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1. From: Leigh Fellner [mailto:email@example.com] >> I am not a fan of using the quilt code per se, but it seems to be a >> small step in a better direction if kids are actually being asked to make >> some kind of imaginative leap into the slave experience. Clearly it >> would be preferable not to teach them fictions, but judging from my >> students they also come to college with Besty Ross and the Pilgrim >> Thanksgiving firmly etched in their minds as Fact. Though I'm being >> facetious, at least the quilt code myth broadens the number of historical >> populations who are enshrined in the American Hall of Feel-Good Stories. I'm presuming the "facetious" part includes the suggestion that teaching "fictions" is "in a better direction" because it asks children to "make some kind of imaginative leap". But since that neatly summarizes what I've heard more than once from grade-school teachers, permit me to reply as if it were said in all seriousness. To me such an attitudue suggests a certain *un*seriousness concerning African-American history. The implication is that the facts are either not compelling enough, or really don't matter, at least not right now. I can accept that approach toward Santa Claus. But fictions about our children's own heritage? If memory serves, promotoers of Pitman's disastrous "Initial Teaching Alphabet" used the same argument in the 1960s. "Teach them to read this way first to Get Them Involved," they said; "then [demonstrating nothing so much as a spectacular ignorance of human nature, or perhaps hubris], we'll have them unlearn it, umm....later." For goodness sake - why? I know I'm sometimes fixated on efficiency, but while this approach may make life easier for the first teacher, it not only unnecessarily burdens students with learning, unlearning, and relearning; there's something vaguely sadistic about it. "Yes, that's what we taught you in third grade, but it was only to get you interested! It was all nonsense. *Here* are the facts. Really." (To which adolescent minds respond "Suuuuure. And we should believe you now because....?") I would suggest that any teacher who feels the urge to substitute fiction for fact might spend a profitable evening reading some of the fugutive slave narratives available online. 2. From: jh3v@VIRGINIA.EDU A small footnote to the following: Concerning scarification, dental mutilation/modification, it is interesting that there is not one shred of evidence that these arguably African practices were continued in the New World. Wherever evidence of them exists in, for example, runaway ads, these persons were born in Africa. There is a slight exception to this (in facial markings) with respect to late 19th century Cuba, but that situation is quite different. Archaeological evidence concerning so-called nkisi marks are even more problematical. Jerome Handler 3. From pfink@ALBANYLAW.EDU Just to be clear, I do not believe that any scholar of slavery thinks that some African cultural patterns did not survive, in various ways, in what because the US. Ths issue that brough this up was about quilts hung up on the underground railroad, that ONLY slaves and their white allies knew about and could read; and that no slave catcher, law enforcement person, master etc. ever noticed or could read; and furthremore, that this was done so secretly that NOT A SINGLE slave narrative or memoir and not A SINGLE UGRR memoir ever mentioned. I think we are now on to more interesting issues that have some relevance to the history slavery and race in the US, such as the mark described below. Paul Finkelman Paul Finkelman President William McKinley Distinguished Professor of Law and Public Policy Albany Law School 80 New Scotland Avenue Albany, New York 12208-3494 518-445-3386 firstname.lastname@example.org 4. From: Kcliflar@AOL.COM Mark Dixon and John Weiss make an interesting observation about the relatively unspoken and barely researched issue of enslaved people not running away when they had an opportunity. Does the quilt code offer an alternative to a number of possibilities? Giving those enslaved people who stayed behind an active role in the UGRR network to freedom can explain some of the nationwide and multicultural embracement of this myth. In Maryland, for instance, we have encountered some resistance to telling and celebrating the history of the UGRR from not only the white community, but the African American community, too. In Dorchester County, where Harriet Tubman was enslaved for the first 27 years of her life, efforts to establish and present both an UGRR Scenic Byway and a Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Discovery Center have met with some criticism, namely, that Tubman nor the UGRR story reflect the history