Of all of the performances that I had the privilege to see this past weekend at the T-Bone Walker Blues Fest, the ladies of the Pleasant Hill Quilting Group were the most interesting and they were certainly the most unique. These woman put on a very spirited and very spiritual performance each night. If you ever get the chance to see them in action, you should take advantage of it. Their performance is like nothing you have ever seen before.
Back in our pre-civil war times, the slaves of the South had many different ways to communicate with each other. Due to the cruelty of their enslavement, they were unable to just talk as we all find so natural. We have to remember though. It is our human nature to share information. One of the most common ways for slaves to communicate with each other was in their song and in their work. The slaves developed codes that they would sew into their quilts that would often pass on information such as the safest way to escape or the safest way to the Underground Railroad leading them north to freedom.
For instance, a North Star sewn into a quilt would signal that a slave should go north. This would often be used in conjunction with the old slave spirtual song “Follow the Drinking Gourd”, which contains a reference to the Big Dipper constellation. Two of the Big Dipper’s points lead to the North Star which again corresponds to the North Star sewn into the quilt.
The Pleasant Hill Quilting Group is a group of quilters from the East Texas town of Linden that lend their talents to the art of quilt making and also to the history of quilt making. Each quilt they sew is a replica of an old slave quilt and their performances are a wonderful mix of telling of the quilt codes sewn into these beautiful quilts as well as singing the old spiritual songs that tell the stories of how to escape to freedom. The song leader describes what each square means and in between the squares they sing.
The Pleasant Hill Quilting Group meets each Monday afternoon at the old Pleasant Hill/ Rosenwald School to quilt and build community. The Pleasant Hill/ Rosenwald school was built in 1925 to serve the African American community and was in continuous operation as a two room school house until 1964. Today the building is on the National Register of Historic Places and is used as a community center. If you are interested in stopping in and seeing this historic structure, it is open for tours each Monday while the ladies are there working. Each quilt that is sewn is sold to help defray the costs of preserving this little piece of East Texas history.
The ladies of the Pleasant Hill Quilting Group donated one of their quilts to the T-Bone Walker Blues Fest and it was auctioned off Saturday night. It was great to sit back and watch two of the Carriage House Bed and Breakfast’s guests fight over it. Greg from California finally won it for $750 dollars. You should have seen the look of delight in these ladies faces at the idea of getting that type of money.
I and several of our guests had the opportunity to look hard at the quilt Sunday morning after breakfast. Many of you know that my mother is a long time quilter and the quilts on our beds are all hand made by her. We all admired the beautiful hand stitching which is so rare to see today. Greg said that he was considering donating it to his local school district so that they can use it in their history classes.
The quilt tells the story of a very horrible time in U.S history and these ladies are keeping the stories alive through their performances.