Black Quilting, Black Folklore with Dr. Patricia Turner

0.75x 1x 1.25x 1.5x 2x 0:0000:47:15 Black Quilting, Black Folklore with Dr. Patricia Turner


Episode Summary

Professor Patricia Turner is a folklorist, professor, scholar, and researcher at UCLA. She’s written many books, including Crafted Lives: Stories and Studies of African American Quilters. Pat joins the Stitch Please podcast to share why it’s important to understand the broad diversity of Black people through quilting and what it means to think about quilts as artifacts to be studied within a cultural context. This opened up our conversation as we talked about the nine patch quilt block and how she used this common quilting pattern to communicate the breadth of the African-American experience through the quilter. Pat shares her views on urban legends, why they appeal to us, and what it means to think of something as a legend versus a fabrication. Pat also explains why it’s important to cherish and recognize the full humanity of Black folks and why that’s something that often gets overlooked. This episode is an enlightening lesson on legends, reality, and anthropological literary perspectives of black quilters. So tune in, get curious, and get inspired by this incredible conversation.

Episode Notes

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Lisa Woolfork 0:14

Hello Stitchers. Welcome to Stitch Please the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. I'm your host, Lisa Woolfork. I'm a fourth generation sewing enthusiast with more than 20 years of sewing experience. I am looking forward to today's conversation. So sit back, relax, and get ready to get your stitch together.

Hello everyone and welcome to the Stitch Please podcast. I am your host, Lisa Woolfork. And I am delighted to welcome the guest for today. I am not going to do an adequate job of summarizing. But I want to give us a clear, strong, resounding "hooray!" that we have Professor Patricia Turner with us today. She is a folklorist. She is a professor and scholar and researcher. She has written many books of great import, and the one that I'm interested in talking with her today about is Crafted Lives, which was published in 2009. It's stories and studies of African American quilters and Patricia came to my attention from Sara Trail at the Social Justice Sewing Academy. I was on Instagram. And I was looking at a panel that was going to be at the University of Mississippi about quilting and quilt legacies. And Professor Turner's book is published with the University of Mississippi Press. And so I was like, 'Oh, this is amazing,' and I think Sara from Social Justice Sewing Academy had tagged me in this. I'm like, 'This looks so much. This looks amazing. Thanks so much for turning me on to this.' And then Sara texted me. She was like, 'You should make Patricia Turner." And I was like, 'Sure, yes. Can you make that happen? Can you make an introduction?' And then she, like, sends me your info right away. And I was like, 'But wait, did you ask her first?' And she was like, 'Yes, yes, I did. Of course. Of course.' She's expecting you. So welcome, Professor Turner. Thank you so much for being here. How should I address you? You want me to call you Professor Turner?

Pat 2:22

Most people call me Pat.

Lisa Woolfork 2:24

Okay, well, thank you very much, Pat. And welcome to the Stitch Please podcast. I'm so excited.

Pat 2:30

So happy to be here. It's great.

Lisa Woolfork 2:32

I am delighted. So you are a folklorist.

Pat 2:36


Lisa Woolfork 2:37

And that falls under the discipline of- is that literary studies and cultural studies and anthropology. It seems like it's doing a little bit of everything.

Pat 2:45

It is, it's a little bit of all of the above. You know, folklorists take seriously the materials of everyday life. I knew I was a folklorist when I was in graduate school, one of my advisors had recommended- he heard and what I had described, I wanted my research to be folklore- and he encouraged me to sit in in an undergraduate class and folklore to make sure that it was a good fit. And I remember the day that the faculty member then, really famous folklorist Alan Dundes, the content for the day was Proverbs. And I realized that there were people who dedicated their lives to studying Proverbs. paremiologists, is what they're called. That was the literature of my own household. My parents didn't read Ralph Ellison, they didn't study the poets of the Harlem Renaissance, but Proverbs and gospel music and the sermons from the preacher, that was the culture of my family and families like mine. And I remember just sort of sitting back in the chair in this huge lecture hall at Berkeley and going, "Oh, I'm a folklorist. I'm going to be able to document the materials of everyday life in families like my own."

