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Uncovering the Underground Railroad quilt-code myth at Rokeby

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Posted on September 13, 2018 |
By Addison Independent



ROKEBY MICHAEL_CUMMINGS__BURROUGHS_LAMAR_PHOTOGRAPHY-compressed.jpg
HISTORIAN KATE CLIFFORD Larson's lecture is in conjunction with the “Fabric of Emancipation” exhibit on view through Oct. 28. Pictured here is a quilt made by Michael Cummings. BURROUGHS LAMAR PHOTOGRAPHY

Historian Kate Clifford Larson will speak about the enduring myth surrounding quilt patterns and the Underground Railroad. The illustrated lecture will be held Sunday, Sept. 16, at 3 p.m. at Rokeby Museum in Ferrisburgh, in conjunction with the museum’s special exhibit “Fabric of Emancipation” curated by Harlem Needle Arts.

The history of slavery and the pursuit of freedom in the U.S. has been fraught with distortions and misinformation for generations. Myths and untruths about the history of the Underground Railroad are often a mixture of fact, folklore, and speculation; in spite of a surge in research and documentation of the real Underground Railroad, these myths and legends persist.

One of these myths is that quilt patterns served as a secret code to aid fugitives from slavery. Larson will discuss the root of this myth, its counterfactual elements, and its curious proliferation during the late 20th century. She will also share real escape stories to demonstrate the readily available sources that reveal the real people, places and methods of the Underground Railroad.

Larson is a leading Harriet Tubman scholar and the author of the 2004 biography, “Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero.” She is also the consulting historian for the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State and National Parks and author of “The Assassin’s Accomplice: Mary Surratt and the Plot to Kill Abraham Lincoln” (2008) and “Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter” (2017) which spent 10 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.

Lecture attendees will also be able to view “Fabric of Emancipation: The Lens of American History through Contemporary Fiber Arts.” The exhibit includes pieced quilts, representational and abstract, made by African American fabric artists Ife Cummings and Michael A. Cummings, as well as a layered, pieced assemblage by L’Merchie Frazier.

For more info visit rokeby.org or call (802) 877-3406.

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