professional slave catchers, US Marshals, slave owners or northern anti-abolitionists ever figured it out. I have read a fair number of slave narratives and NEVER ran into the notion of quilts as some sort of slave semiphore system of communication. I have also read, I believe, EVERY known reproted case involving a fugitive slave or an abolitionist that went to court and spent hours and hours in the archives reading primary documents on fugitive slave cases, abolitionists, etc. Again, I have never encountered anything to do with quilts. I think the interesting story for your student is to undercover the origin of this late 20th century myth and write about why people are so desperate to create it. Just as interesting, of course, is the whole myth of hte railroad -- in that *everyone* in the North seesm to want to connect to it; go into any town in PA., Ohio, Ill., Indiana, even downstate NY, and tell people you work on fugitive slaves and they all start telling you about tunnels and safe houses and secret rooms. If just a quarter of all those people and houses had been involved in the UGRR, there would have been no slaves left in KY, Mo,, Md. Del, or Va. by 1860 -- the would have all been hidden away in the those attics and secret rooms. There is a story here -- not a history of the UGRR -- but a history of myth creating that is surely worth telling. -- Paul Finkelman Chapman Distinguished Professor of Law University of Tulsa College of Law 3120 East 4th Place Tulsa, OK 74104-3189 918-631-3706 (office) 918-631-2194 (fax) email@example.com 2. From: Kcliflar@AOL.COM It continues to amaze me that this quilt code theory keeps making the rounds. There is no documentary evidence for the quilt code -- based on thousands of first person interviews of slaves during the 1930s, biographies and autobiographies written in the 19th century, and letters, diaries and journals of Underground Railroad activists and freedom seekers, not one single account of a quilt code has been uncovered. The quilt code phenomenon has sprung from the oral testimony of one person, and whose story was featured in the best-selling but very poorly documented and researched book "Hidden in Plain View." Quilt historians have soundly debunked many of the statements made about the quilt designs supposedly used on the URR. Many of the designs were not even in use before the Civil War. If that doesn't deter some believers, then paying close attention to the messages these quilt designs were supposed to convey make little sense. Also, the idea that treasured quilts would be hung outside, at night, for freedom seekers to read, in the dark, makes even less sense. Giles Wright, State Historian for the state of New Jersey has written an important critique of this code, and he strongly believes that the continuing use of the code myth to promote the stories of the URR is racist and demeaning to the thousands of freedom seekers who used their own intelligence, communication and transportation networks, and sheer determination to find their way to freedom. Other historians concur. Leigh Fellner, a quilt expert, has written a lengthy analysis and critique of the code, and the family who promotes the story. See her website at _http://ugrrquilt.hartcottagequilts.com/_ (http://ugrrquilt.hartcottagequilts.com/) Perhaps your student might look at why this quilt code myth has caught on like wildfire, from k-12 curriculum, to college and graduate studies. Perhaps it tells us something about how we as a nation have a hard time talking about slavery, resistance to slavery, and the struggles of freedom seekers to find their way to liberty. The difficult stories of slavery and resistance somehow are softened by the images of pretty quilts, but by focusing on those pretty quilt designs we are once again obscuring the truth. Many people, both professionally trained historians and local researchers are now digging up the real stories of the Underground Railroad, and discovering the very real networks and systems freedom seekers and their allies used. These are the stories we should be telling our students, not fake stories about pretty quilts. Kate Clifford Larson, Ph.D. firstname.lastname@example.org _www.harriettubmanbiography.com_ (http://www.harriettubmanbiography.com/) Dept. of History Simmons College 300 The Fenway Boston, MA 02115-5898 617-521-2183 3. From: susannah@XACTCOMMERCE.COM At last! Something I actually know something about! As far as I have been able to ascertain, the first mention of quilts being used as safe house signals appeared in a 1928 quilting magazine. A good long time after the Underground Railroad was active. Quilts with Underground Railroad associated names, like "Underground Railroad" (which in different configurations is "Jacobs Ladder" or "Nine Patch") were apparently devised AFTER the Civil War. At least in the fugitive slave narratives that I have read, quilts as signals are NEVER mentioned. The same goes for the Federal Writers Project interviews with former slaves during the 1930s. The source for the Quilt Code comes from the book Hidden in Plain View. Whenever I've tried to research the Code, everything leads back to this book, and no other source. The book itself is rather scattered in its approach (though it is purportedly about the Quilt Code, the authors get sidetracked discussing codes in African American spirituals, to say nothing of spending a lot of time trying to trace the origins of European patchwork patterns to African textiles). Quilt historian Barbara Brackman has written about the use of quilts by abolitionists, not as signals, but as fundraising projects at "Abolitionists Fairs" which raised money for freedmen and freedom seekers. As far as antebellum or postbellum novels in which quilting is mentioned, especially in the UGRR context, I don't know of any. There have been some published in this century and the 20th century, however. (The Runaway Quilt is one that I have read, a "fun read" but easy to "pick holes in." Also the picture books Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt and Under the Quilt of Night.) But until somebody invents a time machine that will let us go back and find out for sure whether quilts were used as signals or as a code, we'll never actually be able to say for sure. Actually I've often thought that it would be interesting to write about how fascinated people have become by the idea of the quilt code, how it has captured the imagination; it's something that I'm asked about repeatedly, especially by quilters. Many of them have made their own "Underground Railroad" quilts using the patterns mentioned in Hidden in Plain View, using reproduction antebellum fabric, no less. I hate to tell them that the Quilt Code is probably only a 20th century fantasy! Susannah West interpreter, John Rankin House (home of abolitionist John Rankin, 1793-1886) Ripley, Ohio 4. From: martha.katzhyman@GMAIL.COM As Ann Swartz notes, the theory that quilts were used as codes for how to escape slavery has been pretty well debunked. Two on-line sources that your student could consult are http://ugrrquilt.hartcottagequilts.com/, which has many links to sources, and http://www.historiccamdencounty.com/ccnews11_doc_01a.shtml. They may be useful as leads to possible antebellum sources. Martha Katz-Hyman Newport News, VA