Following is the correspondence Teresa Kemp and I exchanged in 2002.
I have deleted email addresses and phone numbers,
but otherwise what you see is exactly as it appeared in our emails.
My questions are in italics; Ms. Kemp's responses are in red, regular type.
What a fascinating subject! How would I go about arranging for you to speak to our group? What would such a lecture cost, what backup materials (books, quilts, and tapes) might be available, and how long in advance would we need to schedule it?
Depends where you are located. I live in Atlanta, Ga and my mother lives in Columbus, Ohio. What type of organization would I be addressing.
We have done presentations at museums, churches, Department of Interior, libraries, Environmental Protection Agency, assemblies for schools (K-12) and Colleges and Universities for college credit, senior groups, youth organizations and Borders bookstores. We have done several television programs including Simply Quilts, Babbies House, Atlanta Live and others.
We lecture on several different topics and/or bring the exhibit(s) for any length of time from 1 day to 1-3 months. We have brought as many pieces of the exhibit(s) as 10-200. That includes African pieces with the quilt codes on fabric, jewelry, maps fabric and the supporting American quilts and photos, artifacts and period pieces to explain how the UGRR Quilt Code was used by people of many races & faiths to assist in escapes from the South Carolina area to Canada.
If you can provide me with information on where you are located the length of time you would like the presentation I will be happy to give you more details and a package of information. We bring 3-4 generations of family with us depending on the scheduling. My mother & dad, My husband & I am in my 40's and my children 12-14 all quilt and lecture on the topics and we do presentations depending on the audience.
e do have tee-shirts, tote bags, books, and other items that are mad available when we come.
I have copied my mother on your inquiry reply. We look forward to serving you.
Teresa R. Kemp Phone: XXX-XXX-XXXX
My mother's phone number is XXX-XXX-XXXX E-mail: email@example.com
This would be to a group of quilters in Northwest Florida, so would just involve a speaking engagement, not a long-term display.
I would charge a speaking fee, hotel, meals and transportation for a 2-3 hour speaking engagement. I would do an hour presentation and allow time for questions and viewing supporting items and quilts. I would bring portions of the exhibit(s) and I am not to far from you so I could drive instead of flying.
We have not had the opportunity to do anything in your area so would love to come. I would try to set up other things in your area or near you so that you would not have to pay hotel meals or transportation.
My children also play tennis and I could maybe combine the trip with one of theirs. What time of year were you considering? They have the option of coming to Florida for a tournament in June and if that time is convenient, I could come on the morning of June 22nd. Give me your phone number and I can call you and work out the details and possible dates.
I am flexible and prices are negotiable so that there will be not a historic presentation that is not afforable.
What are we talking about in terms of speaking fees?
Good Morning: Call me collect at XXX-XXX-XXXX and we can discuss the details.
Somebody told me there is a documentary being produced. Do you know anything about this?
Call me at XXX-XXX-XXXX or at XXX-XXX-XXXX this evenening after 8:00 pm and I can answer all your questions. Thank you
Good Morning: Still waiting for you to contact me at home.
To be honest, over the past several weeks I've found some information that has me wondering how wise such a presentation would be. Perhaps you could look at these and comment?
Thank you for sending me these articles. I will share them with my mother.
As you know from the articles, we did not write this book. I have met Jackie once at a presentation and I have never met Dobard. My mother has met and even did several television appearances with Jackie Tobin.
The book written from or about a series of conversations Jackie had with my great aunt. Some of the discussions were taped and my cousin (still living was present during several parts of the visits. The book is partially information that Jackie says my aunt told her and part of her research.
We are still alive and quilting. Our quilts and baskets the way my mothers hair was braided as a child the use of herbs for medicines and many other aspects of what we (my mother in her late 60's & I) were taught as children. Many people have thought that African women made our items and I have never been to Africa. I have only been passed a culture and history of my family.
