Grade History Teacher
One of the challenges I suspect
most social studies teachers in Delaware are facing right
now centers on the task of trying to find ways to help students
master the standards so that they will perform successfully
on the State assessments. If you are the kind of person I
am, you spend a great deal of your professional time trying
to analyze and isolate the individual pieces of the benchmarks
that have been established for the grade clusters in which
you teach. As most of us have learned, each benchmark typically
consists of two or more assessable pieces – any of which may
find its way onto the State test. Once the discrete pieces
of a benchmark have been identified, we begin making predictions
about how each construct will be assessed, then move on to
the task of locating resources that may help us convert phrases
into meaningful units of instruction.
Locating the right resources is often
a miss and hit exercise involving many hours of searching,
especially if your life gets increasingly more disorganized
as mine does over the course of any given school year.
I decided to rearrange the books on my eighteen-shelf bookcase
in an effort to reduce the amount of time I spend searching
for potential resources. I made this decision after having
spent the better part of a morning searching unsuccessfully
for a book that I purchased recently but have since misplaced.
When I finished reorganizing, I sat way back in my reclining
chair and gazed upon my finished work with a considerable
degree of satisfaction. (It doesn’t take much to make me happy.)
Each shelf appeared unique unto itself, sensibly organized,
and aesthetically pleasing
- a literary quilt, I thought.
Suddenly, as I surveyed my finished work, my lids flew
open as my eyes zoomed in on that elusive little gem that
I had “misplaced” on the second shelf.
It had been there all the time. I yanked the book off
of the shelf and started work on the lesson that appears below.
Before you look at the lesson, here is a little about
in Plain View
In 1994, historian Jacqueline
Tobin met Ozella McDaniel Williams, an African- American Quilter,
in the Old Market Building of Charleston, South Carolina.
Williams told Tobin a story that had been passed along from
generation to generation in her family. In general terms,
Williams described a secret communication system that employed
quilt- making terminology as a message map for slaves escaping
on the Underground Railroad (UGRR).
Williams’ story prompted Jacqueline Tobin to enlist
the help of Raymond Dobard, an art history professor and well-known
African-American quilter, in an attempt to help unravel the
mystery of Williams’ claim to an Underground Railroad Quilt
Code. Their efforts led to the publication of a fascinating
book entitled Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts
and the Underground Railroad (1999).
While the thesis embedded within Tobin and Dobard’s
book has unraveled an intriguing topic for ongoing research,
it has also generated important questions surrounding the
credibility of historical sources.
In this lesson, students will employ
pieces of the code that Williams, Tobin and Dobard present
to construct their own Underground Railroad quilt. In the
process, teachers are encouraged to lead students into an
analysis of the credibility of historical evidence as it relates
particularly to the transmission of Ozella McDaniel Williams’
Goals: Students will develop an awareness
of the thesis which suggests that there may have been an Underground
Quilt Code that provided signals to slaves escaping on the
Underground Railroad. Students will also learn how to analyze
historical sources with the aim of evaluating the credibility
of historical theses.
Objectives: At the conclusion of this lesson,
constructed a quilt using the UGRR codes suggested in Hidden in Plain View.
able to explain the meaning of their quilts,
able to list criteria that is useful in evaluating the credibility
of historical sources and claims, and
able to apply criteria for evaluating the credibility of historical
sources and claims.
*Delaware History Standard Two,
Benchmark Two (6-8 Cluster) – “Examine historical documents,
artifacts, and other materials and analyze them in terms of
credibility, as well as
the purpose, perspective, or point of view for which they
Time to Complete: 3 class periods.
A copy or classroom set of the book
entitled Hidden in Plain
View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad,
construction paper, scissors, glue, and copies of Handout
1 - the UGRR Quilt Code.