Lisa Woolfork 4:10

I really appreciate the ways that you were able to attach your family's personal forms of literacy, of world making with the church, and how those things are not contradictory, but that they're very compatible. There are a lot of folks that have gotten their start, a lot of Black folks that have gotten their start in and through the Black church. That's where we first did our first speeches for Easter. That's where we had opportunities to serve in leadership roles either in the usher board or the choir or whatever.

Pat 4:45

Even the presentation of self, even the presentation of self the way you were dressed, to go to church if you were in my generation and how your hair was done and how the outfit,... because you were presenting yourself and your family in the context of walking across that threshold, right?

Lisa Woolfork 5:04

Absolutely. Like we had church clothes, school clothes, and play clothes, right? Three different wardrobes, right? Like, you didn't play in your church clothes.

Pat 5:16

That was punishable.

Lisa Woolfork 5:17

It was punishable because kids tear up stuff, and you get to give him boundaries. So I was thinking about amplifying, like amplifying African American history through our everyday practices and understanding and remembering that every day we make Black history. Every single day that Black people exist on this planet we are making history, everyone is engaged in that process. But what you did so beautifully, I believe, is that you were able to examine how quilts and quilt making were not just- and this is air quotes, for those of you all who aren't on Patreon. And if you're not a Patreon subscriber, why are you not? It's only $2 a month. And like, I'm worth like, so much more than that. But what I was saying was, it's not “just” a domestic task, and in the ways that things that get attached with that label domesticity because of the way that our society is gendered that automatically gets dismissed and just regarded. Can you talk a little bit about the importance of quilting as a domestic art? Or do you see it as far more than that? Is it more? Is it a both/and situation?

Pat 6:25

It's definitely both/and, and I take my cues from the quilters themselves. So there are not very many quilters who are going to use that language. They're not going to say, 'You know, it's a domestic art for me.' That's not the vocabulary that's going to be used, even a word like "utilitarian." You know, that's our language that we use for each other. But there's certainly, within the quilters that I documented, people who say I make quilts for use. So I make quilts to sleep under. My mother made them. They were in necessity. We didn't even think about it. It had to happen. And all sorts of things that we would put in a frame around utilitarian domestic arts, and so forth. And then there are other quilters, who will talk about always thinking about the aesthetics of the final product. And this was their zone, their place where they could make the colors work. And they're relief from other kinds of activity. And other quilters who talk about it very artistically and have never made a quilt that anybody could sleep under and are completely invested in an art form. So it really is, it really is both/and.

Lisa Woolfork 7:41

Yes. And for y'all who haven't yet read the book Crafted Lives. It's organized as a nine patch. In part, there's a nine patch, y'all, in the organization of the book. And so of all the folks who you have interviewed and understood and talked with, you did profiles of nine different quilters to kind of pull together a singular piece or component. Of the nine that you remember, can you think about or reflect back on why you chose the nine patch of the different quilt blocks? I mean, I guess it's better than a drunkards path. I guess you don't want to, you know, that's unkind.

Pat 8:24

So, particularly with, again, the quilters that we would call the makers of utilitarian quilts, very common early question on was, 'What's the first patch you learned how to make?' And invariably, the nine patch shows up more than anything else for African American utilitarian quilters. It is the first thing that they learn to do, that they were taught to do. Any quilter knows why; It's simple and complicated at the same time, right? So it's easy to do. But you get to do nine things, you know, so you, that's fun. And so I'd heard nine patch over and over again. I'd seen nine patch over and over again. And I was trying to figure out how to organize the many quilters that I was privileged to interview and I wanted to communicate the breadth of African American experience through the quilter. So I knew I had to tell several stories, a lot of stories. And one day, it just hit me. Do nine. Focus on nine. Make it a nine patch organization. You know, you can sort of get to all of the range of kinds of Blacks who use quilts for aesthetic purposes, for functional purposes, know, the full range.

Lisa Woolfork 9:43

I think you're absolutely right. And I think it becomes a really, because the nine patch is so iconic, it is the first block that some folks make because it allows you to take nine little pieces and turn them into rows of three and then two and then finally one. And that kind of almost like reverse multiplication, I think, is something that people really appreciate learning when they first start with quilting. I really appreciate that. And when I hear you speaking, I hear, I don't know if you will be able to even articulate what these might be, but I feel like there's so many different genres of Black quilts that I think you know, one of the things that I find is such a powerful insight about your book, and that no one can really deny that Black quilting is not one thing. In the same way that Black people are not a monolith, Black quilting is not either. Can you talk a bit about why it's important to understand the broad diversity within Black quilting,

Pat 10:40

Because it's important to understand the broad diversity within Black people. And quilting exemplifies that. Quilting can be used... You know, you and I are having this interview on the day that we're all waiting the results of the Ahmaud Arbery case, so many of your listeners will be hearing this and they'll know you and I at this moment, don't know the jury is That's right,

Lisa Woolfork 11:08

The jury is out. But when this release is in 2022, the jury will be back in and we would all have found out.

