Quilts & Coverlets
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  • Jessie B. Telfair (1913–1986)
  • Parrott, Georgia
  • 1983
  • Cotton with muslin backing and pencil inscription
  • 74 x 68 in.
  • American Folk Art Museum, gift of Judith Alexander in loving memory of her sister, Rebecca Alexander, 2004.9.1
  • The concept of a freedom quilt can be traced at least as far back as the Civil War, when women were urged to “prick the slave-owner’s conscience” by embroidering antislavery slogans and images into their needlework. Although the existence of Underground Railroad quilts has not been documented except through oral tradition, the idea that quilts were used to encode paths to freedom has persisted into the present. This is one of several freedom quilts that Jessie Telfair made as a response to losing her job after she attempted to register to vote. It evokes the civil rights era through the powerful invocation of one word, “freedom,” formed from bold block letters along a horizontal axis. Mimicking the stripes of the American flag, it is unclear whether the use of red, white, and blue is ironic or patriotic, or both.
  • Photo by Gavin Ashworth