Did Quilts Hold Codes to the Underground Railroad?

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"What I think they've done is they've taken a folklore and said it's historical fact," Wright said. "They offer no evidence, no documentation, in support of that argument."

Dobard refutes the claims that his book lacks evidence, noting that he uses oral history and thus lacks written records. "Who is going to write down what they did and what it meant … [if] it might fall into the wrong hands?" Dobard said.

Addressing the lack of concrete evidence, Dobard emphasized the fragility of quilts. "Consider the nature of quilts. A quilt was to be used," Dobard said. "To expect a quilt that remained within the slave community to survive more than one hundred years is asking a lot."

Fact or myth, people agree that the idea of a quilt code is compelling. Bonnie Browning of the American Quilter's Society in Paducah, Kentucky, said: "It makes a wonderful story."

More National Geographic News Stories About Black History and Culture

Excerpts and photos from Jubilee: The Emergence of African-American Culture, essays by leading voices in African-American history and literature:

Part One: Celebrating African-American Culture
Part Two: How Slavery Helped Build a World Economy
Part Three: Understanding Slavery in Terms of Black and White
Part Four: America's Cultural Roots Traced to Enslaved African Ancestors
Part Five: The Emancipation Proclamation: An Act of Justice
Jubilee Photo Gallery

News Features
Martin Luther King Jr.'s Civil Rights Dream at 40
United States Marks 75th Year of Black History Celebration
Reexamining U.S. Slaves' Role in Their Emancipation
Black Soldiers in WW II: Fighting Enemies at Home and Abroad
Civil Rights Era Captured in Black and White
Charles Houston, "The Man Who Killed Jim Crow"
"Black Livingstone" Blazed Trail in Dark Congo of 1800s
Profile: African-American North Pole Explorer Matthew Henson
Tale of the Tape: Saving Historic U.S. Sounds
New Film Hart's War Highlights World War II Bigotry
Q&A: Actor Danny Glover on Africa Activism

African History, Culture, Heritage
Glories of African Royalty Celebrated in Photography
A Day in the Life of Africa-Photos From the Book
African Warrior Shares Humor, Lessons In Book for Kids
Voodoo a Legitimate Religion, Anthropologist Says
Voodoo Blood Rite: Reporter on African Ritual
Unique Dogon Culture Survives in West Africa
Dogon Photo Gallery
In Sahara, Salt-Hauling Camel Trains Struggle On
Gene Study Traces Cattle Herding in Africa
Africa's Bushmen May Get Rich From Diet-Drug Secret
Timbuktu Photo Gallery by Chris Rainier
Kayaking to Timbuktu, Writer Sees Slave Trade, More
The Queen of Sheba: More Than a Myth?
Rare Nubian King Statues Uncovered in Sudan
Reclaiming the Ancient Manuscripts of Timbuktu
Africa Fights To Reclaim Lost Art, Artifacts
Africa's Imperiled Rock Art Documented Before it Disappears
Ancient Spirits Incarnated in Rare U.S. Exhibition of African Ritual Art
Smithsonian Salutes Contemporary African Art

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