Pat 11:14

And we would all find out but so fresh in my mind, of course of the closing arguments, in that case, from the prosecutor and the defense. And this argument that it's self-defense for these individuals to have shot Arbery because he was a Black man running- They had one view of what a Black man in that neighborhood could be. They had one place that they put Black people. In Crafted Lives and in my work, I want to reinforce all of the different places where we are. And one of the quilters that I document in one of the nine is a woman who learned to quilt in Alaska. People find that incongruous that a Black woman could have grown up in Alaska and learn to quilt there. And she learned from an integrated group of people. She learned, and her quilts almost always gifts that she does, you know, which is a fairly common thing with women of her generation to make a quilt when somebody is having a baby or a birthday, but it is her favorite gift kind of gift to give for a baby shower is a quilt. She always buys fabric. She doesn't do repurposed material. Is very methodical. It's important for the world to know that that's the experience of some Black women. And that's a different experience than someone that I interviewed who fits more of what people picture when they hear 'African American quilter.' And I can almost sort of see it sometimes when people ask me about my work. They're envisioning an elderly Black woman with a hoop and gray hair and making a utilitarian quilt that's going to look like something that they might have seen in a Gee's Bend exhibit or something like that. And I do interview women like that. But that's not the scope of Black women's experience. My little goal was to talk about the breadth of our experience using quilts as the vehicle. You could do it with food ways. You could do it, you know, with any number of other cultural attachments.

Lisa Woolfork 13:34

And what I appreciate about this claim is that the nine quilters in your book that you profiled are not like the entire gamut, you know, of African American quilting. These are nine individuals who are nine points on a hugely large trajectory, right? Hugely large, it's not linear. Nothing is linear. And you go from quilt A to get to quilt D to get to quilt G, that's not how any of it works. But what I also appreciated was the way that you discuss the limitations and what it means to live under the limited view of white imagination. And this is something that Claudia Rankine talks about in the book Citizen when she says because white men can not police their imaginations, Black people are dying. And it goes back to also I was thinking about Chimamanda Adichie and the danger of the single story. When you have one story, right, when your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. I have seen I have not followed the trial in any way. I have no reserves for it emotionally. But I do know that there is this limitation wherein just being Black criminalizes Black people doing regular innocuous everyday things. And the notion that somehow him running through that neighborhood was an act of aggression from which these people needed to pursue him for their safety is just another reflection of the terrible state of where we are. And how it just feels so exhausting in that, so many things change. So many things change, and some don't. So I am hoping for a very good outcome for this. That's what I'm hoping for. We shall see if it comes to pass. I wanted to think about Quilt Studies as a discipline. And what that involves, would you consider yourself one of the architects of Quilt Studies?

Pat 15:56

Not really, you know, I think I'm very flattered to have that association.

Lisa Woolfork 16:01

Well, you know, the Quilt Studies that I want to read. How bout that? Okay. No, I think discipline as a whole, though, don't you? Well, say more, say more, you would know.

Pat 16:10

I think that I come to quilts, as I say and you said it earlier on very much, from the anthropological literary perspective, thinking about them as artifacts to be studied within a cultural context. Many of the people who would hang out the sort of Quilt Study shield have studied textiles much more systematically than I have. These are the people who analyze the quilts with ultraviolet lights and figure out whether the thread is cotton thread, or polyester, which is a really great tool for dating quilts is what kind of thread and the use of color, what colors, what dyes existed historically. The quilt studies people can tell you, part of what they can do with dating quilts has to do with you know, somebody will say 'this quilt’s been in my family for five generations,' and a good quilt studies person will go, you know, 'that dye really didn't come about until the 1920s. It couldn't be five generations.' So I think of the Quilt Studies people as having a little bit more of the scientific technical acumen than I have. So I yield to them. I'm perfectly happy to be a folklorist who specializes in quilts around culture, and to be able to use the work of the people who approach it more scientifically, you know, in service to an argument when I need it.

