Quilts helped enslaved peoples navigate the Underground Railroad to escape to freedom. As these African-American people followed the path to freedom, quilt squares helped communicate the direction and safety of this often treacherous route.
At a recent meeting in Albion, members of the Delta Kappa Gamma (DKG) honorary society of key women educators learned about these specialty quilt communication squares. DKG member Pam Strope quilted oversize squares to demonstrate the language of these “cloth maps” on the Underground Railroad. Strope based her knowledge on her studies of the Underground Railroad, especially from the book, Hidden in Plain View by Jacqueline L. Tobin and Raymond G. Dobard, Ph.D.
The book is about the secret story of quilts and the Underground Railroad. Considered a scholarly detective story, Stope discussed the quilts and how they were used to “conceal and yet reveal” a means of escape on the Underground Railroad. As the book authors stated, communicating secrets using ordinary objects is very much of African culture and was brought with enslaved peoples when they were brought to North America.
Messages could be passed along through objects like quilts that were so familiar that they almost became invisible. These quilt squares were created to convey information about the journey along this Underground Railroad, a major escape route from the South to the free states and Canada. This means of escape was used mainly during the 1800s, which was the peak of the use of enslaved peoples.
The Albion area DKG Nu Chapter was founded in 1946. DKG was established in 1929 by a group of women who wished to promote the professional and personal growth of women educators and promote excellence in education. There are now chapters in all 50 states, Canada, Latin America, Japan, and several European countries.
Current DKG Nu Chapter officers are Janis Sanford, Nancy Polnasek, Anne Lake, Connie Peltier, and Pam Strope. All women educators, either current or retired, are invited to join this organization.
To contact DKG, leave a message on member Gloria Richard’s landline, 517-629-6272, and the call will be returned.
PHOTO CAPTION: DRG members listened to a program on the quilts of the Underground Railroad presented by Pam Strope, educational honorary society corresponding secretary. The
program was at Sterling Books & Brew in downtown Albion. The quilts were an integral part of the communication passed along this route for enslaved peoples to escape to freedom.
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