Fact Sheet on The "Quilt Code"
Feel free to photocopy this sheet to help spread the truth about the myth.
Fact Sheet written by Barbara Brackman, author of Facts & Fabrications: Unraveling the History of Quilts & Slavery 2006
A hot topic in Black History is the story of quilts and the Underground Railroad. Americans eager to discuss slavery are fascinated by tales of quilts used as signals in the dangerous journey to freedom. The connection between an American folk art, a mysterious secret code and the adventure of the Underground Railroad has created an enduring tale that is fast becoming a part of American legend. The quilt code has joined other appealing but false stories like George Washington chopping down a cherry tree or Betsy Ross designing the first American flag.
Countless school curriculums include how-to instructions for a quilt made in the secret code. Museums feature symbolic quilts in exhibits dedicated to slavery. Historians often are asked questions:
The fact is that we have no historical evidence of quilts being used as signals, codes or maps. The tale of quilts and the Underground Railroad makes a good story, but not good quilt history.
What harm can a charming yet false story do?
You be the judge. But do realize that we are teaching a generation
of children false history. And by focusing on this connection we
ignore our national obligation to learn about the true and less
charming stories of slavery.