Lisa Woolfork 17:44

And I think what I'm noticing and why I find your work so attractive, and so appealing, and so necessary, is that often the folks who are engaged in that type of quilt study, at least in my estimation, and again, mine is not nearly as extensive as your so I'm just talking out the side of my neck as it were. It feels as though those folks seem like gatekeepers, and that it seems as though this need to, or maybe you can identify some ways that they help. Okay, so this is where I'm getting this from. I can't even remember the date that I did this, but years, years ago, so long ago, in my early early time here in Charlottesville. I went up to Monticello, because Gladys-Marie Fry was there, right? I know, you know her and work with her. Deborah Grayson knows her and worked with her. She came to visit and was talking about quilts up at Monticello, Monticello being Jefferson's plantation, Thomas Jefferson's plantation. So whenever Jefferson's Monticello seems to have something in this community, it's a big attraction, whether it's his gardens, in the garden, tour, the house, blah, blah, blah. So she was there. And she was basically explaining that part of the challenge of her work was so much of the doubts and incredulity from white women, and in particular, white quilt historians who concentrated in the Civil War, not giving any type of respect or recognition to enslaved women, or/and enslaved women who made and contributed to these quilts. Instead, what she was able to draw on, as she was saying it, was that you have all these journals from 19th century white women, and they are all about how being a slave mistress was the hardest thing on earth, and that they work their fingers to the bone, providing for their enslaved people, because there was such good Christians, you know what I mean? Like they're very self aggrandizement, and well some of them can be. And it just felt to me like there was a bit of a reproof. And I remember this because I think she like raised an eyebrow and like pivoted and everything, and was like 'and quilt historians,' you know what I mean? And it just felt like following, you know, the same path that we've seen so much when it comes to the materials of Black history and Black life- being seen as an afterthought or disregarded or 'No, no, no, you couldn't have made this. A Black woman could not have made this. Black people just didn't have the 1-2-3 in order to do these things,' you know? And so, I wonder if that was just a bit of repartee, that she was maybe not as frustrated with them, or some of the things that she was finding in response. I remember that vividly- what looked like a bit of a side eye. And so I don't know if that was related to some particular research that she had done. I was always just like, 'Okay, I'll be sure to look at these, "historians" with some side-eye.' And now you're saying they've gotten lasers and scanners and the stuff that they have, and all the FBI crime shows to date these quarters? You know, and I'm like, what, what are they using that for the benefit of Black people? I doubt it, you know, so what do you think?

Pat 21:01

So, again, for members of your audience, who are not familiar with Gladys-Marie Fry, she was working in the 1970s 1980s. Her biggest contribution to African American Quilt Studies is a wonderful book called 'Stitched from the Soul' about quilts in the era of slavery. And it's really one of the first, you know. She's a pioneer. She's one of the first Black women to look at African American quilts and, you know, to write a serious published book about them. And I think that Quilt Studies or Quilt Historians, white Quilt Historians, are the same as any other academics in terms of looking at history. So if you look at academics who look at music, for example, particularly that generation up to the 1970s 1980s, there are those that were dismissive of spirituals, dismissive of early jazz, and would have said, "Oh, you know, Black music is something inferior." Black literature, the same thing. The Harlem Renaissance was not up to the par of Hemingway and Faulkner and the contemporaries of those people. And there were Quilt Historians, who were similarly dismissive of the quilts from that era. Quilt Historians are no better or no worse than their counterparts in other areas. And in all of those zones, there were also people who were appreciative, white people who said, "Are you kidding me? Jazz is the greatest thing America has ever produced," and would quarrel, you know, with their other white counterparts on that. Similarly, with literature, "you kidding me? 'Invisible Man' holds its own in anything."

Lisa Woolfork 22:51

Hey, friends, hey, what are you doing on Thursday? around 3pm or so? You got 30 minutes to hang out with Black Women Stitch? You got 60? If so, come through for 30 minute, Thursdays. Thursdays 3pm Eastern Standard Time, you can chill with Black Woman Stitch on Instagram Live or talk with us through the two way audio on Clubhouse at 3:30pm Eastern Standard Time. That's Thursdays for 30 minutes. Come hang out, chill and have fun with us. See you Thursday.