I never made any attempts to share it with anyone other than my children until some writer in NY made the comment that our family was not smart enough to have passed down the history. We have documents and other written information and it is not just from memory that we do not share. That way we can tell if someone says their ancestor participated with mine in the development or spreading of the codes, I can tell. Jackie only published the patterns and information she had, there are other patterns and we keep them for our family.
The use of the quilts were not tied to the period in America when slaves had to run away but back to the secret societies in Africa where many of the Africans who were enslaved came from.
The patterns and codes are still know and handed down and the techniques I was taught are still in use in those African countries today and are dated through the Africian Universities and historians.
I was given a book that published dates that the patterns were created for royal African newborns as is the custom to create a fabic print and patterns for a king and they will mark the fabric of his tribe and wives and compound and warriors attire.
But I will read the articles when I get home tonight and will comment on the truth of information they contain and will even contact the authors.
Just a couple questions while you're reviewing those sites I sent you:
|We have documents and other written information and it is not just from memory that we do not share. That way we can tell if someone says their ancestor participated with mine in the development or spreading of the codes, I can tell. Jackie only published the patterns and information she had, there are other patterns and we keep them for our family.|
I'm not sure I understand what this means. Do you mean that you have other, written information and patterns that you have not shared with anyone else, including historians?
I've also been doing some math and I am completely stumped. The article says Nora was Ozella's mother and Eliza was Nora's mother. Nora's second child Ozella was born in 1922, so Nora was probably born about 1895 (making her about 35 in the early 1930s picture your mother's holding) but no later than 1880. But we are also told that her mother, Eliza, was born in "the early 1800s", quilted in the "early to mid-19th century", and raised a family under slavery. How could Eliza be Nora's mother? There's at least 75 years between them. Can you explain?
Call me this evening. I can explain and answer your questions.
I do want to take some time and answer your questions and the ones in the articles I did review. It is very difficult to do while I am at work. The evening is better and I have information at my finger tips that will prove vital.
Yes, there is also a lot of personal information in your family that you have not shared with historians. You probally would not know which was to go or who to trust and that is my case.
I do not need someone to validate what was passed down in my family. We were not in the public light as were you and your family. Every family in early america did something that would be considered history and had basic survival skills of cooking, canning sewing, herbal medicines and carpentry and other items that may have been purchased or made in that time period. You do not take it and give it to other people. If you family made cane chairs or china or you had the original formular for coca cola passed down do you take it to historians or to coke.
Not unless you are trying to profit. I nor my family were trying to make a profit. Still are not. I do need expenses paid to come and share my family information out of town. I go to schools and other places for free all the time. We have taught college classes and have gone places at our own expense if it is somewhere I have to go. As my offer to you to combine my trip with my children's tennis outings. Then my coming would be of no charge. I would have been paying to come to florida anyway. That would give me the opportunity to share history with others.
I do not come to defend Jackie Tobin or Raymond Dobard or their book. They are retelling my family story. I was not there when they heard the information but I can say the theme of the book is true. I can speak to the reasearch she did or who proofread her manuscript. Doubleday is usually very professional and through I had always thought (they seem to be wrong).
I do have a book at home I was given on a family trek to Canada that would shed some light about some of the Henson dates errors. We have extensive collections of artifacts and books that support the oral traditions that have been handed down to me and my children. I do have the books that dates the African patterns and the books are available to the public I did not write the books nor do I know the authors that I was given.
I am a private individual and when asked I'll share information that our family has agreed to make public. I am a programmer analyst and do not make my living speaking or writing about my families personal information. I do not want lies spread or people to belittle the heroic efforts of Africian men and women who helped other enslaved africans escape terrible conditions. I do not owe historians anything. I owe people who paid with their lives whatever I can do for them not to be forgotten. Your children would do the same for you.
There were many who fought for Civil Rights Kings family has chosen to make a lot of their personal information public. You have probally participated in many activities that have been recorded, a graduation, a birth, you may have participated in some cause. Right now it is of no concern but if I wrote a book about that event then you would be forced to be involved one way or the other.
