During the nearly 250 years of slavery in America, it's believed that some cover was actually undercover.
During the nearly 250 years of slavery in America, it’s believed that some cover was actually undercover.
There were no written records of an underground railroad quilt code that aided runaway slaves in their runs to freedom, but many former slaves verbally passed along stories of how a secret system of designs sewn into quilt blocks was utilized in delivering a number of messages toward that purpose.
It was forbidden for slaves to know how to read or write, so the slaves — with help from freed blacks and sympathetic whites within the underground railroad — are said to have devised communicative quilt patterns.
The quilt squares would be displayed in a manner in which runaway slaves could easily interpret helpful general information and possible life-saving instructions.
Among the recipients of the quilt code lore are three Pine Bluff sisters — LaDonna Hall, Tangela Washington and Denita Wright — and their mother, Bernice Reed, descendants of slaves.
As Hall grew up learning about the hardships of her ancestors, she believes she actually felt the sufferings of her family members who endured slavery. Those feelings prevailed into her adulthood, where she finally gained some relief by teaming with her sisters in writing a play entitled “Quilt Coding.”
The sisters performed the show during a recent Black History Month program at Davis Life Care Center West in Pine Bluff.
“The play is a way that we can honor our ancestors and other slaves,” Hall said. “We’ve presented it about 20 times since we wrote it about six years ago, and I still become emotional whenever we perform it.
“I wanted to do something that would make young people think about our ancestors who were slaves. I want them to feel the pains of slavery like I did and still do when I think of what my ancestors had to go through to get me to where I am today.”
Hall, who as a child engaged in quilting with her mother, grandmother and sisters, said she’s “bothered” by the lack of historical awareness among many young people.
“They need to study it so they can better understand where they are and where they need to be headed,” Hall said. “I wanted the play to help to give them a different attitude on life, to put them into scenarios that would make them think about what they would do to get out of slavery.”
Hall said it’s important to note that some whites were enslaved and some slave owners were black. She said the histories of black and whites are meshed.
“Black history isn’t limited to blacks,” she said. “It can’t be.”
Accompanying the sisters in the presentation was pianist Darren Dill.
The program also included a Warren Booker Jr. reading of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famed “I Have a Dream” speech and group singings of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and “We Shall Overcome.”
Ronnie and Jennette Moore sang “Without Him” and Josilyn Warrior sang “His Eye Is On the Sparrow.”
Deshona Collins initiated the event with a greeting and Stacey Williams gave the closing remarks.