Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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p. vii

List of Plates/Maps

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p. viii

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Preface

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pp. ix-xii

On a Sunday afternoon in December 1969, I attended the opening reception for an exhibit by the Freedom Quilting Bee at Stillman College, in Tuscaloosa. Although the group had been formed almost four years earlier by black women in Wilcox County as a...

The Freedom Quilting Bee

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1. From Civil Rights to Patchwork Quilts

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pp. 3-18

On December 9, 1%5, Francis X. Walter, a white Episcopal priest and newly appointed head of an Alabama civil rights project, was driving through Wilcox County, deep in the Alabama Black Belt. He was accompanied by Everett Wenrick, a white Episcopal seminarian...

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2. Quilt Auctions in New York City

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pp. 19-30

Soon after Francis Walter discovered the patchwork quilting skills among the black women of Wilcox County; he voiced his fmdings to an Alabama friend who was living in New York City. Tom Screven, thirty-three, was a salesman with a wholesale...

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3. Gee's Bend: The Culture that Shaped the Quilting Bee

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pp. 31-44

Francis Walter's first-year register listed 150 quilters from all parts of Wilcox County as well as a few from neighboring Dallas. Their addresses were as varied and colorful as Possum Bend, Polk Junction, Selma, and Coy; Camden, Minter, Hybart, and Hopewell; Gastonburg, Browns, Alberta, Gee's Bend, and...

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4. The Quilting Bee Obtains Professional Help

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pp. 45-49

In early 1966, while Tom Screven and friends were collecting fabrics and conducting auctions in New York, events were taking place in Wilcox County that would lead to organizing a professional business. Led by Minder Coleman, workers met in homes, made quilts, and provided training sessions for those less...

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5. Freedom Sparks the "Patchwork Look"

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pp. 50-67

Less than a year after the Freedom Quilting Bee was chartered, it received its first contract with a New York City interior design firm and attracted major attention in Eastern art circles. What resulted was a national rebirth of interest in patchwork. Most of this early notice...

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6. The Quilting Bee Goes Commercial

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pp. 68-90

After its first two years, the Freedom Quilting Bee abandoned its free-spirited approach to creativity as well as salesmanship and went commercial. During the late 1960s, Sister Parish continued to promote the quilters in her own circle of contacts, but a man named Stanley...

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7. A Factory Comes to the Cornfield

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pp. 91-104

"Dear friend, Tis with Fingers oflove that I pause here to request the honor of your present, at the ground breaking of the sewing center." So begins the handwritten letter from Route One, Box 72, Alberta, Alabama, dated February 10, 1969, that was duplicated and mailed countrywide to friends and associates of the...

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8. Church Groups Aid the Quilting Bee

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pp. 105-113

In 1970 two dissimilar but significant events occurred at the co-op that symbolized the long-in-coming power of its black women members. Many black families in the area desperately needed plots on which to live. In most cases, white land owners would not sell to blacks. But, by 1970, the Freedom Quilting Bee was the owner of...

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9. Freedom's Bread and Butter: The Sears Contract

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pp. 114-130

In 1972 the Freedom Quilting Bee made a longlasting arrangement with Sears, Roebuck and Company to produce corduroy pillow shams. Because civil rights is no longer the new, fever-pitched issue it was in the 1960s and because the patchwork look has been superseded by other styles and trends, the co-op has relied on its...

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10. Freedom Leads the Co-op Movement

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pp. 131-140

After two decades, the Freedom Quilting Bee is the oldest handcraft co-op still in existence that originated with the civil rights movement. But, more importantly, because of its one-member/onevote concept of decision making, it has flowered during those years as a leader and role model among...

The Women of the Freedom Quilting Bee

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pp. 141-144

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Minder Pettway Coleman

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pp. 145-151

It is a sunny, springtime afternoon at Route One, Alberta. One mile from the start of Gee's Bend, Minder Coleman is dressed in her Sunday best, her head topped with a salmon-hued turban. She is sitting on the front porch swing of her government-built house, peering downward on acres of vegetation: a rainbow of greens, in which...

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Aolar Carson Mosely

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pp. 152-159

On April 18, 1%9, The New YcJrk Times ran a story about the Freedom Quilting Bee and its new sewing center as it began operation on an Alberta cornfield. Pictured in the article was Mrs. Wisdom Mosely with her little namesake...

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Mattie Clark Ross

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pp. 160-169

"I never thought I'd live to get old." That's Mattie Ross responding to a question about the most unexpected event in her life. And what a life it has been for an octogenarian whose silky-smooth facial features suggest a much younger woman. She is a quiltmaker; retired farmer; member of the choir at...

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Mary Boykin Robinson

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pp. 170-174

The visitor to the Freedom Quilting Bee cannot help but notice the facility's side yard: an arrangement of happy-hued playground equipment, situated among shade trees that are partially painted white with occasional strokes of red and blue. On days of sunshine, the scene is often enlivened by a group of preschoolers darting...

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China Grove Myles

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pp. 175-181

In October 1975 the National Geographic included a story about the state of Alabama: "Dixie to a Different Tune" it was called. The featured personalities ranged from the owner of a paper mill in Tuscaloosa, to a Birmingham heart surgeon, to a maker of quilts from Gee's Bend. She was...

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Lucy Marie Mingo

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pp. 182-186

Among the names on the Freedom Quilting Bee's articles of incorporation is that of Lucy Marie Mingo. No doubt, it is one of the most poetic names on the roster. When pronounced, it is like a healing balm to the senses, or a whispery wind kissing the trees on the river bank below her home. It would make a good pen name for...

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Nettie Pettway Young

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pp. 187-195

Stroll through the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Sewing Center on a given day and you'll see a certain set of faces. Come again the next day or the next week and you may see a whole new group, depending on whether it's time to produce the latest Sears order, whip together....

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Polly Mooney Bennett

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pp. 196-206

On a golden spring day, finding Polly Bennett is no trouble at all. A mile down from Alberta and its small collection of business endeavors, her home is a pleasant, white-framed structure trimmed in what Polly calls Japanese red. Her front porch is the kind on which generations of Southerners have sat and talked...

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Mama Willie Abrams

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pp. 207-213

"Call me 'Mama Willie.' That's what everybody calls me, 'Mama Willie.''' A quick-paced and perky shadow emerges from a back room at Estelle Witherspoon's home on Alberta's Route One. She is Mrs. Witherspoon's mother, who has just washed her hair. In tones of gray and white, it is a fresh fluff of tiny curls, half hidden under...

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Estelle Abrams Witherspoon

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pp. 214-242

On March 25, 1984, Estelle Witherspoon was honored by her church, Pine Grove Baptist, with an Appreciation Day. On a Sunday afternoon, it was held one day before the eighteenth anniversary of the meeting convened by Reverend Francis Walter at Antioch Baptist Church in Camden, where more than sixty Wilcox County quiltmakers adopted a charter and elected officers for...

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Epilogue

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pp. 243-250

In the village of Alberta, Alabama, a small, white house sits a few yards across the road from Hicks's Gin. On sunny days, a half dozen or more quilts are out for a breath of air. They hang on a clothesline to the side of the house, on a bush hedge at...

Index

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pp. 251-255

Image Plates

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pp. 256-263