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Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad
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Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad

3.4 of 5 stars 3.40  ·  rating details  ·  353 ratings  ·  84 reviews
In Hidden in Plain View, historian Jacqueline Tobin and scholar Raymond Dobard offer the first proof that certain quilt patterns, including a prominent one called the Charleston Code, were, in fact, essential tools for escape along the Underground Railroad.

In 1993, historian Jacqueline Tobin met African American quilter Ozella Williams amid piles of beautiful handmade quil
Paperback, 240 pages
Published January 18th 2000 by Anchor (first published 1999)
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Eva Nickelson
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Picked this up at the Baltimore Book Thing. I'm about a third of the way through, and thus far am frustrated with the way the authors seem to tease the reader with drip of information, but have yet to follow through with a well-laid out straightforward discussion.

I've also found that there's a lot of question regarding the accuracy of this book; the number of factual errors made by the authors are dismaying. See:

A critique of the book by Giles R. Wright, director of the Afro-American History Pro
Kathy  Petersen
In my work as a writer at the Missouri History Museum, I have to look at a lot of books (is this a cool job or what??). But merely seeking references and specific pieces of information, I seldom read one all the way through. I made an exception for and was pleased that I did.

Anyway, this short story of the writer's education into the deeper meaning and hidden history of African American quilting and other codes is fascinating. The writers leave many open questions, understandably since the mess
Mar 08, 2010 Lorie added it
Unfortunately, books like this are written. I see now how myths and legends are passed down as truth, due to some tall tale being produced as fact. This book is fiction. Numerous historians, in many areas have debunked this book as a nice story, but nothing more. What really ignites my flame is that it is being taught in some schools as fact. If you are interested in what real scholars have to say about this there is more here..

It's unfortunate that an ama
I was really disappointed with this book. I was expecting a scholarly work about a part of history that I'm interested in. I thought that a book written by TWO people with PhD behind their names would at least be organized and on point.

I was wrong.

The authors spend more time second-guessing themselves and possiting questions they are unable to answer instead of focusing on the information they are confident in sharing with their audience.

In the first section, they spend too much time downplaying
Susan Ferguson
When Jacqueline Tobin visited Charleston, SC, she met Ozella McDaniels Williams at the market. Ozella was selling quilts and began to talk to her about the use of quits and their secret language during slavery. Jacqueline was not paying much attention, but when she got home and began to think about it, she called her using the business card from the quilt she bought. Ozella told her she would get the story when Jacqueline was ready to hear it. So Jackqueline began doing research on slave quilts. ...more
Aug 21, 2011 Mary rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Mary by: library - "not new but worth a view"
Shelves: quilts, political
People have probably heard that quilts were part of helping slaves on the Underground Railroad. This book tries to substantiate that. It's hard to do, because the actual quilts that were used are probably fallen apart and thrown out by now, and because by nature the Underground Railroad was made up of secrets, so there's very few ways to substantiate secrets. But one of the authors speaks to a woman in Charleston, S. Carolina who has kept the verbal history, passed down from her mother and grand ...more
Ok, I am redoing this review. There were things that disappointed me in this book. It seemed like there was a lot of conjecture. As I told a friend who asked me about the book it also reminded me of "Mutant Message Down Under" where some foreign white lady is given all the mystical secrets of aborigine society. I just wanted to ask, "What makes you so special that they pass this information to you but not their own children?" Because I felt not entirely able to back up my criticisms I didn't wan ...more
I'm currently reading this for something I'm working on. However, it's amazing how so many people can actually believe this existed. It's also amazing how many read this book, and then still believe this can happen. With words of wisdom such as, "follow the bear tracks they will lead you to safety", or "head north" the author's seem to assume that slaves were completely lacking in any knowledge whatsoever. The fact that one of them, is in fact an African-American Fine Arts Professor at Howard Un ...more
This book is informative,interesting all the way through, and a smooth read. Learn about the secrets stitched and knotted into these quilts, and the traditions that inspired this method of communication or the West African textiles that preceded them - this is an important book about an overlooked subject in American history, as well as textile arts.

Ms. Tobin provides solid 3rd party documentation, references and citations to support her efforts, valuable for any of us interested in studying th
This is a good beginner's book for the meaning of quilts and codes used in the Underground Railroad.
I expected more about the meaning of quilt symbols and there was some repetition. The book includes pictures of the quilts described and a glossary of designs.
It was more informative on the codes of the Underground Railroad and how spirituals were used to guide slaves from the south through Ohio to Canada.
This book made me want to read more and learn more about quilt codes and Underground Rail
This book is a breath of fresh air in terms of presenting oral histories as valid, and folk history as usable in an academic setting. Forms of record-keeping which are not written using methods recognized by dominant cultures, whether academia, today, or the former empires of England, Spain, etc, are almost always discounted, or destroyed, as the Quipus of the Incan empire.

These quilts are essentially, it sounds, like an updated form of Quipu (Khipu) made from fabric rather than strands of yar
Hidden in Plain View is ultimately a book about a woman who meets a black quilter at a market in Charleston, SC and goes down multiple rabbit holes to break a secret code. The quilter, Ozella, draws in the author (Tobin) with an oral history of the meaning of quilt lore as used among slaves in the antebellum South. The bits of the book in between the first chapter and the epilogue are the authors' attempts to piece together what the quilting messages might mean and how they may have come about.

