Okay, as some of you know, I gave a speech in my public speaking class today on the legend of the Underground Railroad quilts. I was chosen to represent my class at presentation night this Monday. When I did the speech today, it seemed to have some rough edges. Could you guys look over it and offer feedback and/or pointers, pretty-please? Thank you! In the 1990's, a theory emerged that quilts had been used as a secret code on the Underground Railroad to help escaping slaves to freedom. Jacqueline Tobin originally visited Charleston, South Carolina, to learn about the sweet-grass baskets unique to the area. What she ended up finding was a woman named Ozella Williams, who told her that the pattern in a quilt she was admiring in the historic Marketplace had once been used to help escaping slaves. As anybody would have been, Ms. Tobin was intrigued, but not until it was too late and she had already returned home. But when she contacted Mrs. Williams, she was told that she was not yet ready to hear the story, and would not hear it until she was. Three years later, after tremendous amounts of research on her own, Ms. Tobin returned to South Carolina to find Mrs. Williams and ask again to be told the story, this time in person. After finding Mrs. Williams, she was deemed 'ready', and was told to write it down. Ms. Tobin, author of Hidden in Plain View, a secret story of quilts and the Underground Railroad, was told that enslaved plantation seamstresses would sew ten quilts, each with a different pattern and meaning. Within the obvious pattern, however, were references to the African culture than only the slaves would recognize. They were hung on the fence or clothesline one at a time, looking as though they were being aired, starting with the Monkey Wrench, and ending with the Tumbling Boxes. The first quilt pattern I'm going to talk about is the Monkey Wrench pattern. According to the legend as told by Ozella Williams, the Monkey Wrench quilt was the first of the ten to be hung out. It supposedly signaled the slaves to begin gathering tools they would need on the journey north, such as weapons, compasses, or more traditional tools with which to build temporary shelters. In addition to telling them to gather physical tools, there is also a chance that the Monkey Wrench pattern also told slaves to gather mental tools, or always be alert. An excerpt from chapter four of Hidden in Plain View reads: The monkey wrench was an essential tool in transforming metal; mental tools could be used to transform slaves, to reshape self-images. Knowledge has always been the most effective tool no matter what the situation. At first glance, the Quilt Code recited by Ozella Williams seems to be nothing more than a nonsense story. There are five square knots on the quilt every two inches apart. They escaped on the fifth knot on the tenth pattern and went to Ontario, Canada. The monkey wrench turns the wagon wheel towards Canada on a bear's paw trail to the crossroads. Once they got to the crossroads they dug a log cabin in the ground. Shoofly told them to dress up in cotton and satin bow-ties and go to the cathedral church, get married, and exchange double wedding rings. Flying geese stay on the drunkard's path and follow the stars. At the beginning, it says that the monkey wrench turns the wagon wheel. Now, you may be thinking, Well, of COURSE it turns the wheel. It's a wrench. But if you look at it again, the Code says, The monkey wrench turns the wagon wheel towards Canada. This indicates that the monkey wrench is controlling the wheel in a very specific way. So the wheel isn't just being twisted because it's broken. The wheel as part of a wagon is being steered. So the figurative 'monkey wrench' may be a person, or, more likely, a group of people. When interpreted this way, the Monkey Wrench quilt pattern may have told slaves to be ready, because the person who would take them north was on the way. During her research, Jacqueline Tobin came to the conclusion that the monkey wrench would need to be somebody who was a common sight around the plantation, so as to not arouse suspicion, somebody who knew the plantation and the surrounding area well, and had access to whites and free blacks with power to intervene and provide shelter and food for runaways. While visiting the Frederick Douglass house in Washington, D.C., Ms. Tobin noticed the monkey wrench quilt on one of the beds. The curator told her that yes, it had belonged to the Douglass family, but they had been unable to identify the maker. Frederick Douglass was a free black, in addition to being a writer, abolitionist, and orator, with access to a network of many different types of people, including other free blacks, northern abolitionists, and the slaves themselves. Ms. Tobin suspected that Frederick Douglass may have been one of the monkey wrenches.. The other pattern I want to mention is the Star pattern. Throughout history, stars have been used as maps. Polaris, the north star, is always constant, and has been used over and over by people trying to orient themselves. In the