Historian debunks 'harmful' Underground Railroad quilt codes theory – WNKY News 40 Television

says theory devalues enslaved escapees self sufficiency

GLASGOW, Ky. – Here at the tail end of Black History Month, one local historian delved into the truth behind one famous historical theory surrounding America’s dark slavery years.

Members of the Barren County Historical Society gathered to hear Historian Susan Lyons Hughes debunk the popular theory that friends of the Underground Railroad would sew and hang quilts embedded with intentionally coded patterns.

Some historians and many school systems teach that the shapes and motifs sewn into the designs would secretly warn escaped slaves on the run of the area’s immediate dangers or even where to escape on the Underground Railroad.

In her presentation ‘Code to Freedom or Con Job: Quilts as Codes on the Underground Railroad’ Hughes dove into why this narrative gained such popularity and what logical fallacies she says proves these quilt codes were nonexistent.

“What the harm is, is it teaches young people there was a code and that is not really true. But it also devalues the idea that enslaved people could [escape] on their own,” said Hughes.

If historical topics like these are right up your alley, be on the lookout for the Barren County Historical Society’s March presentation covering Women’s Suffrage.