Exhibit Explores Coded Quilts -- Were They Used by Slaves? Possibly Used as Underground Railroad Map

Article excerpt

Byline: Amelia A. Hart, Nassau Neighbors staff writer

A quilt made by a Nassau County woman and her friend is the colorful centerpiece of an exhibit this month at the Florida Community College at Jacksonville's Betty P. Cook Nassau Center.

The exhibit, "Follow the North Star," takes a look at the Underground Railroad, the covert network of people and routes that escaping slaves followed to freedom in the 19th century.

The exhibit examines the theory put forth in the 1998 book, Hidden in Plain View: The Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad, that African-American slaves used coded blocks to embed messages in quilts. Those codes, if they existed, helped slaves navigate their way north. Some historians, however, dispute whether quilts actually contained codes.

Still, the theory is familiar to Yulee resident Julie Mainor, who has volunteered for several years teaching quilting to students at St. Pius V Parish School, a Catholic school in Jacksonville that serves the black community.

Mainor heard about the FCCJ exhibit from a friend taking classes at the college. She offered to sew a quilt for the exhibit, and recruited Stephanie Hinson, a teacher at St. Pius and a quilting buddy, to help her.

The two sewed the black, gold and red-toned quilt during a three-day weekend. Their creation includes squares such as the Bear's Claw, a square with four small triangles that is thought to be a sign for escaping slaves to follow animal tracks as they made their way north, and the Crossroads, an X-shaped pattern thought to represent Cleveland.

The two women said they were happy to put their quilting skills to good use.

"There's such a feeling of accomplishment when I finish a quilt," Hinson said. …