of the people now living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland who are descended from slaves who "were left behind" or "who stuck it out and fought." (I am using the words of those critics.) Why, these critics argue, should they care about Tubman or the UGRR -after all, they argue, Tubman did not help their ancestors and neither did the UGRR. While on the surface this may seem to have little to do with the issue of quilt codes, in fact, I think it speaks to another aspect of this educational story. When we use the quilt code story as a substitute for discussions of slavery, resistance to slavery, and the pursuit of freedom, we lose not only accurate and important historical knowledge, but we are telling millions of children who are descendents of slaves who remained enslaved until the Emancipation Proclamation (or later in the case of loyal border states like Maryland) that slaves showed bravery, cleverness, survival skills, and intelligence only when they escaped using quilt codes. But, according the quilt code myth, it was other slaves and free blacks who supposedly made the quilts, so now those children can see their ancestors making those all important quilts instead of running away - a noble and important cog in the network to freedom. This might work for a 2nd grader, but by the time those kids are in high school, is it really satisfying, useful, and purposeful like it was when they were 7 years old? Of course not, and that's part of the huge problem we have here - it is a juvenile story that gets perpetuated into adulthood, and therefore serves to infantilize any discussion and learning about this subject in American and African American history. That's racist in my book. There are many, many reasons and circumstances that contributed to why some enslaved people who had the opportunity to run did not. Most enslaved people probably didn't even have an opportunity. Nevertheless, slave narratives and commonsense tell us that the bonds of family and community played a far more important role than is ever discussed in those classrooms across the country. We don't need to dream up slave agency, all we have to do is look at the historical record and we can find plenty of documented histories that can help us tell the real history of slavery and the often persistent pursuit of freedom (interpretations not withstanding!) Maybe people wouldn't keep looking for and claiming sightings of secret signs and symbols, tunnels and lawn jockeys if they all knew what most of us historians in this field discover every day in our research (thank you Chris Densmore). And maybe the critics on the Eastern Shore of Maryland will come to see that learning about and honoring figures like Harriet Tubman, Fred Douglass, and the UGRR also reveals a complex and important community and family history that has heretofore remained obscured because of the convenience of stories like the Quilt Code. Kate Clifford Larson, Ph.D. 33 Fells Road Winchester, MA 01890 781-756-1930 email@example.com www.harriettubmanbiography.com Dept. of History Simmons College 300 The Fenway Boston, MA 02115-5898 617-521-2258 firstname.lastname@example.org 5. From: hcquilts@COX.NET >> Unfortunately, the curator was not willing to discuss the "map" >> beyond assuring me of its authenticity, since it had been "examined >> by an archeologist." This is the same response given by those claiming to have evidence of a "quilt code". It's already been "authenticated" by some (usually unnamed) Renowned Expert and therefore unassailable, or the evidence is for one reason or another unavailable, or it turns out the Renowned Expert either refuses to discuss the matter, never said what the owner claims, or is conveniently dead. Teresa Kemp is the proprietor of the Underground Railroad Quilt Code Museum in Atlanta. The great-niece of the woman whose tourist-market tale of a "quilt code" was the basis for "Hidden in Plain View," Ms. Kemp told both me (2004) and masters-thesis writer Ransaw (2005) that she had a written, "firsthand" account of the Code. At first she even volunteered to fax me copies of this document. But when I asked for scans (photographic images) which would at least give a rough idea of the document's age, she backed off. I may not have been appropriately sympathetic, but even Ransaw wasn't given the chance to see it, and HIPV's authors have never mentioned it. Ransaw suggests the document is at the "museum," but there's no indication it's on display. Perhaps an Atlanta-area historian would be more successful in getting Ms. Kemp to produce it. Apropos of HIPV, it appears author Tobin has coauthored another Underground Railroad book: http://www.amazon.com/Midnight-Dawn-Tracks-Underground-Railroad/dp/03855 1431X/ref=ed_oe_h/104-6244167-1663924 6.