So Like who's teaching Hemingway these days? Honestly. No shade, I'm 100% real right now, really.

Pat 23:39

So I think, you know, when she was working, it was the case that- and she was a first for many of those- that assemblage that you described Monticello, you know, there were probably not a lot of people who had ever met anyone, because Gladys was, you know, one of the first if not the first Black women that they would have met and said, 'Oh, I've studied quilts as well. I've looked at first-hand accounts of quilting practices and slave narratives. And I've looked at these materials, " and they'd not met anyone like that before.

Lisa Woolfork 24:14

Hmm. And so that explains why I heard the responses she might have gotten might have been adverse, adverse I would say.

Pat 24:23

Yeah, here's this Black woman. She's got a PhD in Folklore from Indiana University. What is that? And all of our firsts, all of our first are treated initially, if not forever, but certainly initially, with a degree of suspicion. You have to prove yourself, you know, and some people will let you prove yourself, and some people will never let you prove yourself. You know, who will never find you credible. But certainly for somebody like Gladys working in the 70s there were going to be people who were like 'wait, who is this woman?' and, and perhaps on their own front 'I wonder why it never occurred to me to read Black women stories about what they might have been doing during the Civil War. I wonder if that would have balanced these diaries I'm reading from the mistresses...?'

Lisa Woolfork 25:14

That's right. That's right. No, I think that is such an excellent point. I forget that it's easy to kind of like look back and valorize some of those times but there was a time when nobody was reading Zora Neale Hurston. Nobody. I mean, if it was not for Alice Walker, we would not have Zora Neale Hurston today in the way we have Zora Neale Hurston today. It was like her, and that group from the early 70s and late 60s, like mimeographing copies of this book, you know, after reading, you know, the Negro in literature and not having any Black women in it, you know, because all of this was so, so new. And it can feel like when you're building a discipline, that you want it to be right. You want it to be good, and you're invested in this outcome. But at the same time, as you were saying, it didn't occur to anyone, those who were in the majority of building this discipline, that it's worthwhile to bring in non white folks. It's just how the things worked. And I think that just goes back to the same reason that Negro History Week had to become Black History Month over like, a long period of time, because of this nature of exceptionalism, which doesn't always, it doesn't initially just give you a lot of praise, it gives you a lot of headache. Yeah. And so I can, I understand that. I think that's so important. I also wanted to ask about, and again, not particularly about the controversy, the Underground Railroad quilts have become, I think even more so beyond your publication date. It feels like this story is continuing to get told again and again and again, and you do some really wonderful explication in the book talking about why the story might have been created, and why the story is so attractive. And I love how you talked about Church's chicken, that Black folks have very, very strong opinions about Church's chicken. It is a Black folklore, a Black urban legend. I'm sure there's so many of these that we have. One of them is about Church's chicken. And the reason that the chicken breasts are so big is because they're poisoning us. But when I was a kid, it was the klan owned Church's chicken. And the chicken was so big, because they were trying to sterilize Black people and poison us. It's so weird how big that story is. Like I talked to Black people from different parts of the country, and they all have the same story. Like, how does the Church's chicken in Mississippi have the same klan poisoning ingredients as the Church's chicken where I grew up in Florida? The klan is really doing a big job, you know? So the reason I was bringing this up was how do we define what is a knowledge worth knowing? How do we define or separate "old wive's tales?," again with air quotes, because they're so dismissive and problematic and offensive with what could be considered the truth? Right? And what does it mean to have something be true, factually, and something else be true emotionally? You know what I mean? Like, it feels like to me there is this need to have some sense of agency. And that feels like that's what the Underground Railroad quilts kind of represent. And what we're talking about folks are a series of quilt blocks, or a series of quilts themselves, that were used to signal or identify if a house was a safe place, etc, etc. And that lore has grown from something that was like a small discovery into something bigger. And there's something bigger still where I think. I know. I didn't dream this, but Eleanor Burns is a white woman who does a lot of quilt instruction. And she had an Underground Railroad book that you could buy and make the patterns from. So there's several of those. Yeah, and yeah, so I guess you're right, there are quite a few. So I was wondering if you could talk a bit about the folklore aspect of that legend. And what it means to think about it as a legend versus a fib or a fabrication or a stratagem or whatever it may be. These distinctions don't even matter. What do you think?

