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Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of…

Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground…

by Jacqueline L. Tobin, Raymond G. Dobard (Author)

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In 1994,Jacqueline was visiting historic Charleston when she stopped at the famous Old Marketplace and was drawn to a stand selling beautiful quilts. She bought one and the vendor, an elderly African American woman, started to tell her a story about how quilts were used by slaves to communicate on the Underground Railroad. This was something Jacqueline had never heard before but several months passed before she began what was to become a long, and fascinating quest to learn about the secret codes of the quilts. With the help of many historian and quilters, she traced African cultural history, cultural memory, oral history and the stories of codes, spirituals, and secret societies both in Africa and in the USA. Mrs. Ozella McDaniel Williams, the woman who initially sold Jacqueline the quilt and started her on her journey, was a *griot*, an African term for a storyteller and keeper of cultural and heritage, usually passed down from generation to generation. Gradually, the quilt code patterns were revealed. The various patterns used in quilting, from the designs, to the colours, to the stitching, each represented a message, a direction or a directive, guiding the slaves in their attempts to escape slavery and make their way north to Canada and freedom. Since slaves in the 1800s were not legally allowed to learn to read or write, their songs, or spirituals also often contained coded messages, thus rendering songs and quilts - all *hidden in plain view* - a sort of audio-visual form of communication between them.

One particular example I found fascinating was that each *safe* station along the way had a code name. For example Detroit, Michigan was *Midnight*, and Dresden, Ontario (Canada) was *Dawn*. The coded message *from Midnight to Dawn* meant to travel from Detroit to Dresden. This was given as a sample of a specific coded message but it struck me particularly because I happen to also have another book by Jacqueline Tobin, published 8 years after Hidden in Plain View. Its title? From Midnight to Dawn - The Last Tracks of the Underground Railroad. Suddenly, that title took on a whole new meaning for me.

Hidden in Plain View has illustrations, photos, a glossary and a timeline, and is fascinating reading, giving new insight into a part of history we thought we knew but are still learning about. ( )
  jessibud2 | Feb 17, 2016 |
The book was such inspiration to me that I began and completed my first quilt. Many African Americans are not aware of how important quilts were in the Underground Railroad Great Escape Procedures. Quilting Blocks were used as creative pictorial communication devices just as our ancient ancestors used pictorial communication in our Kamitic (Ancient Egyptian) African Culture. Talk about "By Any Means Necessary" to attain "God Given Freedom", this was a major intelligent task. Many of the symbols used in African Textiles many, many years ago are used in todays quilts.
In response to "oregonobessessionz" surely you don't think that you can conclude that base on so called facts relating to the people with a "History of Slavery" that you are aware of what was going on among the "slaves" networking together to find ways to be free of bondage. To know truth you must live it. So therefore unless your family members were slaves themselves how can you determine what creative abilities "slaves" possessed (which is the reason why these Talented People were such a hot commodities) before they were forced into bondage to free themselves. You should be mindful of the fact that these people ("slaves") had a rich civilization before the undeveloped Northern Caucasian came down from the mountains wagging war on civilized people all over Europe and Africa to name a few. I think that you owe it to yourself and your family to research "African History" before you conclude what so called "slaves" were or were not capable of base on a short time line. Slavery has a Three Hundred Year plus time line. I think your research is grossly incomplete because it is not holistic reasoning. I am certain that many secrets among "slaves" were never revealed to this day. I Thank God for the many people who secretly assisted and died in the operation of the "Underground Railroad" to help free (Slaves) people from bondage. A "God Given" right is to have free will so that we may all equally share in our development into our most highest spiritual nature.
Peace and Love
  CherylAJ | Feb 11, 2016 |
A borrowed book. Like I need to borrow a book with the stack of TBRs on the shelf.
  Greymowser | Jan 22, 2016 |
I bought this book at the gift shop at New Market Battlefield in Virginia. It purports to explain secret codes embedded in quilts and spirituals, supposedly used to convey messages to escaping slaves, but much of it is highly speculative. Neither the contemporary quilts nor the humans involved are around to document or verify the practice of passing information in this fashion. It is well illustrated, but the writing is pretty dry, like a term paper for a required subject. The book does contain worthwhile historical information on quilting patterns and techniques, African fabrics, plantation life, Underground Railroad routes and so on. It includes an excellent time-line of 4 centuries of significant events in the history of slavery. There must be better sources for this information, however. ( )
  laytonwoman3rd | Apr 13, 2013 |
OK, so I know its actually a myth (now...)but still interesting and good for tracking down other sources... ( )
  ScoutJ | Mar 31, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jacqueline L. Tobinprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dobard, Raymond G.Authormain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385497679, Paperback)

When quiltmaker Ozella McDaniels told Jacqueline Tobin of the Underground Railroad Quilt Code, it sparked Tobin to place the tale within the history of the Underground Railroad. Hidden in Plain View documents Tobin and Raymond Dobard's journey of discovery, linking Ozella's stories to other forms of hidden communication from history books, codes, and songs. Each quilt, which could be laid out to air without arousing suspicion, gave slaves directions for their escape. Ozella tells Tobin how quilt patterns like the wagon wheel, log cabin, and shoofly signaled slaves how and when to prepare for their journey. Stitching and knots created maps, showing slaves the way to safety.

The authors construct history around Ozella's story, finding evidence in cultural artifacts like slave narratives, folk songs, spirituals, documented slave codes, and children's' stories. Tobin and Dobard write that "from the time of slavery until today, secrecy was one way the black community could protect itself. If the white man didn't know what was going on, he couldn't seek reprisals." Hidden in Plain View is a multilayered and unique piece of scholarship, oral history, and cultural exploration that reveals slaves as deliberate agents in their own quest for freedom even as it shows that history can sometimes be found where you least expect it. --Amy Wan

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:52 -0400)

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Tobin met Ozella Williams in the Old Market Building in Charleston, South Carolina, and learned of the oral tradition and coded quilts used to navigate escapes on the Underground Railroad.

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