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state owned free in nineteen sixty six are remarkable business by not been wilcox county alabama one of the poorest counties in the nation vulnerable to a middle aged black women with little education or business experience on twitter to market their unique handmade quilt to the fashion world a friend told me that on the improved living conditions for its members but inspired the cooperatives nationwide and fostered a new appreciation for the wolves as an art here is the unlikely success story have an organization created with who had a movie out of three young vivian was born
there's some of us don't even remember when the statue if naming a post was pre k o molds that in a bad economy and that's why we named it in history where you had there who want people the freedom quilting bee was firmly rooted in the civil rights movement it's inspiration came from france's walter an episcopal priest who had returned to his native alabama in nineteen sixty five to work for the movement through the selma into religious project his efforts focused on the state's black belt region including wilcox county there s throughout the south black citizens were being needed it from their homes and fired from their jobs in
retaliation for registering to vote we were trying to get deposition for writing was being naked with the idea that we could activate part of the civil rights hacktivist in paris that said you can take somebody for registering to vote not knowing the county we drove down this rather small road and as it ended up at the river bank with a couple of skiers and we saw this house is beautiful quilts rang online they would just like a hop artist and i was really struck and so everything i just said let's get out of them so we got out of the car this woman ran into the woods from our house and it was barry say
that we had since november know why we wore white shoes no exception his interest is that the court's gay father walter an idea for boosting income of poor black families it was pretty obvious with all its intense support in the mosque for the civil rights movement their liberal people in the moth particularly now artsy people would probably like to buy these weapons so i had a friend comes revenues from alabama and more supportive of what i was doing in the civil rights movement and tom i contacted him and he thought he could get an artist law from somebody in heaven auctions i got word out on both sides what the seven hundred dollar grant in his pocket ottawa to begin buying ten dollars apiece because the average annual income of black families in more than one thousand dollars in a single sale now
at a one percent increase in the family's attorneys highway five albert advantage even really were brought out upon the side of the road people standing there waiting and i just drove up in and handed out and our bills in both of the quilts the women the trunk in the back of my car and tell people we would being got a rise name aggressively be in touch with them later i've though they live very close they have something we do without having to give them a plus we would use numbered defeat the farm where we grew cotton and colm keys and penis this week but they say it's inevitable we know about reading bear motel here in the country among the many women father walter met was amended coleman of gee's bend ms coleman had participated in the jihad been
agricultural co op one of the most successful economic development efforts of roosevelt's new deal to throw away that they had melamine woven cloth for a suit for franklin roosevelt and so she said well we could have us a call a lot of latino a property was illegally sold father walter had an attorney drawl up papers for incorporating uncooperative and on march twenty six nineteen sixty six psalm sixty women gathered at the antioch baptist church in camden to form the freedom quilting bee as dale witherspoon was elected president now mcconnell moment i think that we try make a sitcom how their livers in their peak within the community may think i'd go for it so our
way thanks to the well with us and now we are with me and now that i'm actually will with the team of that could do it again here always track evening following the whole lot's incorporation of global policy is based the first of two new york artist counting the books were pieced together from worn out this isn't overrun with old saying wow when sugar sex as elizabeth walton almost every night at the university of alabama won a husband were to go to selma can't really describe describes why the kitchen welding baseball not only images and qualities in in their color all had an overall verve and of fire amber and say to them that you rarely saw an appalachian quotes or quotes coming say out of the midwest ah there was a movement toward
minimalism within the know your heart sing and these quilts from wilcox candy seemed to narrow the movement a lot that the country was looking at in terms of have our guard our two they've certain were complimentary to the findings of the period the two new york auctions raise an additional three thousand dollars for the quarters and led to other valuable connections the quills caught the attention of one of new york's most sought after interior decorators who on a quilted fabric wilcox county to use in her designs the publicity that was generated by that one order was like a skyrocket going on that was those were all launching of international marketing effort of the freedom and for the next few years home decorating features spotlighting frieden welcome
period repeatedly involved and other national magazines quilts which americans had cherries day's sentimental and sometimes useful relics of a bygone era had suddenly become art and high fashion in july of nineteen fifty seven a freedom quilting he was invited to participate in the smithsonian folklife festival in washington dc the protesters outside the book about them all in all is going on the blackouts every single and have somebody who's saying there's no middle aged women walk right up there probably two three thousand be a certain size some of their church music
how to include them during the first two years of a quilting bee's existence estelle were postponed try to roll call up president for bed of manager sometimes receiving a paycheck sometimes not income from the quilting was deal just a supplement for the co op members who continue to work in the fields to support their families we handle ninety a nomadic two latino men they're causing mean a bad a quota know in the
absence of this was quote normal quirk when we get the crew look at the many many senior grew over the senate isn't and we get to our pleas to take home and down and then down again that they'd know what it was only one guy and now we will use to be in trouble there's the air quality we would use the painful you know went out for glue i used a week from song look at the counterpoint to that sense of the sound of the hudson began say that we can do better at home that scenario that they hung a white man then come here and make them to run messina we were turned into go beyond its plane so it one day and let me on
the ammo it to do the nba a move toward regular income and a decent hourly wage a quote is needed large contracts instead of the small individualized orders they've been feeling the catalyst for this transition was another new yorker named stanley celibate who had extensive experience in marketing handicrafts more around the world stanley is tall and have a big bushy red mustache and an errand ms witherspoon are shot black and they just hated all stanley said that she reminded of a jewish mother and ms witherspoon knew exactly what immense ocean he prepares offering to work for his travel expenses only stanley selling that visit to department stores and other major retailers with samples and we'll be roaming dale's border twenty thousand dollars worth of freedom quotes and launched a major sport wider promotion well the same thing's about fogarty is
that you cannot market a piece of folk art for very long without destroying it modify for the market so here we have all these extraordinary quotes the artist were buying even some art galleries were expressing interest in that that would not sustain them the volume would be great enough up till now the quotas have been basically making one of a kind of course using miscellaneous grand scheme they now began making the transition to a mass production approach live every inventories quality control you know i think about the rebuilding me in those civil rights days and probably about them more than half of the things that we project
it's almost like it's a therefore nobody sees is in a big hurry this is that a straw we'll let you could do you could make a beautiful you could make things we can get their camera the wheel makes things right but if you you will be that there's only got it you don't let them do you question in your book and how about all fun of money until the roof about a life or apartment with a new correspondent eileen live you've got to come to mean the difference between the fans and the hope for the future between fifteenth living and economic gain a hundred and fifty women here and wilcox county deep in
alabama's black belt they're members of the korean clothing the cooperatives a car which started three years ago and has an infant written from six thousand dollars in nineteen fifty six to twenty two thousand in nineteen fifty eight and then just to remind you that may twenty one thousand dollars for all of the hundred thousand consequently of thing that we've gotten says the credibility we hear that as in maine and refrigerators and i don't mean the washing machine to know we have moved into this one of the more they will be a though business continued to expand the quilting bee was hampered by his lack of essential workplace most of the women quote it at home and you here telephones ms witherspoon and her husband had converted half of
this small home into a pull up headquarters but more space is needed to cope with the steady stream of voters early in nineteen sixty nine and interest free loans and grants the freedom equal to be purchased a piece of land for the construction of insolence sent to supporters from across the country going to the march groundbreaking new frame to vote he says he may have a routine of the villains in them many many days all right it's the eyes
no one in fact the old who was all happening thing in the poll out a few people may hear a thing by summer are mostly volunteer construction crew had completed its work and the quote has moved him to the martin luther king jr memorial sewing center just three and a half years after francis walter he caught sight of some quotes on the clothes line the winner will cut their own sewing factory i just start it
to move walking in new line at she actually really really in the years following it getting harder for example can be established a day and obtain a long term contract making it had developed and marketed new products for them to secure an organization where people around the world so he you know i get the impression that the
