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Woman's Black History Month quilt pays tribute to thousands lost to lynch mobs

Michigan

Carol Ozemhoya | OW Contributor | 2/13/2018, 10:55 a.m.
A lot of Black History Month events and products are about celebrating Black..

A lot of Black History Month events and products are about celebrating Black achievement and historical figures. But in Michigan, a quilt has emerged that reminds people just how ugly American history has been when it comes to people of color. April Shipp’s quilt, titled Strange Fruit, is topped with two full size hangman nooses. According to the Detroit Free Press, the quilter's fabric is soft, her stitches shine with golden thread and the setting for seeing her handiwork is the stillness of a church. Yet, viewers can't help but be jarred because, attached to the top of this 10- by 10-foot piece of black cloth, a pair of full-sized hang nooses seem to leer in bitter tribute to the countless African-Americans who died at the hands of lynch mobs. Beneath the nooses, quilter Shipp from suburban Detroit stitched thousands of names of African Americans, all known to have lost their lives to mobs, most on the end of a hang noose, some by other means including being tied to a tree and burned alive. Shipp did the research, extracting names that she calls “my 5,000 souls” from news stories about each murder, compiled by historians in books she acquired. “It’s terrible to think about, but they’re resting now, and they live on in my cloth,” Shipp said. Her beautiful tribute to cruelty took its place Sunday amid nearly 60 other quilts, most sewn in bright cheery colors, in the annual show of quilts unfurled each February at Detroit Unity Temple. Each quilter in the church’s audience — including some from other churches, others who submitted work through quilting societies — was asked to stand “and be acknowledged for their beautiful work” during Sunday’s service, said the Rev. Gregory Guice, the church's pastor. In observing African-American history month, metro-Detroit’s Black quilters said their tradition speaks to the homespun history of American slaves, forced to stitch makeshift fabric from scraps of their masters’ cloth. “And they a lot of times used this to send a message – that’s why we have several, what we call, protest quilts in this show,” said Shirley Phillips-Horne, 80, of Detroit, a church member and co-organizer of the quilt show. One protest quilt has, stapled to it, the actual paper receipt for the last poll tax paid by the quilter’s grandmother in the early 1960s – remnant of a barrier to voting for generations of Blacks in the South. The stitches in Shipp’s quilt bear witness to a more sordid history, stopping viewers in their tracks. “I love what she did with this,” said church member Alma Greer, 84, of Orchard Lake, a retired teacher and school administrator. “There’s so much to learn with this,”