Bible, the wise men followed the Star of Bethlehem to find the baby Jesus. A traditional folk song called, Follow the drinking gourd- The drinking gourd being the big dipper- contains instructions to follow the the handle of the Big Dipper to the North Star. Part of the lyrics read: The river's bank is a very good road, the dead trees show the way. Left foot, peg foot going on, follow the drinking gourd. Follow the drinking gourd, follow the drinking gourd, for the old man says, 'follow the drinking gourd'. ....... When the little river meets the great big one, the old man waits- Follow the drinking gourd. Folklorist H.B. Parks told a story about the first time he heard that song in 1912. He said: One day while riding through the mountains looking for [the] stock, I heard the following stanza sung by a little Negro boy, who was picking up sticks of dry wood near a Negro cabin. Follow the drinking gourd, follow the drinking gourd. No one knows, the wise man says, 'Follow the drinking gourd'. Parks went on to say that the boy's grandfather, who had been sitting near the cabin gave the boy a sound spanking with his cane, warning him not to sing that song again. When Parks asked the grandfather why the boy could not sing the song, he received no other explanation other than that it was bad luck. A year later, he heard another Negro singing it, and asked what the song meant. The singer, a local fisherman, told him that he didn't know. In Parks' account, the fisherman obviously did not trust him perhaps indicating that the song had a special meaning that was not for anyone else to know. In 1918, he heard it again, but with changed words, sung by a pair of sixteen-year-old boys, who told him they had learned it from a revivalist preacher. The lyrics they were singing were: Follow the risen Lord, Follow the risen Lord. The best thing the Wise Man says, Follow the risen Lord. Parks wrote of showing the song to his great-uncle, who, according to family tales, was connected to the Underground Railroad. The great-uncle told him that in the Anti-Slavery Society there were tales of a peg-legged sailor, called Peg-Leg Joe, who would travel to the south and teach slaves he met a trail to the north. According to the story, the one-legged sailor would travel around the south, taking odd jobs on plantations and pretending to be just an ordinary farm hand. While working, he would sing Follow the drinking gourd, and teach it to all the slaves he met. The following spring, many slaves from the plantations he visited would disappear. It was said that they had followed the trail Peg-Leg Joe had told them of. In the song the traveling sailor had taught the slaves, it is said that the 'drinking gourd' was the big dipper, the 'old man' was Peg-leg Joe himself, and the 'great big one' was the Ohio river, where the fugitives would be met by somebody who would take them north. Other religious songs, known as spirituals, were used as warnings and directions for fugitive slaves. Slaves on plantations had a grapevine system, and often knew when somebody attempted an escape. It was common for slaves to sing as they worked in the fields, to show the field master that they were still focused. Singing a particular song was a good way to send messages without arousing suspicion. According to Charles Blockson, a historian specializing in African-American culture and history, one titled Wade in the Water, based on the Bible story of God troubling the water in the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-4) was used as such a warning. In addition to knowing when friends were attempting to escape, slaves also knew when bloodhounds were released. If slaves were wading in the water, the dogs would have little to no scent to follow. The lyrics of this spiritual read: Wade in the water, wade in the water children. Wade in the water, God's going to trouble the water. See that host all dressed in white, The leader looks like the Israelite, God's going to trouble the water. See that band all dressed in red, looks like the band that Moses led. God's going to trouble the water. Slaves within hearing distance would hear the singing, and know that the escape had been discovered, and that the bloodhounds were coming. The legend of the Quilt Code aroused a lot of controversy. One of the blocks in the Code is the Log Cabin, which many people say did not exist until after the Civil War. Ms. Tobin explains this away in her book by talking about the poor quality of the fabric the quilts may have been made of, and the harsh lye soap that would eventually wear the quilts into rags from repeated washings. Some say that the Quilt Code was just a clever advertisement made up by Ozella Williams, designed to help her sell more quilts. It is likely that we will never know the full story of the quilts, if there is any story at all. But whether or not it's true, it's a wonderful story of teamwork and determination. NOTE: I don't read from a paper like it's written here. I have a paper that I get to use onstage with hints on it. But this is the basic idea of what I say.