Jill Crosby
The topic of this book--quilts used a communication codes by & for escaping slaves in pre-Civil War America--is highly fascinating and deserves to be shared with ALL Americans who should learn that their history is a collective & not an individual enterprise. Sadly, this is not the book that transfers that message with any fervor or passion. What "Hidden in PlainView" reads like is a dissertation undertaken by someone who, since no full body of data exists in this field, spends the bulk ...more
Tosh Dobias
Originally picked up as a gift for my favorite quilter, I found myself drawn to the mystery of the quilt patterns used to communicate messages to slaves pursuing freedom through the underground railroad. I had pondered the meaning of various quilt patterns before (geographical location, the profession of who made the quilt, the family history of the quiltmaker, etc.), but never thought a quilt could convey such vital information as those used to lead slaves to freedom. From the spacing and orien ...more
Feb 03, 2014 Kathryn rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Diehard Quilters & Underground Railroad Enthusiasts
Shelves: non-fiction
I think I would give this 2.5 stars if I could use halves. This is a topic that I am very interested in. In fact, a friend got me this book a few years ago after I taught a unit on the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman, and how Philly was involved in it to my middle schoolers. Now I teach 4th grade and as part of the final Southeast project in social studies, we learn about quilting. I read this as we are about to dive into this project and I was looking to up my knowledge level. While, there ...more
Sparked by a trip to Philadelphia, this book was an informative read. As someone who likes quilting, I enjoyed reading about the secrets of the underground railroad and quilts.

Review from Amazon - 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 hi
Amy Beth
This book is a fascinating look at some of the codes embedded in quilts used by slaves to transmit messages about escaping. At the center of the book is a set of directions for escaping set in code revealed to one of the authors by a black quilter from South Carolina. Conveying the directions included displaying certain quilts as well as the meaning of certain quilt patterns. The authors explore the meanings the quilter revealed to them as well as connections with other known information, examin ...more
Picked this up in Yorktown, VA at the National Park Gift Shop and was excited about a book about the history of crafts in the Civil War. Several of my favorite subjects!

Unfortunately the book seemed to be based almost entirely on speculation by the author. I think it's entirely possible that quilts were used to communicate messages, but the 'code' described by Tobin seems completely imagined. Reading a few comments and other reviews seem to imply that people in the quilting community also find t
I am reading this as I reread Jennifer Chiaverini's Elm Creek books which take place during the Underground Railroad. In chronological order: "The Sugar Camp Quilt", "The Runaway Quilt", and "The Lost Quilter".

So far, Tobin's book has been very informative about the quilt patterns used, and how similar piecing patterns are to the Africans' use of symbolism in their textiles and crafts.

UPDATE: November 5, 2011

I did not read this all the way through. It's good information, but doesn't explain the
I was a little bit disappointed in this book. I was expecting a few more hard facts to tie things together. Although the authors had a nice story going, they tended to make some pretty large leaps with their theories... leaps that I just couldn't stop questioning. Although some of the leaps might be plausible, there are a number of other explanations that I could come up with while I was reading. The lack of absolute proof made it difficult for me to read without scoffing.

Overall, I thought the
Not the best written book I've ever read - I would guess Tobin is more of a lecturer than a writer - but very, very interesting. I am sure there is more to the story than Tobin knows, and her frequent "We believe that..." or "We could assume..." makes me wish she had researched further and found more concrete information before writing a book.
I might have rated this book higher if my expectations had not been so high beginning the book. I expected there to be a history on quiltmaking so I slogged through that part waiting for an actual story of how the quilts helped slaves to escape. There was no story. It was a lot of conjecture of how they thought it happened. I understand that this is due to the obvious need for secrecy and as it was illegal for slaves to be taught to read and write, many were illiterate and incapable of recording ...more
Becky Loader
I am an avid quilter and a Civil War re-enactor. I also am very interested in the history of quilts and quilting. I read this book with some background knowledge of its controversy, and I must say, it does stir up a lot of questions. I like the idea of a quilt code, but I am not convinced that the theory discussed here holds water. The dates of the quilt patterns and the interpretation of their symbols (and linking them to African symbols and Masonic symbols) do not come together in my mind. I u ...more
This book triggered a desire to learn more about how slaves have used art, and music to share very specific information. It has also made me wonder if there are similar stories in other underground movements for example, the European underground during the second World War. I am now looking for additional readings on these topics.

The information in this book is facinating. Because it has stimulated a new interest, I rate it highly. However, it is not particulary well written; it seems to be writ
Joan Porte
I totally enjoyed this book, once the author got out of the way and let the story be told. Yes, a lot of the history is lost but it is a fascinating telling of a determination, artistry and unbroken will.

Edward Amato
Do not read the critiques if you are going to read this book. It jaded my reading of it and I agreed with all the poorer reviews.
Frances Sawaya
This book is very compelling on several levels: it gives a detailed history of the way quilts were used by escaping slaves in the Underground Railway; it provides a long, hard look at the way minorities were, and possibly are, treated in the South. Even the perennial favorite, Drunkard's Path, had its coded use for those who were trying to get to freedom in the North. I have had it in mind to make a quilt using the sampler blocks from the pre-Civil War days. As of this weekend, I have the blocks ...more
Very disappointing. I thought that this would be told in stories handed down from generation to generation of how the quilts were used to send messages for the underground railroad. Instead it was a lot of speculation and very little narrative.
My rating was not so much based on easy reading or enjoyment. What earned this book a 4-star rating from me is the information about possible meanings of codes used in African made quilts for the underground railroad for slaves escaping to Canada.

Also interesting to find is that the negro spirituals were also developed to communicate information to one another.

There is also some theory on what the saying, "By way of Sandusky" might mean. Does it mean someone or something took the long route.
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