Saturday, April 11, 2015

"The Meaning of Forever": the UGRR Myth

This is a reprint of an essay I wrote in 2006 about the "secret quilt code." I am posting this today in response to a photo in a recent issue of a popular quilting magazine which shows a copy of the disputed book Hidden in Plain View, a book based on the "pure speculation" of the author that a code existed as stitched into quilt blocks that provided slaves directions for escape: where to go and how to act, specifically.

"The Meaning of Forever" - an essay written in 2006

by Patricia L. Cummings

Like war, taxes and the dust in my house, the Hidden
in Plain View
Myth will go on and on amid
false claims, disgruntlement and complaints. I
don't like unpleasantness but I also did not create
this situation. The responsibility for that lies
elsewhere. To lie down in the road only to be run over by a
10 wheeler truck of deception is a little much to

As far as explaining why the secret quilt code is not
feasible, in terms of quilt blocks and their names,
I've already made a stab at doing that on my website
and in magazines available for anyone to read. If someone
has more information about those historical details,
that has not already been provided, please share it with me.

As a quilter and needleworker, I am a creative person,
and this whole HIPV issue has been a major sidetrack.
Yet, I've taken time from my own work to keep
addressing the issue, ONLY because it keeps coming up.
However, the fact remains that my words either preach
to the choir, as I had said previously, or tick off
those who are not in accord with my opinions and those
shared by serious quilt historians and historians of American
history. We all have been working hard to dispel the myth.

Today, I shall go into my studio to work on something
lovely. I shall play enchanting Celtic music, and I'll
try NOT to think of this thorn-in-the-foot topic. I shall
also give a silent prayer of thanks for ALL of
you. Isn't it great that we live in a country where
the voices of ALL can be heard? The price of your
personal freedom has been great and continues because
of the sacrifices of many!

One name of this block is "Bear's Paw"

My Thoughts Today

Since 1999, the secret quilt code as purported by Raymond Dobard in his book Hidden in Plain View has taken on a life of its own, promoted by individuals who have neither read the book nor are quilt historians (those who understand the time frame of some of the quilt pattern designs mentioned, some of which are 20th century designs not in use at the time period of the Underground Railroad). Worst of all, perhaps, was a book by Eleanor Burns: Underground Railroad Quilts. The book built upon the legend by providing designs for quilters to make a so-called "Underground Railroad Quilt."

I am appalled that after all of the public discussion of this topic that people are still "true believers" of the quilt code. It is as though the book(s) have a cult following. It must be easier to believe this sanitized view of Black History than to reconcile oneself to the viciousness and hatred and domination that prevailed toward Blacks at the time they were attempting to escape. My writings on this topic are a matter of record, having appeared in magazines (illustrated articles), and (previously) online.

I revisit the topic here, years later, as a reminder that like "dust," the story seems never ending. Why should it? I understand that there are still presenters who give lectures on this topic and their stories get more and more elaborate (and made of wholecloth) with each presentation. My main objection is that the code is taught in schools as Gospel truth. It is such a shame to feed baloney to our children. I predict that the secret quilt code shall be present in our lives forever.

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