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There has been much controversy over the claim that Underground Railroad quilts contained hidden messages to guide runaway slaves to freedom. Since the publication of Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt in 1993, this romantic notion has captured the imagination of many people and has grown to urban legend proportions.
While not as widely known as the legend, there has been reputable research done to disprove the many contradictory "Quilt Codes." The realities of the runaway slave experience -- the hardships, the hunger, the fear, the incredible courage and determination -- are diminished by the myth of secret messages hidden in quilts.
Teaching such an implausible and simplistic legend is a disservice to Underground Railroad history and the remarkable people who lived it.
The Underground Railroad Quilt Controversy: Looking for the 'Truth'
by Laurel Horton.
Presented March 22, 2006
Length 44 minutes
International Quilt Study Center & Museum
at The University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Laurel Horton is a folklorist and an internationally known quilt researcher. A native of Kentucky, she earned a B.A. in English and an M.S. in Library Science from the University of Kentucky, and an M.A. degree in Folklore from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
Kris Driessen of Albany NY is an accomplished quiltmaker, quilt historian, quilting teacher, author, researcher, and lecturer. Her articles on dating, cleaning and just plain appreciating antique and vintage quilts have appeared in many publications.
By Fergus M. Bordewich
New York Times
February 2, 2007
Fergus M. Bordewich is the author of “Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America.”
By Leigh Fellner
Also take a look at some firsthand accounts of slaves and abolitionists.
America's Quilting History -- Quilt History MythsMYTH #2 ~ Specially designed quilts were used as signals by the Underground Railroad.