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Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad Paperback – January 18, 2000


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Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad + Stitched from the Soul: Slave Quilts from the Antebellum South
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; 1st Anchor Books edition (January 18, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385497679
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385497671
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (112 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #77,629 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"Startling--intriguing."--The New York Times

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Customer Reviews

This was a very interesting book.
Beverly Evans
Good book on the quilts and the underground railroad.
drlighthouse
Please, please don't buy this book!!!
Virginia Berger

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

117 of 128 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Densmore on March 25, 2002
Format: Paperback
Hidden in Plain View should not be accepted as solid history. The book contains many errors of fact large and small. To cite a few: William Wells Brown was not a sea captain, but was employed on boats in the Great Lakes (116, 118); George Rawick, born in 1929, did not record interviews with ex-slaves in the 1930s (62); the American Revolution was not over by 1776 (57); the 54th Massachusetts was a regiment, not a brigade, and certainly was not stationed in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1863 (175); Robert Purvis was head of the Philadelphia, not the New York, Vigilance Committee (173). These are only a few examples from many. The book also contains many speculations with little or no evidence. We are told that the Prince Hall Masons may have traveled to South Carolina to conduct business prior to the Civil War (105), which suggests that the authors are unaware of the legal restrictions against free blacks coming to South Carolina from out of state. We are told that there were many abolitionist Masons, but none are identified, nor is there any evidence given that Prince Hall Masons traveled to slave states.
The book has a romanticized view of the Underground Railroad. It suggests that there was a regular network leading from South Carolina to Ohio and Canada. In fact, very few enslaved people escaped from South Carolina, and most of those by water along the coast, not overland through the mountains. For a realistic study, see John Hope Franklin's Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation (1999). An elaborate ten part code, using quilts as signal flags is very unlikely. It requires having access to many quilts or the time required to make them. Enslaved people living on the same plantation had easier ways to communicate with each other.
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135 of 150 people found the following review helpful By Patricia Cummings on February 25, 2005
Format: Paperback
The book, Hidden in Plain View, is based on the oral testimony of Ozella McDaniel Williams shared with one of the co-authors, Jacqueline Tobin, shortly before Mrs. Williams died of cancer. When first published, this book was immediately seized upon by the popular press and apparently, embraced by many people as the "Gospel Truth".

Page 33 of the book shares the author Raymond Dobard's own statement that the book is conjecture on his part. No collaborative evidence was provided nor sought by the books' authors, and since neither of them are quilt historians, they surely did not realize the inanity of what they proposed.

In my opinion, this book is a major insult to intelligent people everywhere yet it has been picked up to be shared as "fact" in Social Studies classes across America, instead of the "fiction" that it is. The book does not jibe with what we (quilt historians and Underground Railroad historians) know about African American history. Most certainly, the depiction of quilt blocks is not in tandem with known and documented quilts and/or quilt block history.

Members of the American Quilt Study Group, a group that is comprised of university professors, professional writers/book authors, appraisers, publishers, and many others associated with the quilt world, have privately and publicly condemned this book. For interesting reading, you may like to read the introductory remarks that Marsha MacDowell shared in the year 2000. Marsha is a researcher and faculty member of Michigan State University, and her thoughts are available to read in Vol. 21 of the Research Papers of the American Quilt Study Group "Uncoverings 2000."

From a quiltmaker's point of view and also that of a quilt historian, several of my articles about Hidden in Plain View have been published by major magazines. This book, HIdden in Plain View, is scholarship at its worst.
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88 of 97 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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53 of 59 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 28, 2003
Format: Paperback
I recommend this book only if the reader understands it is complete fiction, being peddled as fact. I will not address the many historical inaccuracies that other reviewers have already mentioned, but instead will state that most of the quilt patterns the author says were used as symbols for the Underground Railroad were not being made until after the end of the Civil War.
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Consumer on August 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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