This page is an archive of a presentation created by Laurie Searle for the Black History Exhibit in Chatt Hills.
Black History (Heritage & Art Exhibit) by Laurie Searle
My exhibit combines my love for history, quilting, and more recently – barn quilts. The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes and safe houses established in the United States during the early to mid-19th century, and used by enslaved African-Americans to escape into free states and Canada. The scheme was assisted by abolitionists and others sympathetic to the cause of the escapees.
The Underground Railroad Quilt Codes According to legend, a safe house along the Underground Railroad was often indicated by a quilt hanging from a clothesline or windowsill. These quilts were embedded with a kind of code, so that by reading the shapes and motifs sewn into the design, an enslaved person on the run could know the area’s immediate dangers or even where to head next. The Exhibit includes:
Display board of all the quilt blocks mentioned in the Underground Railroad Quilt Codes.
Monkey Wrench Barn Quilt (42x42”) The first of the 10 quilts displayed as a signal for slaves who planned to escape.
Monkey Wrench Quilt Squares (10x10”) Illustrates “quilting with square knots” used as an additional secret code.
Quilt Code Sampler (18x24”) Slaves often made a sampler of the quilt code patterns to help with memorization.
The primary source of the text used in the display comes from the book, “Quilt in a Day: Underground Railroad Sampler,” by Elanor Burns & Sue Bouchard. I have used text directly from this book, since the exhibit was intended to be educational; but since it is copyrighted, I will not make this archive page public. Also suggested are two books of a more scholarly nature, which offer opposing views on whether quilts were used as coded messages in the Underground Railroad:
“Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad,” by Jacqueline L. Tobin and Raymond G. Dobard, Ph.D.
“Facts & Fabrications: Unraveling the History of Quilts & Slavery,” by Barbara Brackman.
The art portion of this exhibit features images of the Underground Railroad quilt blocks I created with Electric Quilt software, a four-square barn quilt I painted using the Monkey Wrench pattern, and two cloth blocks of the Monkey Wrench pattern.