Slave Code Quilts Deemed a Hoax

Filmmaker and New York Times journalist Noam Cohen turns in a tremendous Page 1 scoop today. Apparently the City of New York, on the verge of creating a memorial to abolitionist Frederick Douglass, has scrapped plans to include a granite quilt and two adjacent plaques. The stone quilt was intended to honor a practice wherein slaves stitched hidden codes into quilts to provide clues along the Underground Railroad on how to escape.

The codes-in-quilts as history came into vogue with a 1999 “Hidden in Plain View” and was highlighted on Oprah along with the black and white descendants of Thomas Jefferson. Now the view of most historians is the lovely story of the special quilts is a “myth”.

Hats off to Cohen for having the moral courage to write an article that unseats a story that many of us would like to have been true on the grounds that it ennobled and humanized slaves but just wasn’t. The heroism of those such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass is such that to include myth along with their real achievements only takes away from their very real value to history.


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