WPA Quotes with Stories about Quilts


Betty Curlett, Arkansas: “Grandma was walking long wid the hack and somewhere she cut through and climbed over a railin’ fence. She lost her baby outer her quilts and went on a mile fore she knowed bout it. She say, ‘Lawd, Master Daniel, if I ain’t lost my baby.’ They stopped the hack and she went back to see where her baby could be. She knowed where she gout out the hack and she went back to see where her baby could be. She knowed where she got out the hack and she knowed she had the baby then. Fore she got to the fence she clum over, she seed her baby on the snow… that was John, my papa… We had plenty to eat and plenty flannel and cotton check dresses. Regular women done our quiltin’ and made our dresses… I took up crocheting. Miss Cornelia cut me some quilt pieces. She say ‘Betty that’s her talent’ bout me. Miss Betty say, ‘If she goin’ to be mine I want her to be smart.’… Aunt Joe is a fine cook. Miss Cornelia learnt her how. I could learned to played too but I didn’t want to. I wanted to knit and crochet and sew.”

Charlie Grant, South Carolina: “One time dey give my daddy a quilting en ax several women to come dere. Dey had a lot of chillun to cover en give a quilting so dey can cover dem up. Mistress tell dem to give so en so dis much en dat much scraps from de loom house… Dey was just a pattin en dancin en gwine on. I was sittin up in de corner en look up en patrol was standin in de door en call patrol. When dey hear dat, dey know something gwine to do. Dey took Uncle Mac Gibson en whip him en den dey take one by one out en whip dem. When dey got house pretty thin en was bout to get old man Gibson, he take hoe like you work wid en put it in de hot ashes… Old man Gibson went to de door en throwed de hot ashes in de patrol face. Dey try to whip us, be de old man Gibson tell dem dey got no right to whip his niggers. We run from whe’ we at to our home.”

Clara Cotton McCoy, North Carolina: “Mis’ Laughter went in an’ kneel down by de bed. “Mammy, Mammy,’ she say soft jus’ like dat. Mis’ ‘Riah’s hands caught hold of de quilt tight, but she ain’t opened her eyes.”

Hattie Clayton (“Aunt Hattie”), Alabama: “[The Yankees] drap right outen de sky… all ter once, dey was swarmin’ all ober de place wid deir blue coats a shinin’… Us chilluns run en hid in de fence corners en’ behin’ quilts dat was hangin’ on de line.”

Francis Black, Texas: “Us kids played in the big road there in Mississippi, and on eday me and ‘nother gal is playin’ up and down the road and three white men come ‘long in a wagon. They grabs us up and puts us in the wagon and covers us with quilts. I hollers and yells and one the men say, ‘Shet up, you nigger, or I’ll kill you.'”

Henry Fitzhugh, Arkansas: “My father was killed during the war. Went off to help and never came back. My mother, she died when I was a baby. She was lying down in her cabin before the fire – lying on the hearth, letting me nurse. The door was open and a gust of wind blew her dress in the fire. She dropped me and she screamed and run out into the yard. Old Miss saw her from the house. She grabbed a quilt and started out. She got to my mother and she wrapped her in the quilt to smother out the fire. But my mother done swallowed fire. She died. That’s the story they tell me. I was too little to know.”


Ida Rigley, Arkansas: “When the white folks had a wedding it lasted a week. They had a second day dress and a third day dress and had suppers and dinner receptions about among the kin folks. They had big chests full of quilts and coverlets and counterpanes they been packing back. Some of them would have big dances. A wedding would last a week, night and day… One morning before we was all out of bed the Yankees come… They didn’t burn any houses and they didn’t hesitate but they took everything… They took all Miss Betty’s nice silverware. They took fine quilts and feather beds.”

Maggie Broyles, Arkansas: “He found a crack at the side of the stick and dirt chimney, put the muzzle of the gun in there and shot [Mama] through her heart. The man flew. She struggled to the edge of the bed and fall. The children was asleep and I was afraid to move. The moon come up. I couldn’t get her on the bed. I put a pillow under her head and a quilt over her, but I didn’t think she was dead.”

