Author: explorethesouthblog

Gee’s Bend Quilt Mural Trail – Gee’s Bend, Alabama

For over 10 years I’ve had “Visit Gee’s Bend” on my Explore the South bucket list. And this week, I marked that item off my bucket list! While vacationing in my home state of Alabama, I was joined by my mom as we drove from Birmingham to the Black Belt region of the state to Gee’s Bend (known now as Boykin, Alabama). Gee’s Bend is a large bend in the Alabama River. There are about 700 residents in this small, remote, community and most are descendants of slaves. Few people have ever moved out of Gee’s Bend and few have ever moved in. This community has overcome hard times again and again. You can read the history of Gee’s Bend here so you can understand why the residents have such vivid stories to tell through their quilts.

For generations the women of Gee’s Bend have created quilt masterpieces. The women of Gee’s Bend quilt in an improvisational style that is unique in the traditional American quilting world, transforming recycled work clothes and dresses, feed sacks, and fabric remnants into works of art. Their voice and their personal stories come through in each piece they create. Quilter, Revil Mosely, once mentioned in an interview that she was taught to quilt by her grandmother. While learning from her, she pricked her finger and bled and she was crying over the pain. Her grandmother told her that she had to learn that that’s how life is going to be, “you might get hurt but you got to go ahead on.”

The Gee’s Bend masterpieces date back to the early 20th century and were brought into the mainstream art world by writer, artist collector and curator, William Arnett who saw a photo of one of the Gee’s Bend quilts and tracked down the quilters because he fell in love with their work!  In 2002, Arnett arranged the first influential exhibition of the Gee’s Bend quilts at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. The Quilts of Gee’s Bend collection has since been shown at museums of art across the United States. In August of 2006, the United States Postal Service released commemorative Quilts of Gee’s Bend stamps that helped garner more attention for the women and their work.

After the stamps were released an artist painted a mural based on each of the 10 stamps and those murals became the Gee’s Bend Quilting Trail. You can drive the trail and when you do I highly encourage you stop by the Quilter’s Collective that is open by appointment.

Mary Ann Pettway manages the collective and spends much of her time here, with her fellow quilters, creating masterpieces. My mom and I arranged to meet Mary Ann on a Saturday morning and when we arrived we met Mary Ann Pettway and Nancy Pettway, who were so warm, kind and generous with their time and willingness to share about their work and the history of the quilters. We were giddy like little kids to meet these women who are like celebrities to us. These women, and generations before them, are Alabama treasures!

I asked Mary Ann about the year Mr. Arnett discovered Gee’s Bend and the quilts and she laughed and said it was like “a good bomb going off” because it set in motion the chance to share their work with an audience that they never would have imagined would see what they do. Mary Ann and Nancy loved showing off the quilts they were working on and the quilts they have available to purchase in their store. And they loved pointing out that there are tiny signatures that are quilted into each piece that you may not even notice unless the quilter, or someone familiar with the quilter, lets you in on the unique signature in the quilt.

You can purchase mini quilts, large quilts and even quilted coasters that are made by 92 year old Ruth Kennedy who has vowed to keep on creating something beautiful until she’s run out of time on this earth.

Gee’s Bend Mural Trail
Quilt 1 – Ms. Patty Ann Williams: “Medallion” with Checkerboard Center

Gee's Bend Mural Trail

Quilt 2 – Ms. Annie Mae Young: “Blocks and Stripes”

Gee's Bend Mural Trail

 Quilt 3 – Ms. Minnie Sue Coleman: “Pig in a Pen”

Gee's Bend Mural Trail

Quilt 4 – Ms. Lottie Mooney: “Housetop” Four Blocks (or Half Log Cabin)

Gee's Bend Mural Trail

Quilt 5 – Ms. Alonzia Pettway: “Chinese Coin”

Gee's Bend Mural Trail

Quilt 6 – Ms. Jessie T. Pettway: “Bars and String” Pieced Columns

Gee's Bend Mural Trail

Quilt 7 – Ms. Mary Lee Bendolph: “Housetop Variation”

Gee's Bend Mural Trail

Quilt 8 – Ms. Loretta Pettway: “Roman Stripes “(aka by locals as “Crazy Quilt”)

Gee's Bend Mural Trail

Quilt 9 – Ms. Ruthy Moseley: “Nine Patch” (note: on the day of our visit we learned from Mary Ann Pettway at the Quilters Collective that this mural had been knocked down. It was not viewable on that day. So if you look and don’t see it, it has not been repaired and replaced)

Quilt 10 – Ms. Loretta Pettway: “Medallion”

Gee's Bend Mural Trail

Directions to Gee’s Bend (from Montgomery, Alabama)

Go west on US 80 to Selma
Go west on AL 22, which will become AL 5 South as you continue your drive
Near Alberta, Alabama mile marker 32, go southeast on CR 29 (you’ll see a sign for the Gee’s Bend Ferry).
Once you turn on CR 29, the quilt trail will begin at the Freedom Quilting Bee site.

The Gee’s Bend Quilters Collective


14570 Co Rd 29, Boykin, AL 36723
Open by appointment.
Call ahead to speak with Mary Ann Pettway. Phone: 334.573.2323

Fort Morgan State Historic Site – Mobile Bay, Alabama

Fort Morgan Historic Site

As you walk through what remains of Fort Morgan, you feel as though you can hear echoes of soldiers singing that old song, “Tis a sigh that is wafted across the troubled wave, Tis a wail that is heard upon the shore, Tis a dirge that is murmured around the lowly grave. Oh! Hard times come again no more.”