free revenue was the big thing in the buy belt of alabama we really were just it was a sideshow in a way that didn't take up nearly all of my my time we had we were trying to keep people from being evicted helping people get registered to vote where we were so caught with poison is the right thing for the right to vote and the right to me you're writing no one hundred and ninety one and so our marsh astute fool who runs as to do you get away from all powerful tool of thing that definitely no bad i would not get into a home to nevada and that they've hit a rebellion that one of all of them
have some rights movement in loans well we believe marches and even then you come back to it and fire back the minute he came for the defining do what he was saying was so true that a medium build better way to sustain as manager the freedom equal to be as dale what this poem has become one of the collaborative movement starts its advocates she's been active in the federation of southern cooperatives and has served on the board of artisans cooperatives her involvement in these organizations help bring valuable training and support to the quilting bee and provided inspiration to other courts nationwide estelle witherspoon served as manager of the freedom quilting bee until nineteen ninety one and observers both inside and outside the
organization's see her leadership as the key to the co op survival that could take stokely carmichael our summer preaching revolution over here and some ideas why not make a fashion designer new york why make a lot of money at a quilt and she could just put a all together and everybody should end up supporting the dream and nobody ever decimated anybody see does have extraordinary an attack and organization mm hmm there's another family well that was one of the most miraculous magical
things that i had never experienced in on how long a way of the people of goodwill got together had an idea and decided to pursue it and ignoring half wide six eight and was simply wasn't able to pay air of that success oh really so freedom quilting bee has weather times of economic difficult to keep its doors open in fact the meaning and egress cooperatives that emerged during the civil rights movement the freedom quilting bee is the only one still working today fb questions about the economy and the united
states chess though people in the quilting bee they've always worked together they fear this is like this bone you know we have something has to be done and we know that this is that sort of income women and work together and try and accomplish this county filled with film wild horse of a hold of me this is the only place right now in this community that you will have that last fall melissa now this is by this is why we work so hard to get people to be going to speak to people who work in the poultry and when david addington the pack but competition from
foreign markets now threatens to quilting bee sales hand stitched quilt based on traditional american parents are imported from countries where workers earn peonies an hour were vastly undercutting the prices of us made quilts you know we still sell a few but not a whole lot of song keep it going all and right now we're trying to get into the making these compounds they estimated there and generate more fit in miami in the nba how morgan to get more money and more on orders or fields dates or we can just about make anything to sell i do hope that we will continue this was a back in people we know and that we keep this going to be here for long though a dusty do you need a gold cabins at
do you need like or long term is saying oh i hope that as a it's good enough to fall on the aide who was good fall manual mother there it too was to fall manne all my there ada was the fall manne all my very it's gerry thornley a detailed history of the freedom quilting bee by nancy callahan is available from the university of alabama press one eight
hundred eight to five nine ninety eight zero if you have a question or comment about this program or hugh like to purchase a copy of it please write the alabama experience but at seven thousand tuscaloosa alabama three five four eight seven ways including reports on the requests they also call one eight hundred two three nine five to three three
The Alabama Experience
With Fingers of Love
Producing Organization
University of Alabama Center for Public Television and Radio
Contributing Organization
Mountain Lake PBS (Plattsburgh, New York)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip-2e7851f6345).
Episode Description
In this episode of "The Alabama Experience" narrator Annie-Joe dives in to the lucrative quilt-makers of Gee's Bend. Located in Wilcox County, Alabama, the Black women who make these quilts are known nationally for their beautiful, unique fiber art.
Series Description
A series featuring citizens and communties across the state of Alabama. The Alabama Experience aims to explore cultural and historical places, as well as the people who occupy them.
Created Date
Social Issues
Local Communities
Media type
Moving Image
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Editor: Holt, Tony
Editor: Clay, Kevin
Executive Producer: Rieland, Tom
Exeuctive Producer: Cammeron, Dwight
Narrator: Annie-Joe
Producer: Hales, Carolyn
Producing Organization: University of Alabama Center for Public Television and Radio
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Mountain Lake PBS (WCFE)
Identifier: cpb-aacip-49a7b3d4fe4 (Filename)
Format: Betacam
Generation: Original
Duration: 30:00:00
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “The Alabama Experience; With Fingers of Love,” 1994-02-10, Mountain Lake PBS, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed October 3, 2023,
MLA: “The Alabama Experience; With Fingers of Love.” 1994-02-10. Mountain Lake PBS, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. October 3, 2023. <>.
APA: The Alabama Experience; With Fingers of Love. Boston, MA: Mountain Lake PBS, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from