Pat 29:29

So yeah, I think that the notion, the story, the narrative that fugitive slaves were able to escape on the Underground Railroad by knowing how to interpret a map that was embedded in a quilt that the title urban legend or contemporary legend is the best way of thinking about those kinds of narratives. Contemporary legends are narratives that, oh they trigger us. Like they hit a bunch of points for a lot of people, and we feel compelled to repeat them. They feel very believable to you, if you're inside the group. The older members of your audience will remember all of the dating ones about the hook, you know, if you went parking at the top of a mountain or deserted street, and there was an escaped guy from an institution in an asylum that you heard about on the radio, and you know, that was a popular one spiders and beehive hairdos..?

Lisa Woolfork 30:35

Yes. Okay. So these kinds of stories that kind of plant themselves in your brain because they play you.

Pat 30:42

And if you're a teenager, things that are warning you about dating seem very real to you. And very true and very plausible, and you don't see the flaws in the logic. And I think for African Americans who have been told over and over again, about the ignorance of enslaved people, and the lack of STEM abilities, of Black people, and so forth, to have a story that says, 'Your ancestors were so smart, that they figured out how to embed a map into a quilt and quilts are beautiful, and everybody likes quilt,' it just works as a legend. You see what's very believable about the story and you don't go, "Really? You would stand outside and, and the geese, the flying geese, you would know how far to go and-

Lisa Woolfork 31:36

And seven flying geese is seven miles like what

Right, you know. So the things that make it implausible don't occur to you. The things that make it plausible do. And so when these stories began to circulate and they really got a lot of heft from a couple of things. There was a book called Hidden In Plain View, which purported to document a woman who had heard the story from her mother, from her mother, from her mother all the way back through slavery. My view is that that woman just wanted to sell a quilt. And you can always sell a quilt better if you've got a good story to go with it. But that book was enormously popular, then there were several children's books that were also enormously popular. It planted the story. And many of those sort of quilt historians were talking about a few minutes ago, were incensed, because there really isn't any evidence that we can find that suggests, you know, there are all these slave narratives that were written and recorded in the 1930s. There were all sorts of things historically, at the time that could count his slave narratives. No one else had ever referred to quilts being used this way on the Underground Railroad, no ex slave ever, who use the Underground Railroad to escape had ever, ever said that quilts were a part of that in any way. So there's, there's no evidence there. And again, the quilt scholars can dive in even deeper with when the blocks that are described became popular. So it becomes this big battle between the sort of academic quilt community and sections there and the continued publication of children's books and people saying, "Oh, this needs to be in the curriculum about the Underground Railroad and they're like, "what you want to teach this false stuff." To me with any of these urban legends, they appeal to us because there is an underlying truth that can't be disputed. And the underlying truth that can't be disputed here, in my mind, is that those enslaved individuals who were able to make their way out of slavery and into the free states were enormously creative, were enormously brave. They used a variety of signals that we know nothing about. They knew how to get across the landscape. And what they did was commendable. And not only should we as African Americans be proud of them, but everyone should be proud of them if they want to be proud of American history and heroes and heroines in American history. They work for all of us. The most evidence we can maybe assemble is that perhaps there was situations where, you know, you'd be at one safe house on the Underground Railroad, and those people would give you the instructions on how to get to the next one. And they would say, you know, 'go 17 miles into the next community, and the next house will be the one you know, they're going to have a quilt on the fence and that's how you're going to know that's the safe house,' nothing particular about the blocks, nothing particular there. But that would fit with the material components of that era. But as an ethnographer it was just really fastenating to me to watch the dialogue, to just watch the back and forth and just the ire that some of the quilt scholars had about the whole affair.

I can understand how their ire and frustration and a discipline that they were trying to build being disregarded or not acknowledged, or kind of ran roughshod over, especially by someone who might not be considered a professional, by someone who just, you know, likes quilts, for example. And that's not enough to stand up against their academic credentials. At the same time, I can also see how some of that ire could just be interpreted as anti-Blackness. And that is so then those folks who have the need for the legend, who appreciate and approve the legend, because the legend proves, as you said, the undisputable creativity and resilience of Black folks see that as being disregarded. And so I can definitely see why and how it became so contentious.