Audience: intermediate/middle school
the UGRR Quilt Code research of Jacqueline Tobin and Raymond
Dobard to the students in a whole class setting.
a copy of the UGRR Quilt Code to the students on the overhead
projector and review the code with the students. Distribute
copies of the UGRR Quilt Code (Handout 1). *Note - I developed
the Quilt Code chart using the information presented in Hidden
in Plain View. You will want to consult the book to locate
the pattern illustrations for each quilt pattern name identified
in the first column of the chart. Be sure to show students
copies of the pattern illustrations. They will need the illustrations
to design their own construction paper quilts.
the class up into groups of 3-4 student teams.
pieces of construction paper, scissors & tape to each
students that their group task is to create a UGRR Quilt out
of construction paper using the patterns, symbols and signals
suggested by Tobin and Dobard.
the students have completed their quilts, stop and ask them
a series of questions that challenge them to think about the
variables that must be considered for determining the credibility
of a claim. For example, you may want to ask them,
you believe that the earth has been visited by aliens from
someone told you that aliens have visited earth, would that
be enough to convince you of alien visitations? (Incidentally,
the bulk of Tobin and Dobard’s book describes the authors’
attempts to corroborate Ms. Williams’s Quilt Code story, and
students should be made aware of this).
do you (or do you not) believe that aliens have visited?
evidence do we have that aliens have visited?
evidence would you require to serve as proof of alien visitations
(e.g. seeing the aliens themselves, viewing pictures of the
aliens, reading articles in the newspaper, observing the president
on TV telling the American people about aliens, gathering
multiple pieces of evidence, concluding from popular consensus,
in their groups, have
students construct a list of criteria that can be used to
evaluate the credibility of claims.
aloud or distribute copies of the Cuesta Benberry’s Foreword
to Hidden in Plain View entitled “The Heritage
of an Oral Tradition: The Transmission of Secrets in African
American Culture” (1999, p. 2-3). Have the students summarize
the main points made by Benberry. Then, ask the students to
apply their criteria for evaluating credibility to the UGRR
Quilt Code theory and Benberry’s thought-provoking argument.
a final activity, you may want the students to design a research
plan (History Standard Two) that focuses on trying to uncover
evidence to support or refute the theory of the UGRR Quilt
Assessment #1 - Assess students on the degree to which their UGRR Quilts match the Quilt
Code suggested by Ozella McDaniel Williams’ and described
by Tobin and Dobard. Then, ask students to explain the symbols
and signals presented on their quilts.
Assessment #2 – Have students
compile a list of criteria that can be used to evaluate the
credibility of historical sources. Then, ask the students
to defend or refute the UGRR Quilt Code thesis, using their
own criteria for determining credibility. You may want to
have the students rank their credibility rating on a scale
of 1-10 to help them understand that credibility is often
measured in degrees rather than on a simplistic credible/incredible
Copies of the UGRR Quilt Code.
Tips for the Teacher
For younger students, you may want
to build your lesson around the popular trade book, Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson (1993). In this fictional book, a young slave girl
name Clara fashions a quilt map that she uses to escape to
Canada on the UGRR. One of the authors of Hidden
in Plain View (1999) – Jacqueline Tobin – states that
Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt “encouraged me” to write the story
of the UGRR Quilt Code (Tobin and Dobard, 1999, p.vii). Instead of creating a construction paper quilt
featuring the UGRR quilt code, however, the students may create
a quilt map out of construction paper that represents a map
that slaves could have used as guides on the UGRR.
D. (1993). Sweet Clara
and the Freedom Quilt. New York: Alfred E. Knopf,
J. L. and Dobard, R. G. (1999). Hidden
in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad. New York: Anchor Books.
The Underground Railroad Quilt Code
Quilt Pattern Name
in Plain View for the actual quilt patterns)
Message, Code or Signal
Citation (location of information in Hidden
in Plain View)
Gather all the tools needed on the journey to freedom.
Reminded slaves to follow the actual trail of bear
footprints because it would lead to food and water.
City of Cleveland, Ohio – a major terminal on the
Draw a log cabin on the ground – a symbol to recognize
persons with whom it was safe to communicate.
Dress up in “cotton and bows (get rid of slave clothes
& get a disguise). Go to the cathedral church, get
married, and exchange double wedding rings.
best use of time (bow ties turned sideways look like
Symbolizes the fleeing of slaves and indicated directions
in which they should travel.
Encouraged fleeing slaves to follow a zigzag path
similar to the staggering gait of a drunkard. Double
back occasionally in order to elude slave hunters.
Follow the North Star.
Pack all of the things (fit in a wagon) that would
be needed for the journey.
Time to escape.