Books, videos make tracks to Underground Railroad—April 17, 2009
One subject that has always interested me is the Underground Railroad. The library has a wide variety of adult and juvenile fiction and non-fiction books as well as videos on the subject.
In particular, I find fascinating the quilts and songs that were used to lead the slaves to freedom. Women would sew different patterns into these quilts that would show runaway slaves how to reach freedom in the North. These seamstresses were very talented artists who could make a beautiful pattern into a map. Each pattern used had a different meaning. A few examples of the block patterns and meanings are: “monkey wrench” alerted slaves to gather the tools and supplies they would need to travel with; “tumbling blocks” announced that it was time to escape; and “bear’s paw” instructed runaways to follow the bear tracks through the mountains, staying away from the roads.
An old one-legged sailor by the name of Peg Leg Joe would help slaves to escape. He hired himself out to plantations as a handyman, where he would befriend slaves and teach them what sounded like a harmless folk song that would help lead them to freedom. The chorus of the song, said, “Follow the drinking gourd! Follow the drinking gourd. For the old man is a-waiting for to carry you to freedom if you follow the drinking gourd.” The music and complete lyrics for this song can be found in the book “Follow the Drinking Gourd” by Jeanette Winter.
A few of the other books on this subject that can be found in our library are: “Secret to Freedom” by Marcia Vaughan, “Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt” by Deborah Hopkinson, “Stealing Freedom” by Elisa Lynn Carbone, “The Runaway Quilt” and “The Lost Quilter” by Jennifer Chiaverini, and “Hidden in Plain View” by Jacqueline Tobin. Look for these and other titles about the Underground Railroad at the library.