I'm sorry, but I really need to communicate via email. I am disabled and have difficulty talking on the phone. I hope that's OK.
It is fine, but I have gotten where I am very mistrusting. Have someone else from your quilting group contact me and we can have a conference call where you can type the questions and I can respond.
I can get the books and share information with you and you group via conference call. Since you did not want the exhibit. You would only have the expense of the call and I'll split it with you.
I am not familiar with what you refered to "a picture or something my mother's holding", I do not know what you see. If you are refering to a picture of my mother as a child with her mother (who is holding a baby my uncle), that picture is in the early 1930's when my mother was born. Her mother is the woman not Nora. My mother's mother is Ozella's sister. Please describe the photo you are refering to and I'll be happy to assist you with a date.
Did I copy you on the e-mail I sent the quilt-dating lady [Kim Wulfert] yesterday? I'll check and see that I forward a copy today. I still have to reply to the book critic. He is not discrediting the book HIPV he has issue with her supporting facts about other well know and dated events of other people. The authors already have been awarded their college degrees in other subject areas and were sharing the life and memories of a women she met selling quilts in the market in Charleston, SC. My aunt Ozella was a principle in CA and a college graduate with a law degree they left thoes item of information out and showed her looking like a slave, not a LA socialite. Does that mean she was not? No that is where she was a moment in time. Have to run
I made notes on the print out of the articles and will type a response but I prefer to talk where you can hear my voice and know I am sincer. I am passionate about my mother and her feelings.
Without going into details about my disability, it's not a matter of me typing questions and having somebody else ask them during a conference call. I am not good at following conversations, and need a long time to think so that I communicate clearly. So I need to do this by email. I appreciate your understanding. I've been composing these questions for a few days :)
I can't understand why you would be "very mistrusting" about answering questions by email on this subject, since you are already giving public presentations on it. After all, the truth is the truth, and should stand up to questioning, even if we feel passionate about a subject.
Anyway, although I understand that everyone's family history has private matters, you must admit that around this particular issue your family's situation is different. Ozella volunteered this story to a journalist who made no secret she was writing a book about it; certainly you and your mother made a conscious choice to write magazine articles, appear on television, and lecture about this subject when you could just as easily have kept the story within your family.
If you want people seriously interested in African-American history and quilt history to take your story seriously as part of the historical facts about the Underground Railroad, isn't it reasonable for them to want you to provide supporting information? If OTOH as you say you don't care whether anybody believes you, why go to the trouble to spread this story in the first place? Why not just keep it private, in your family?
I think you are very much misunderstanding what Mr. Wright wrote about the Quilt Code as it relates to the documented history of the Underground Railroad, b ut if you wrote him I'm sure he'll reply and clarify his position for you. I should point out that Tobin's degree is in education, and she teaches one course in "women's storytelling" at Denver University's open-admission extension school. Dobard's degree is in art history; for some reason in his 25 years at Howard he's never been promoted above associate professor. Neither Tobin nor Dobard is an historian, and as far as I know no historian finds the Quilt Code story credible. Do you know of any?
I don't know what you mean by stating that ""they left thoes item of information out and showed her looking like a slave", but I for one knew about Ozella's educational and work background from the book and article But I don't understand what that has to do with the questions I asked.
I looked careafully at the quilt blocks your mother says were part of the Quilt Code - since you lecture on this subject, I am assuming you can answer these questions I have about them.
An essential part of the Quilt Code is the connection between a block's name and the message it is supposed to convey. So in order to understand it at all, we need to know the mid-19th-century name for each of the blocks used. But quilt historian Barbara Brackman says that although many modern quilters think that traditional blocks were "born" with the names by which we now know them, the widespread naming and publishing of quilt patterns did not start until the 1890s; so we have no way of knowing whether the names we give these blocks today are what they were called 150 years ago.
