December 31, 1862, was a very special evening for the enslaved Africans. It was the night before the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, freeing all the slaves in the Confederate states. I then realized she was carrying her child, wrapped in a quilt, to the Praise House; small places of worship built on plantations during slavery.
On the quilt I was inspired to paint many patterns. Patterns and symbols associated with the Underground Railroad Secret Quilt Code such as;
North Star: A signal with two messages--one to prepare to escape and the other to follow the North Star to freedom in Canada. North was the direction of traffic on the Underground Railroad. This signal was often used in conjunction with the song, “Follow the Drinking Gourd”, which contains a reference to the Big Dipper constellation. Two of the Big Dipper’s points lead to the North Star.
Log Cabin: A symbol in a quilt or that could be drawn on the ground indicating it was necessary to seek shelter or that a person is safe to speak with. Some sources say it indicated a safe house along the Underground Railroad.
Flying Geese: A signal to follow the direction of the flying geese as they migrated north in the spring. Most slaves escaped during the spring; along the way, the flying geese could be used as a guide to find water, food and places to rest. The quilt maker had flexibility with this pattern as it could be used in any quilt. It could also be used as a compass where several patterns are used together.
Also sewn in the quilt is a piece of the Confederate Flag, representing her soon to be past and the blood, sweat and tears shed; which she and others endured during slavery and oppression. Also, spilling over the edge of the old steel drum top is the United States Flag representing freedom for all. One Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. The quilt futher represents her hopes, dreams and prayers, not only for her child and herself, but for generations to come.
The look in her eyes is one of hopefulness yet sorrow, joy and pain. Most of all, her eyes reflect her desires to be free and for the freedom of all of her future generations.
I remember the overwhelming emotions that filled my eyes as the Confederate Flag was removed after the murder of nine innocent African Americans in a church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015. Although not nearly as emotionally moving as it may have been for her on New Year's Eve in 1862, after being enslaved most of her life and witnessing and experiencing the suffering, torture and killing of so many, I understood and experienced just a glimpse of her emotions.
Suddenly it dawned on me, that this New Year's Eve will be the first time in my generation that, that same flag; which represented slavery and oppression to her, will not be flown over the Capitol of South Carolina. It was put up 54 years ago to protest the Civil Rights Movement and was never removed until 2015. Her prayers of FREEDOM were answered. So, I named this piece, 'Amazing Grace.'
"South Carolina taking down the confederate flag - a signal of good will and healing, and a meaningful step towards a better future." - President Barack Obama