400-Year Commemorative Community Quilt Project
To commemorate the lives of the first documented Africans to arrive in British Colonial North America in August 1619, the Sons & Daughters of the United States Middle Passage, a hereditary society for individuals who descend from enslaved Africans and their enslaved/freed descendants, is commissioning a community quilting project. There is evidence that Africans were brought to North America by the Spanish in the early 1500s,; however, 1619 is also significant since our country began under British rule. This year marks the 400th year since 1619, and we are asking for 400 blocks, containing 4 individual blocks (see the instructions). These blocks will be assembled, connected to backing, and hand-tied.
Quilts have a special meaning to African-Americans. There is evidence that African-Americans have been quilting for as long as they have been a part of this nation. The making of quilts had a profound effect on the lives of enslaved women. They sewed, knitted, and quilted for themselves and the entire household and slave operation. Through quilts they found an outlet for their experiences, talents, and emotions. They quilted together, building strong bonds. Most enslaved people were forbidden to read or write; yet, through quilting, they communicated the tragedy, joy, and milestones of their lives. Although slavery denied them physical freedom, their creative talents and artistry showed no bounds. To honor the legacy of African-Americans, we chose to sponsor this quilting project. We selected the log cabin pattern for the quilt because of its use as a signal on the Underground Railroad.
Each assembled block denotes the 400 years since the arrival. The design of the quilt, Sunshine and Shadow Log Cabin, represents the dark days of slavery (246 years—1619 to 1865), Reconstruction, lynching, and Jim Crow laws (90-100 years after slavery), segregation ( at least 350 years—1619 to 1968 and ongoing), and no justice or repair for past wrongs. The red center of each block represents misery and lives lost during slavery, the slave trade, racial violence, and our nation’s wars. The lighter shades represent family, faith, community, freedom, hope, ingenuity, achievement, and survival. The ties that bind the quilt represent the larger American community (every member)—because all citizens serve our nation (paying taxes, fighting in wars, volunteering, educating, and nurturing families) and make it work for all of us. The colors of the darker shades, browns and blacks, represent the many shades of African-Americans. The cross-like shapes of the completed block symbolize sacrifices, albeit forced, by enslaved people in the building of this nation. Their labor fueled the rapid growth of the country. Almost 4 million people were enslaved in 1865. Millions more were enslaved or “indentured” over the 246 year period.
To learn more about how slavery impacts current problem and issues, click here.
After the end of slavery, African-Americans were not compensated for lost wages or the inability to accumulate and pass down wealth. They were told to achieve while being shut out of major government programs like the Veterans Administration Act, National Housing Act of 1934, unions, and majority public universities, colleges, and local schools. These programs and institutions had little value to African-Americans, but fueled economic empowerment of majority families and allowed them to build wealth, vastly outpacing African-American families. This explains much of the wealth disparities we see today. Mass incarceration (over-sentencing of African-Americans) has further devastated their families (loss of wages, and children without fathers and mothers). Without redress, it will take 228 years for African-Americans to reach the same economic levels of the majority groups today, despite being a part of the American story since its beginning. Notwithstanding all of the challenges and hurdles placed in the path of African-Americans, they manage to achieve in all segments of the society. We hope all Americans will come together to identify solutions to eliminate the existing disparities.
One way to help the African-American community is to realize that implicit bias exists and causes others to see them as lazy, violent, less intelligent, etc. People must actively work to eradicate biases from their minds. To do this, one must realize that race is a socially constructed concept and has no basis in biology. Race was created to justify slavery and to create winners and losers in our society. Violence is a result of poverty and lack of opportunity and not “race.” Everyone needs to understand that African-Americans are no different than any other loosely formed group—there is no “one” leader, religion, or enforceable code of conduct. We are all human and make up the human quilt of the world.
Since quilts beautifully bring many pieces together for a stated purpose, our quilt symbolizes the diversity of our nation and many individuals coming together to make all of our lives better. By getting diverse people to help us, we want the quilt to symbolize many different groups and individuals working together for the purpose of commemorating an important segment of our larger community. While working on the quilt, we hope people will contemplate the plight of African-Americans and strive to help eradicate disparities; we are as strong as the weakest among us.
The completed quilt will be displayed at colleges and universities throughout the country, and we are planning for it to be displayed in a museum. We are asking everyone to submit pictures and video, which will be compiled, to help tell the story of the making of the quilt. All contributors, of blocks and money, will be identified. We are also asking people who want to commemorate the life of an enslaved person to write their names on their block, using waterproof permanent fabric pen.
The quilt was designed by Camile Amadio, an avid quilter, and Dr. Evelyn A. McDowell, the President of Sons & Daughters of the United States Middle Passage. Camile and her family were early supporters of the organization. We also have quilting advisors and coordinators. Their names are on our information page, www.sdusmp.org. Please contact us for additional information and for other ways to help us. Donations can be made on our website. The project is also supported by Afro-American Historical Society Museum Inc.
Optional discussion questions for groups:
In small groups, discuss your feelings about the above essay. Is racism real? Who is to blame for the disparity in African-American outcomes? Is any of this information new? What was learned in school and what was not learned? What if anything should be done about the plight of African-Americans? What should African-Americans do? What should the government do? What should the larger community do? Do you believe some of this information is false? If so, were you able to find information disputing the claims in question? How would you feel if you were an African-American, given this history? Should African-Americans just “get over” slavery? If so, how would you advise them to forget or forgive injustices? Would you give the same advice to other groups dealing with horrendous grief and loss such as Jewish Holocaust or Native American descendants?
Do you have remaining questions? If so, submit your questions and comments on the website: www. sdusmp.org on the contact page.