The names your mother gives for the blocks in the article are the ones in common use after 1930 - about the time her Grandma Nora (who told her the code) would have been quilting. How can she know the names she uses are the same ones used during the Underground Railroad years? If any of the "Quilt Code" blocks had different names in the 1850s, or if a name used then for one block refers to a different block today, how could we know which blocks were used, or what meanings they had?
Bear's Paw - Ms. Wilson says this instructed slaves to travel through the Appalachian Mountains, following bear tracks to find water and fish. But no Underground Railroad routes went through the Appalachians; they divide and pass on either side of that mountain range. Why would slaves be instructed to follow a long, dangerous route not described in any Underground Railroad history? And since by the 1840s bears east of the Mississippi had been virtually killed off from overhunting, why would slaves be instructed to follow the tracks of an animal they were unlikely to encounter (and which your mother admits African slaves would be unfamilar with)?
Monkey Wrench - Ms. Wilson says this was a "very important tool on the plantation" and through its use by blacksmiths referred to wagons in which slaves were supposed to escape. Wright has noted that the monkey wrench was not in use in America until 1858 (about halfway through the life of the Underground Railroad). If this block was part of the Quilt Code before that date, how could it refer to blacksmiths and wagons? To add to the confusion, this block has also been known as Bear's Paw and Shoo Fly - both of which are important names in the Quilt Code - as well as 38 other names. How do we know the Monkey Wrench block shown is in fact the right one?
<http://www.fortunecity.com/victorian/magenta/14/1x1.gif> Dresden Plate - Ms. Wilson says this block instructs escapees to "look for a church with Dresden Plate windows in Canada." She says that she was told by an historian that the Niagara Falls BME Church (where "they would be welcomed by a Free Black Society") was established in 1856. In fact, that church was established in 1814; the windows of the original building, constructed in 1836 at about the time the Underground Railroad began, are Gothic in shape, not round like plates. And quilt historians agree that no references to this block as "Dresden Plate" can be found before the 1920s. Do you have information they don't?
Wedding Rings - The block shown in the article is the Double Wedding Ring, which Ms. Wilson says represented both slave chains and being free to marry. But Ms. Brackman's research shows the earliest examples and published patterns of this block are from the late 1920s (my earliest example is a Kansas City Star pattern from 1929). Quilt historian Roderick Kiracofe says that there are no reliably documented quilts in this pattern that date before 1920. Are they wrong?
"Sue Bonnet" - Although the name seems to refer to the "Sunbonnet Sue" block, the one shown in the Traditional Quilter article is known as Colonial Lady, Umbrella Girl or Southern Belle, so I'll address both designs.
Ms. Wilson says that "Free women in the North wore long dresses with Sue bonnets," and says this block tells slaves they would receive disguises once they reached the North. But capture was more likely (and disguise more critical) while escaped slaves were still in the South; why does the block tell them they will receive such clothing only "when they reached the North"?
If the picture is wrong and the reference is to the Sunbonnet Sue block, we must wonder why Eliza used this name for it. For nearly 100 years, these deep-brimmed hats were universally known as "poke bonnets". And according to West Virginia Heritage Quilt Search findings, the Southern name for the block was "Dutch Girl" (the "Sunbonnet Sue" name originated in the Midwest). Why did Eliza call the block, and the hat, by a name not used in her part of the country? If she did use her region's common name ("Dutch Girl"), what message does that convey in the Quilt Code?
The earliest known applique pattern for Sue, designed by Marie Webster, appeared in the August 1912 Ladies Home Journal; and are clearly based on Bertha Corbett's Sunbonnet Babies book illustrations; but quilt historian Brackman notes that the pattern did not become popular until the late 1920s. Can you provide any Underground Railroad-era examples of this block?