Mamie Riley, South Carolina: “When de Yankees come… Dey went to my daddy’s house an’ take all. My daddy ran. My mother an’ my older sister wuz dere. My ma grab a quilt off de bed an’ cover herself all over wid it – head an’ all. And set in a chair dere by de fire. She tell us to git in de bed- but I ain’t get in. And she yell out when she hear ’em comin’: ‘Dere’s de fever in heah!’ Six of ’em come to de door; but dey say dey ain’t goin’ in – dey’ll catch de fever.”

Mary Barbour, North Carolina: “I reckons dat I will always ‘member dat walk, wid de bushes slappin’ my laigs, de win’ sighin’ in de trees, an’ de hoot owls an’ whippoorwhills hollerin’ at each other frum de big trees. I wuz half asleep an’ skeered stiff, but in a little while we pass de plum’ thicket an’ dar am de mules an’ wagin. Dar am er quilt in de bottom o’ de wagin, an’ on dis dey lays we youngins. An pappy an’ mammy gits on de board cross de front an’ drives off down de road. I was sleepy but I wuz skeered too, so as we rides ‘long I lis’ens ter Pappy an’ Mammy talk. Pappy wuz tellin’ Mammy ’bout de Yankees comin’ ter dere plantation, burnin’ de c’on cribs, de smokehouses an’ ‘stroyin’ eber’thing. He says right low dat dey done took marster Jordan ter de Rip Raps down nigh Norfolk, an’ dat he stole de mules an’ wagin an’ ‘scaped.”

Sam Word, Arkansas: “Now I’ll tell you another incident. This was in slave times. My mother was a great hand for nice quilts. There was a white lady had died and they were goin’ to have a sale. Now this is true stuff. They had the sale and mother went and bought two quilts. And let me tell you, we couldn’t sleep under ’em. What happened? Well, they’d pinch your toes till you couldn’t stand it. I was just a boy and I was sleeping with my mother when it happened. Now that’s straight stuff. What do I think was the cause? Well, I think that white lady didn’t want no nigger to have them quilts. I don’t know what mother did with ’em, but that white lady just wouldn’t let her have ’em. Now I’m puttin’ the oil out of the can – I mean that what I say is true. People now will say they ain’t nothing to that story. I’ll tell you something that may be amusing. Mother had lots of nice things, quilts and things, and kept em in a chest in her little old shack. One day a Yankee soldier climbed in the back window and took some of the quilts. He rolled em up and was walking out of the yard when mother saw him and said, ‘Why you nasty, stinkin’ rascal. You say you come down here to fight for the niggers, and now you’re stealin’ from em.’ He said, “You’re a G–D— liar, I’m fightin’ for $14 a month and the union.'”

Susan Davis Rhodes, Missouri: “My sister rolled up 3 of our baby sisters like a bundle in a quilt and told ’em don’t move or cry and as soon as she could unroll ’em and let ’em have some air she would. So she got on the train with them three little niggers in a bundle and toted ’em up under her arms like dey was her clothes and belongings, and put ’em under her seat on de train. De bundle was so big every time de conductor passed it was in de way and he would kick it out of his way. Sister protected dem de best she could. Soon as he pass, she opened it and let ’em have some air. When she see him coming back she wrap ’em up again. Dey was all sure glad to git off dat train.”

Walter Rimm, Texas: “One old fellow name John been a run-awayer for four years and de patterrollers tries all dey tricks, but dey can’t cotch him. Dey wants him bad, ’cause it ‘spire other slaves to run away if he stays a-loose. Dey sots de trap for him. Dey knows he like good eats, so dey ‘ranges for a quiltin’ and gives chitlin’s and lye hominey. John comes and am inside when de patterrollers rides up to de door. Everybody gits quiet and John stands near de door, and when dey starts to come in he grabs de shovel full of hot ashes and thorws dem into de patterrollers faces. He gits through and runs off, hollerin’, ‘Bird in de air!'”

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