Freedom Quilting Bee – Alberta, Alabama
The Freedom Quity Bee grew out of the Civil Rights movement. Income was needed after the local people lost their jobs after registering to vote in the 1960’s so the women put their kills to use making quits for sale. The Freedome Bee is now the largest private employer in Alberta!
The group makes products of various sizes of quilts such as Gradmother’s Dream, Bear Claw, Grandmother’s Choice and Coat of Many Colors. They also make potholders, placemats and napkins. For specialty items you can order conference bags for organizaitonal meetings too.
The Freedome Quilting Bee is a cooperative that was established in 1966 by a group of African American women in the community of Rehoboth, 46 miles from Selma.
Most of the members rallied for voting rights in the Selma-to-Mongomery March, or in Camden. This caused many of the people to be put out of ther jobs.
At this time an Episcopal priest, Father Francis X. Walter, got lost driving around near the remote community of Possum Bend. He spied a clothesline with three quilts in bold, primary colors handing on the line. At this time the Op art movement was popular in the art world of New York City. He believed that these quilts could be sold to this area. When he approached the home of the quilts the black lady who saw him coming fled to the back woods, afraid of the white man.
He kept trying and finally stopped at another local African American quilter to discuss the craft. A friend in New York suggested a quilot auction as a fund raiser. The group decided they wanted a permanent quilting cooperative for black women of the area. On March 26, 1966, the Freedome Bee was officially organized and the cooperative was formed.
An auciton of quits was held in New York, arranged by Walter, promoted as a way to help black women who had fought for their civil rights. To gather the quilts for the auciton the priest went up and down the roads, asking for quilts to be shipped off. Some women took stitchworks driectly from their beds. The quilts proved to be popular with auction-goers. Patterns reflected styles spanning at least a century of black quilting in the area, including the Roman Cross, Pine Burr, and Chestnut Bud. Especially poignant to prospective buyers were worn-out denim swatches, made from blue jeans after the men could no longer use them in the corn and cotton fields. The auctions stirred momentum and quilts went from $10-15 to $100 and upwards after the first two auctions.
The quilts caught the attention of influential artists, including Lee Krasner, widow of abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock, and the quilters exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution. Promoters from New York ran sewing schools at the co-op building that rose up from a former cornfield. The women learned to conduct business, and for the first time, they earned money, enabling them to acquire indoor bathrooms and roofs that did not leak and to provide their children with high school graduation rings and college tuition. They also fostered a nationwide quilting revival.
In the 70’s the co-op stopped crafting original, one of a kind showpeices, they limited their patterns to a few, producing look-alikes to meet market requirements. In addition to quilting the group filled sewing contracts for Sears, sold through larger co-ops, and took on projects through the New York based Rural DEvelopment Leadership Network.
As time went on, many of the original members passed away and the group grew small. At present, the co-op continues to sell at Black Belt Treasures, in Camden, a partnership between the Alabama-Tombigbee Regional Commission and the University of Alabama, where the quilts sell for between $500 and $600.
Contact information: Freedom Quilting Bee, Fannie Etheridge, Manager; 4295 County Road 29, Alberta, Alabama, 36720; 334-573-9500.