I want to hear your thoughts about and again, this is a book y'all that I haven't read yet. And I don't know if Pat has not read it either. Oh,you said it;s on your list, Ashley's Sack. And this is a story, y'all, that I have seen. And I was really moved by the thing- I think I read about in the paper years ago- and this young girl was given a flour sack by her mother, when they were separated at a slave auction. The mother was being sold one way, the girl another. And the mother stitched by hand, this beautiful message, and maybe even a lock of her hair or something. And just said, 'I am your mother, I love you here is...' you know, just as much information as she could put on in short time, in the hopes that they might be reunited again. Maybe that's what the book is about. Maybe the book is about the study of that and about their story. I thought it was at the National Museum, the Smithsonian. That's where I thought it was in DC, the N-M-A-H-H I always get the initials wrong. But I thought it was there. But I don't know. I feel like I might have seen it when I was there. But that was a long time ago. But it feels like another version of the longing that the Underground Railroad represents. And that is, I mean, the Underground Railroad quilts represent, and that is a glimpse at the ingenuity of Black folks. One of the things that I tell like my students, and anybody actually, is that slavery is not Black people's shame. Slavery is not something Black people need to be ashamed of. Slavery is white people shame. But the way that the textbooks and history books have been written, at least ours in Virginia, were actually written by the Daughters of the Confederacy. They wrote our history books. They really did. And that's why we have these people around here that think it's the war of northern aggression. And, you know, like, it wasn't until like, maybe the 80s that these books got replaced. And even then there's controversy, well, you know, Virginia is full of racists. But well, it's also in America, which is all racist. But it does give me this image of wanting to kind of cherish and recognize the full humanity of Black folks. That's something that often gets overlooked, I think, when we think about 19th century Black life, at least on the casual level. And so to have this piece and to have this book and have it be so well received, I wonder if you imagine that we're turning a corner in some ways, perhaps, with looking at and centering the stories of Black girls, in this part of American life, maybe.

Pat 38:45

I don't know if I believe we're turning a corner. I'm old enough to remember when Alex Haley's 'Roots' came out. And people identified that book and the reception of it, and the fact that it became a best seller and that they created a mini series about it as a turning point in race relations in the United States. Because here was a Black man's book in a story where white people were tuning in and watching Kunta Kente being held up to the gods, a scene that everybody loves. And 'turning point' suggest that what happened in Charlottesville a couple of years ago wouldn't have happened. And so I don't see in the publication of a book turning points, but I don't want to be anti-progress. I tell my students all the time when they say, 'people are now are as racist as they ever were. And nothing has improved for Black people and everything,...the country is sort of saturated with hate,' I say 'no, you can't say that either.' Because if you say that you're saying that the work of John Lewis and Martin Luther King and Malcolm X meant nothing. What Angela Davis and what all those...Rosa Parks, none of that moved us forward. Alex, you know, all of that. We have moved forward. We have had a Black president. I was a dean at UCLA, you know, we have... you are a professor, this did not happen in the 1920s and 30s. Barack Obama would not have won Iowa in 1924. So, yes, I think there's something like the reception for 'Ashley's Sack' is a positive harbinger. But I think we have to be sanguine about, over-endowing some of these things with too much meaning, you know. There were the, you know, largely, you know, from the white community well meaning people who thought that Obama's election was signaling a post-racial environment, and we wouldn't have the kind of hate crimes, and we wouldn't have the confrontations that have become, you know, all too familiar to them now, only because we can record them. You know, they've always happened. That, you know, it's always been a crime to drive while Black. What we've got now is videotape and documentation.

Lisa Woolfork 41:11

And the ability to spread it everywhere, right, and to disseminate that this is happening. Yeah, 'Racism is not getting worse. It's getting filmed,' folks have said.

Pat 41:20

Yeah, yeah

Lisa Woolfork 41:21

I do appreciate that as well. Because there are like, I was talking to a student the other day and she was like, 'what we need is all the old people to die. And we will have racial progress.' And I was like, What?

Pat 41:33

No, as an oId person I'm really...

Lisa Woolfork 41:37

First of all, the people that came up here and attacked the students on this campus were your age. So I don't know what were all these…What these dead old people are doing that's so bad. You're thinking like, stop? That's not at all what's happening? Not at all. And so it is worth imagining that, yes, of course, there have been changes. There has been growth. But I think you are right too that there is this kind of attraction- and I'm not sure if it's laziness, it might be- to want to have it over with, right? To say, 'now we have done it. It was this book, or this president, or this election, or this person winning a Grammy, or this person winning ten Grammys, or, you know.

Pat 42:19

An exceptional person has done an exceptional thing. So that means that everyday lives, the lived experience of the rank and file has somehow improved. And the rank and file experience has not improved. It has, but it hasn't improved to the turning point point.

Lisa Woolfork 42:39

I would agree. And so that's why I think is important, as you are doing, is to get us to remember who we are and from whence we came. To hold on to those stories. To hold on to our history. To cherish that. Large or small, whether it's something that ends up in a book, or just something that you will record for your own personal family history. Because that knowledge of past can be so helpful to illuminating and building and building futures.

Do you have any projects you want to share as we wrap up, like anything you're excited about that you're working on that you might want to share with us? Do you sew? I didn't even ask you. You have this wonderful quilt book. And I didn't get, y'all the book just came yesterday, so I didn't read all of it. So I don't know she's an actual quilter.

Pat 43:29

She is a very poor quilter. I tell my students that my best skill with my hands is the keyboard. My machine of choice is the keyboard not a sewing machine. So I have made and finished a quilt. I felt it essential to do that. Then worked on parts of quilts and worked collectively with other people. But it's not my go to thing, you know, when I've got spare time to use. Especially when you've studied as many wonderful ones as I have, it makes it even more humbling. We have this wonderful exhibit in L.A. now on Black portraits in the Obama, the Obama portraits are there and Bisa Butler's quilt, Forever, is there. So when I go and look at Forever on the gallery wall, I don't go home and sew. I go home and write. I have a book coming out in 2022. I don't think the word 'quilt' appears in it at all, however, but the title of it is Trash Talk: Anti-Obama Lore and Racism in the 21st Century. And that'll be University of California Press. And it's about urban legends, rumors and conspiracy theories, starting in 2004 when Obama gave the nominating speech for John Kerry up through the inauguration of Joe Biden.

Lisa Woolfork 44:48

Wow. Oh my gosh, I cannot wait. 'Trash Talk.' Wow. That is fantastic. Well, Professor Patricia Turner, Pat, thank you so much. for talking with us today, and where can people find you if they want to learn more about your work? Should we go to your website?

Pat 45:07

Yeah, just put me in a UCLA search engine, the UCLA directory, and my email will come up there.

Lisa Woolfork 45:13

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. Again, this was wonderful.

Pat 45:18

Well, thank you, what you're doing on behalf of sewing and Black people and sewing. I know you gender it a little bit more. You know, one of my favorite chapters in my book is a Black man who quilts. And he gets a lot of props in the Black men who quilt do, but what you're doing with your work is so important to keeping it going. So you know, you write a book and it's finished and you go on. But what you're doing with the podcast and your organization is really commendable.

Lisa Woolfork 45:45

I thank you very much. And you honor me and you honor us by being here. So thank you.

Pat 45:51

All right. Let's keep in touch.

Lisa Woolfork 45:52


You've been listening to the Stitch Please podcast, the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black Lives Matter. We appreciate you supporting us by listening to the podcast. If you'd like to reach out to us with questions, you can contact us at If you'd like to support us financially, you can do that by supporting us on Patreon, P-A-T-R-E-O-N, and you can find Black Women Stitch there in the Patreon directory. And for as little as $2 a month you can help support the project with things like editing transcripts and other things to strengthen the podcast. And finally, if financial support is not something you can do right now, you can really really help the podcast by rating it and reviewing it anywhere you listen to podcasts that allows you to review them. So I know that not all podcast directories or services allow for reviews. But for those who do for those that have like a star rating or just ask for a few comments, if you could share those comments and say nice things about us and the Stitch Please podcast, that is incredibly helpful. Thank you so much. Come back next week and we'll help you get your stitch together.

Hosted by Lisa Woolfork

Lisa is a fourth-generation sewing enthusiast who learned to sew while earning a PhD in African American literature and culture. She has been sewing for more than twenty years while also teaching, researching, and publishing in Black American literature and culture.

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