If you’re a current subscriber, log in below. If you would like to subscribe, please click the subscribe tab above.
Username and Password Help
By Dakota McDonald/
The Post Dispatch—
In honor of Black History Month, Pat Cruse taught fifth graders, and other community guests, about Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth at the Post Public Library.
“Slaves were subject to very, very harsh conditions,” Cruse said.
Cruse began the presentation by showing students a figurine of Tubman. The figurine, part of All God’s Children by Martha Holcomber, was made of crushed pecan shells that had been made into a paste and hand shaped.
“She’s my favorite,” Cruse said. “She was a very brave lady. She brought lots of people to freedom.”
Cruse then shared with students the method of quilt blocks that slaves used to travel north.
Slaves often hung their quilts out to air on trees and fences, so their method of coded quilt blocks was unnoticeable to masters and slave hunters.
Some of the blocks Cruse mentioned were Jacob’s Latter Block (or Underground Railroad), Monkey Wrench, Wagon Wheel, Carpenter Block, Bear Paw, Basket, Crossroad Block, Log Cabin Block, Shoo-fly Block, Bow-Tie Block, Flying Geese
Block, Birds in the Air Block, Drunkard’s Path Block, Sailboat Block and North Star.
Each of these blocks had their own meaning. For example, Wagon Wheel, which was in the shape of a circle, signified that a man on the plantation could build a wagon with a false bottom in it to transport slaves.
Bear Paw, on the other hand, indicated that slaves should take a mountain trail that was made by bear tracks. Bear tracks promised berries and a watering hole for the slaves to take nourishment from.
Other blocks, such as the Bow-Tie Block, signaled a change of clothes for the runaway. Slaves, usually dressed in dirty rags, could obtain nicer clothes at homes that hung this quilt. These clothes would help them blend in and hide from slave hunters.
Some such as the Crossroad Block indicated that the runaways had finally escaped the south.
“This was a refreshing sight to see,” Cruse said. “It was a welcoming quilt. Their life was changing right here.”
Cruse also spoke of the importance of stars and birds during the slaves’ escape.
“Birds and stars were their best sense of direction,” Cruse said.
Slaves would often follow birds during their northern migration or the north star to lead them to freedom.
Boats were also important. Once the slaves crossed water, the hound dogs lost their scent and were unable to track their path.
Next, Cruse spoke to the students about Sojourner Truth.
Truth, unlike Tubman, did not actively bring slaves to freedom, but rather used her words to change minds and hearts.
Truth, standing at six feet tall, used her height and power to speak to the masses.
Although she was unable to read or write, people still crowded around to hear her speak.
However, Oliver Gilbert soon came to Truth asking to write her story.
The book, The Narrative of Sojourner, was so popular that Abraham Lincoln invited Truth to dinner.
In fact, Cruse thinks Sojourner might have been the one to put the thought of abolition in Lincoln’s head.
Cruse ended the presentation with Truth’s “Ain’t I A Woman,” which Truth started with “Well, children…”
“These women made a huge difference in slavery,” Cruse said. “They were so brave.”