If the reference is in fact to the Colonial Lady block pictured, the number of names by which it is known shows the vagueness of the period it is supposed to depict, making claims of a 19th century origin doubtful. In fact, the style of dress shown in the block is a romanticized, 20th-century interpretation of 18th and 19th century fashion. The design's popularity spanned the 1920s Colonial Revival and the 1936 publication of Gone with the Wind; it was also available in embroidery transfers, dinnerware, planters, and pictures. Again, do you know of any Underground Railroad-era examples of this block?
I have to ask: If the Dresden Plate, Wedding Ring, and "Sue" or Colonial Lady blocks were in fact part of the Underground Railroad Quilt Code, why is it that while 19th century examples exist of all the other blocks named, there are none for these 3 popular 1930s patterns? Did the patterns somehow disappear for 60 years, only to suddenly reappear in the late 1920s? If these blocks were mistakenly included in your mother's list, how reliable is the rest of the Quilt Code?
Log Cabin - Ms. Wilson says this refers to the Canadian government giving escaped slaves land for every acre they cleared. Yet the only such land grants I found predated the Underground Railroad, and were for blacks who had fought for Britain in the War of 1812. Land in Canada was only "free" until the government surveyed it, after which those living on it either had to purchase it or leave. Many black settlements disbanded as a result. I could find no reference to a land-for-labor offer such as your mother describes. Can you show me where she got this information?
In addition, Brackman says that the earliest inscribed quilt of this pattern is dated 1869, and the earliest written reference to Log Cabin quilts is in 1863 as fundraiseres for the Union, which would make it a dangerous choice for a slave even if it were only used after 1863. Can you provide an example, dated by a textile or quilt historian, of a pre-Civil War Log Cabin quilt?
The photograph I referred to is on the first page of the Traditional Quilter article that your mother wrote. The caption reads "Serena Strother holds a photo of Nora Belle McDaniel, her grandmother who taught her the Secret Quilt Code". But even if the photo caption is wrong, I still can't figure out how Eliza could be Nora's mother.
I've already estimated Nora's birth year at 1880-1895. The article and your website say that Nora's mother, Eliza, was born in Benin in the "early 1800s", was brought to America as a child with textile knowledge, and quilted during the "early to mid 1800s" (presumably during UGRR period 1835-1863). Eliza must have been at least 5 to have any useful skills; if we assume Eliza arrived before the 1808 ban on slave importation, she must have been born before 1803.
But as I've stated, this would either make Eliza at least 77 years old when her daughter Nora was born, or give Nora a birthdate of about 1840. If Nora was born in 1840, when she made the 1950s "Sue Bonnet" quilt pictured in the article she would have had to be at least 110 years old!
The only explanations which make all the other parts of the story logical are these:
1. Eliza Farrow the slave was born in 1803; she had a daughter between 1820-1840, a granddaughter between 1840-1860, and a great-granddaughter (Nora) between 1880-1900. Nora is her great-granddaughter, not her daughter. Anything Nora told Ozella and Serena had already been passed through at least three generations.
2. Eliza was born after 1860 and is indeed Nora's mother. But the story of Eliza Farrow the Quilt Code slave born in Benin is not about her; it concerns Nora's great-grandmother, born about 1803, perhaps another Eliza. The story passed through 3 generations before reaching Nora, who then told the story about her "Great-grandma Eliza" to her children and grandchildren. They mistakenly assumed it referred to their own great-grandmother.
This is important. By your mother's account, Grandma Nora got her information about the Quilt Code firsthand from her mother, Eliza the slave, which makes it plausible. But in fact, in either scenario all Nora could tell Ms. Wilson and Ozella about Eliza and her quilts was what she herself heard after it had been passed down through at least 3 generations. This makes such information much less reliable. If two whole generations of grandmothers are missing from your oral and written histories, and considering the significant conflicts with quilt and Underground Railroad history I've described here, without significant corroborating evidence such as you seem to say you have, how much can anybody trust the Quilt Code story is factual?
I very much appreciate your time.
Haven't received a reply from you regarding the questions in my last email.