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Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad [Paperback]

Jacqueline L. Tobin , Raymond G. Dobard
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Mar 2000
The fascinating story of a friendship, a lost tradition, and an incredible discovery, revealing how enslaved men and women made encoded quilts and then used them to navigate their escape on the Underground Railroad.  

"A groundbreaking work."--Emerge

In Hidden in Plain View, historian Jacqueline Tobin and scholar Raymond Dobard offer the first proof that certain quilt patterns, including a prominent one called the Charleston Code, were, in fact, essential tools for escape along the Underground Railroad. In 1993, historian Jacqueline Tobin met African American quilter Ozella Williams amid piles of beautiful handmade quilts in the Old Market Building of Charleston, South Carolina. With the admonition to "write this down," Williams began to describe how slaves made coded quilts and used them to navigate their escape on the Underground Railroad. But just as quickly as she started, Williams stopped, informing Tobin that she would learn the rest when she was "ready."   During the three years it took for Williams's narrative to unfold--and as the friendship and trust between the two women grew--Tobin enlisted Raymond Dobard, Ph.D., an art history professor and well-known African American quilter, to help unravel the mystery.

Part adventure and part history, Hidden in Plain View traces the origin of the Charleston Code from Africa to the Carolinas, from the low-country island Gullah peoples to free blacks living in the cities of the North, and shows how three people from completely different backgrounds pieced together one amazing American story.

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Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad + Harriet Tubman + Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom
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Product details

  • Paperback: 220 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group; 1st Anchor Books Ed edition (1 Mar 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385497679
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385497671
  • Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 2.5 x 13.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 490,781 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
IN 1994 I TRAVELED TO CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA, TO LEARN more about the sweet-grass baskets unique to this area and to hear the stories of the African American craftswomen who make them. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Let's get the facts straight 4 Feb 1999
By A Customer
If you're interested in how human beings survive and thrive under adverse circumstances and are specifically interested in the reliance and resourcefulness of the bearers of African culture, you'll enjoy this book. I feel someone should respond to the profoundly inaccurate characterzations of this book by "danael@earthlink.net from California" and to a lesser degree "A reader from Oregon." Contrary to claims by Danael, NOWHERE in the book do the authors "attempt to usurp the origin of quilting patterns and assign them to another group." In fact, early on they state very clearly that the tradition of quilting they describe is "a cultural hybrid, mixing African encoding traditions with American quilt patterning conventions..." Another blatant inaccuracy is the statement that no original African-American quilts appear in the book. This is simply not true. The book contains color reproductions of African, traditional African-American, and contemporary African-American quilts, including a quilt belonging to Frederick Douglass. As for the Oregon reader's statement that "title is a misnomer as to total content" this is also not factual. The book's title "Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Undeground Railroad" is a very precise and complete description of the book's contents. Another statment by the same reviewer is so inaccurate as to be bizarre: "The amount of information contained about quilts and patterns and their meanings could be explained in a 1-2 page article." The origins and possible meanings of over ten patterns are discussed, each pattern requiring several pages worth of exposition. I hope that no one is discouraged from reading this remarkable book by reviews that fail the test of basic accuracy. This book is worthy of attention and study.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely an outstanding book. 4 Mar 1999
By A Customer
I have always been a student of history and considered myself fairly well informed. I am also a musician and thought I knew something about spirituals. This book destroyed both beliefs. I will never view a quilt or hear a spiritual again without new found knowledge.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent oral history 3 Jun 1999
By A Customer
Really good account of an oral history story. True, there aren't many concrete facts in this book, but not many concrete facts exist about women's day-to-day history, day-to-day African American slave history, and slave involvement in the Freedom Train. This book presents what has traditionally been an oral history story and "passes it on" to a wider audience. I thank the authors and Ozella McDaniel for letting me share in their community.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting book 24 Nov 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I had also ordered the Underground Railroad patterns in the book of the sampler and now understand the background to some of the designs
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5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating, inspiring book 30 Dec 1998
By A Customer
Dr. Dobard and Ms. Tobin tell a fascinating story, which I know they've been researching a long time. About a year after James Ransome's and my children's picture book, SWEET CLARA AND THE FREEDOM QUILT was published in 1993, I received a call from Ms.Tobin, who was searching for information about quilts and the underground railroad. Although the inspiration for Sweet Clara, a work of fiction, came from hearing a quilter on National Public Radio mention escape routes being sewn into quilts, we had never found actual documentation or confirmation. Now, incredibly, it seems that elements of the story, and the quilt James Ransome painted as Sweet Clara's escape route, somehow ring true to parts of Ozella McDaniel Williams' account of slaves using quilts to communicate.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
I have read of hints of this in other books and was pleased to read a book on the subject. I'm sure there will be those that do not think there is enough proof of the story, but it is like the American Indian it was handed down by word of mouth. I would love to have some of these quilts for our annual quilt show, I have some of the patterns but they were not made by the African Americans.
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