Some artists create art to tell a story, and a quilt exhibition in Houston is helping them to do just that—by highlighting the contributions of some African American women in history who fought for the right to vote through amazing pieces of art.
Barbara Brown Gathers, a teacher, author, and genealogist, participated in the “Access Delayed: African-American Suffragists’ Courageous Influence on the 19th Amendment” exhibition this past week to pay homage to women such as Angela Davis and Ida B. Wells, among others, along with telling the stories of Maggie Lena Walker and great-grandmother, Eliza Cowen.
The Chronicle noted the inspiration for the exhibition per their report:
Mooney said that around the anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment she and Louviere-Ligons kept seeing exhibits about suffragettes, but none of them focused on African Americans. Working with history professors, they put together a list of African-American suffragettes and looked for quilters who could quickly produce the quality of quilts they wanted.
The quilts in the exhibit were created by African American quilters from across Texas, Ohio and Florida.
After initially passing on the exhibition due to lack of time, Gathers eventually committed to the event after the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. Her background as a quilting teacher in New York, along with her years of making quilts chronicle moments in history, motivated her to create the quilt she submitted to the exhibition, the Chronicle reports.
The quilt entitled “Fearless,” focuses on Cowen—who Gathers learned more about through the research of her grandmother, Hattie Mae Brown—and Walker, who became the first African American woman (or any woman) to charter a bank in the United States.
“Both of these women had to have fear because they lived in a climate that was very fearful for people of color. They had to confront their fears to become fearless and fight for the things they cared about, the things they believed in and the things they were willing to die for,” Gathers said of Cowen and Walker. “Both of these ladies bravely faced many challenges and setbacks in order to achieve greatness.”
Walker was an activist who organized the first branch of the NAACP in Richmond, Virginia, and led women’s suffrage and voter registration drives, the Chronicle reports. Walker, along with Cowen, was also a member of the Order of St. Luke’s in Virginia. It was through their membership in this organization that led to Gathers’ connection of the two.
“Fearless,” includes photos of Walker and Cowen separated by a colorful road, which Gathers used fabric paint to create. At the end of the road, Gathers used the Adinkra symbol for bravery and valor.
“I created a yellow brick road showing the footprints of Maggie Walker leading the way for my great grandmother,” Gathers told the Chronicle. “I put Maggie’s steps first and then showed my great grandmother joining the walk so that their footsteps are in sync.”