Quilting is a way of life for some families in Alabama.
Alabama State Sen. Robert Stewart recently invited quilters from the Gee’s Bend and Alberta areas to view custom quilts crafted by their ancestors and some of their own at the capitol.
The Gee’s Bend tradition was established in the 1800s as a means of survival for the enslaved during the winter. “The quilting started as a necessity to keep you warm,” Claudia Pettway Charley said. “It wasn’t about art.” During the civil rights movement, the meaning of the quilts evolved as a symbol of economic empowerment during times of disenfranchisement.
The quilters traveled two hours from Wilcox County to the State House.
“To meet people that represent me, it’s a great honor,” Freedom Quilting Bee Legacy Founder Elaine Williams said. “You don’t have to be afraid to express yourself and let them know what you need and what you expect. They’re for us.”
Williams’ goal is to renovate the Bee into a museum for tourists, draw tourists to see the quilt,s and learn their history in Alabama. “For whatever reason, Gee’s Bend just got the attention of the world. Now, we have people come down and deem it as art,” Pettway Charley said. “We cannot stop quilting.”
“Tourism is a huge part of economic development,” Sen. Stewart said, whose ancestors are from the Gee’s Bend area. “When the Black Belt rises, this whole state will rise.” Stewart’s ties to the area have sparked his commitment to support infrastructure improvements and help drive attention to the area.
Reportedly, Gee’s Bend quilts have been featured on several occasions; during Paris Fashion Week 2022, in the Whitney Museum of American Art, in the Smithsonian, and sighted in HBO’s Gossip Girl reboot.