Some historical highlights from Fort Morgan’s website:
  • Fort Morgan is a pentagonal fort that was constructed between 1819 and 1834.
  • The U.S. Army garrisoned Fort Morgan as a staging area for Creek Indians who were being removed to Indian Territory in 1837.
  • When Alabama politicians prepared to debate secession, the state militia seized Fort Morgan on January 5, 1861, and it remained under Confederate control until August 1864. After the Battle of Mobile Bay, Union land and naval forces subjected Fort Morgan to a siege of more than two weeks before its commanding officer surrendered on August 23, 1864. Although the Corps of Engineers had repaired the severely damaged structure by 1867, it and other harbor defenses languished in the years after the Civil War.
  • The fort was used as a training facility during World War I, but the War Department declared Morgan obsolete in 1923 and sold it to the state of Alabama in 1927 for use as a state park.
  • Fort Morgan was briefly activated during World War II to counter the German U-boat threat in the Gulf of Mexico.

Mooresville Church of Christ – Mooresville, Alabama

Mooresville Church of Christ

While exploring Mooresville, Alabama I almost passed by this church without taking a photo. It seemed so simple. But every church has a story and this one involves a future President of the United States. Mooresville Church of Christ has held services in this building since 1854. Future president James A. Garfield preached a sermon in the building when he was stationed nearby as a federal soldier during the Civil War. Glad I took photos of this place…it’s a historical treasure.

Christ Church Frederica – St Simons Island, Georgia

Christ Church Frederica, on St Simons Island in Georgia, was established in 1808 and is the 2nd oldest church in Georgia. The original church building was constructed in 1820 but was burned by Union troops during the Civil War. In 1884, Anson Greene Phelps Dodge, lead the rebuilding of the church as an act of love and remembrance of his wife, Ellen, who had died recently. The church still stands today as a memorial to her. Ellen is buried beneath the alter. The author, Eugenia Price, brought the Dodge family and so many other interesting and inspirational families to life on the pages of her St Simons Trilogy. She’s buried here as well. Highly recommend her books if you love St Simons and the Savannah area and you appreciate novels that are inspired by real people.

San Francisco Plantation – Garyville, Louisiana

San Francisco Plantation

San Francisco Plantation, established 1860. This plantation home is one of the most ornate in the South. The story goes that the French phrase “son saint-frusquin,” or “the shirt off his back,” was a description of what the construction of the house cost its first owner, Edmond Marmillion. This became mistranslated into San Francisco.  The property and home is expansive and beautiful. You can opt for a guided tour of the home or, if you’re short on time, you can enjoy a self guided tour around the grounds.

Laura Plantation Slave Cabin – Vacherie, Louisiana

Inside Slave Cabin at Laura Plantation

Researchers  at Laura Plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana have been studying and interpreting the slave experience in Creole Louisiana for more than 20 years. It is a part of the history of the plantation and when you visit you will leave more informed about the slave experience on this plantation and their lives beyond the Emancipation Proclamation.

The tour is incredibly educational and really helps you to understand that although slaves were freed by the law of the land, their circumstances and ties to the plantations and lands where they worked didn’t allow many former slaves to experience freedom in their life.

Slave Cabin at Laura Plantation

Slave Cabin at Laura Plantation

Slave Cabin at Laura Plantation

 

 

The Patriot – Greenville, Mississippi

I’ve seen a lot of cemetery monuments over the years but I’ve rarely felt as moved by one as I was when I saw this one in Greenville Cemetery in Washington County, Mississippi. This is the gravesite for Senator Leroy Percy and the monument is called “The Patriot”. The Norman knight honors Percy who stood up to the Ku Klux Klan in 1920s Mississippi. Here’s how the story is described in John Barry’s “Rising Tide”: “In 1922 Percy rose to national prominence for confronting the Ku Klux Klan when it attempted to organize members in Washington County during the years of its revival in the South and growth in the Midwest. On March 1, 1922, the Klan planned a recruiting session at the Greenville county courthouse. Percy arrived during a speech by the Klan leader Joseph Camp, who was attacking blacks, Jews, and Catholics. After Camp finished, Percy approached the podium and proceeded to dismantle Camp’s speech to thunderous applause, concluding with the plea, ‘Friends, let this Klan go somewhere else where it will not do the harm that it will in this community. Let them sow dissension in some community less united than is ours.’ After Percy stepped down, an ally of his in the audience rose to put forth a resolution, secretly written by Percy, condemning the Klan. The resolution passed, and Camp ceased his efforts to establish the Klan in Washington County. Percy’s speech and victory drew praise from newspapers around the nation.”

B.B. King’s Corner – Indianola, Mississippi

B.B.'s Favorite Corner

Indianola, Mississippi has been selected by Budget Travel as one of the top 10 Coolest Small Towns in America. That title is, in large part, due to the it’s deep rooted Blues history. B.B. King was born near Indianola and played in public for the first time at the age of 17 at the corner pictured here, known as BB’s Corner. You can visit this corner at Church Street and Second Street in Indianola. Then take a short drive to the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center to learn more about his life and pay your respects at his final resting place, located on the grounds of the center in the city he loved.

Old Rodney Presbyterian Church – Rodney, Mississippi

Old Rodney Presbyterian Church - Rodney, Mississippi

Inside Old Rodney Presbyterian Church in Rodney, Mississippi

“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe