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Hidden in Plain View Hardcover – Jan 19 1999

51 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1 edition (Jan. 19 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385491379
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385491372
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 2 x 24.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 717 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #987,707 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

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When quiltmaker Ozella McDaniels told Jacqueline Tobin of the Underground Railroad Quilt Code, it sparked Tobin to place the tale within the history of the Underground Railroad. Hidden in Plain View documents Tobin and Raymond Dobard's journey of discovery, linking Ozella's stories to other forms of hidden communication from history books, codes, and songs. Each quilt, which could be laid out to air without arousing suspicion, gave slaves directions for their escape. Ozella tells Tobin how quilt patterns like the wagon wheel, log cabin, and shoofly signaled slaves how and when to prepare for their journey. Stitching and knots created maps, showing slaves the way to safety.

The authors construct history around Ozella's story, finding evidence in cultural artifacts like slave narratives, folk songs, spirituals, documented slave codes, and children's' stories. Tobin and Dobard write that "from the time of slavery until today, secrecy was one way the black community could protect itself. If the white man didn't know what was going on, he couldn't seek reprisals." Hidden in Plain View is a multilayered and unique piece of scholarship, oral history, and cultural exploration that reveals slaves as deliberate agents in their own quest for freedom even as it shows that history can sometimes be found where you least expect it. --Amy Wan


From the Forewords:

"Tobin and Dobard have taken quilt scholarship to another level. They have revealed that quilts are at once sources of pleasure, information, and meaning and are central to understanding the history of people of African ancestry in North America."
--Floyd Coleman, Ph.D.

"Jacqueline Tobin is to be applauded for being in the right place at the right time, and having enough faith to go back again and again to listen to the story of one family's effort to encode knowledge in their quilt tops. And one salutes her partnership with Raymond Dobard, whose knowledge of quilting technology is so outstanding. Their persistence--is vital to our understanding of African American culture and its myriad contributions to American life."
--Maude Southwell Wahlman, Ph.D., author of Signs and Symbols: African Images in African American Quilts

"By engaging in a vast amount of research, authors Tobin and Dobard have established a significant linkage between the Underground Railroad effort, escaping slaves, and the American patchwork quilt."
--Cuesta Benberry, author of Always There: The African American Presence in American Quilts

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Inside This Book

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First Sentence
IN 1994 I TRAVELED TO CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA, TO LEARN more about the sweet-grass baskets unique to this area and to hear the stories of the African American craftswomen who make them. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

3.0 out of 5 stars

Most helpful customer reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Paul Farr on March 23 2004
Format: Paperback
I agree with most of the reviews of this book that the material is indeed fascinating. It just doesn't happen to be true. Sadly, the "quilt code" myth has been invented by a couple of vendors who sell quilts, and now also sell books, speaking engagements, memorabilia, etc.
This isn't the place for a "debunking", however. If you're interested in seriously evaluating the facts of the issue, and comparing this book's unfounded (indeed unique) claims against real scholarship on the Underground Railroad and the history of quilting, a good place to start is the research of Leigh Fellner, which appears in the March 2003 issue of Traditional Quiltworks magazine as well as the Hart Cottage Quilts website.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Leigh Fellner on March 1 2002
Format: Hardcover
Rarely does one find a highly-publicized ostensibly non-fiction book so filled with misinformation. If this is an example of the level of scholarly research now found acceptable, we are in serious trouble...
The glaring errors and inconsistencies in Tobin's premise are so obvious that an elementary school class sent her a number of questions. I think the author's furiously-backpedaling response, in which she blames everybody down to the graphics editor (whatever happened to author's proofs?), speaks more clearly about the sloppiness of this "pop culture" book than anything any reviewer could possibly say...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Judith Miller on June 8 2004
Format: Paperback
I was intrigued when I found this book and really wanted to like it. However, I feel that HIDDEN IN PLAIN VIEW has no substance and offers no new information that can be validated. The authors base their premise, that quilts were used as a tool to help slaves escape, on the word of a woman who sells quilts in South Carolina. The theory was that quilts with different symbols were displayed and they gave messages to the slaves. The authors also went back into African history and attempted to tie in a lot of symbols. I believe the authors were trying, but they really had no solid information to offer and kept on spinning their story.
It is possible that along a route going north, a quilt could be displayed outside of a house as a message that this was a "safe house" or something of that nature. Escaping slaves mostly traveled by night, so hanging out a quilt would only work during the daylight hours. There's a story for children called SWEET CLARA AND THE FREEDOM QUILT that is quite good. The girl in the story makes a quilt out of scraps of material that detail the plantation that she lives on; also detailed, was the area outside the plantation, which was more difficult since the girl had to have that area described to her. In the book, the quilt is used as a map for anyone attempting to escape and go to Canada. I really liked the idea and found it plausible.
I think, that after all of this time, we'll never know for sure if quilts were hung as signals for the travelers on the Underground Railroad, but the idea of a quilt helping to save a human life is comforting.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Consumer on Aug. 19 2003
Format: Paperback
I bought this book at an historic site in Savannah, GA and assumed it was factual. The deeper I read into the book, the more I questioned what the authors wanted me to believe. There was a lot of supposition and I began to wonder if they were 'reaching' to explain something they desperately wanted to believe. I found the book difficult to read (the references made sticking to the storyline challenging). This story is based on an oral history and I think that is the major redeeming quality of this book - I do believe in the importance of ancestral history, however, it needs to be substantiated in some fashion. I bought this book thinking it was fact, and I finished the book wondering how much of this was surmised. A very slow read.
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Format: Paperback
This story explains how escaping slaves used quilt designs, along with music and stories, as instructional devices for themselves and others on the Underground Railroad. The story began as a result of information received from an African American quilter named Ozella McDaniel Williams in South Carolina, which Ozella had received through her family. It tells how certain designs have certain meanings, telling the slaves when they should be ready to leave, what trails they were to take, and what they were ultimately to do once they were on free land. Interspersed throughout this new information, are references to old spirituals, groups, and individuals who helped the slaves escape to the North.
When I first began to read the book, I was actually quite interested, as I had never heard the story before. However, it became somewhat of a struggle to finish; at times the book seemed repetitive, or I got the feeling that the authors had to stretch their imaginations too much to get their desired end-result. Despite this change of heart, I did find the story quite enjoyable. The existence of such a code may be hard to swallow for historians and others in our society, but the possibility of its truth make the story worth reading.
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By A Customer on Jan. 14 2002
Format: Paperback
I wanted information on the quilts used in the underground railroad and this was the only book I could find. I had not planned to read the book just look for information on the quilt blocks used. I found the information so interesting that I read the whole book. I did not know about the influence of the African culture on the patterns used in the quilts the slaves made and used for the underground railroad. I felt the authors included other research that supported their views. So much of the slave culture was ignored and not recorded that the only information available is what has been passed down from the previous generations. Often our culture has looked down on that time frame in US history, and has resulted in the meanings of the quilts and patterns has been a subject that was not discussed or passed on. Now the people who would know the meanings are not here to tell us what they knew. Ozella McDaniel Williams does remember some and that information is share and interesting. I did find it frustrating that the color pictures did not have more illustrations and found it hard at time to figure out which picture they refered to in the text. A suggestion is to check it out from your library first and see if you want to buy a copy for your collection. It has an extensive Bibliography in the back of the book for further reference sources.
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