Civil War-era quilts convey powerful message

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:52

    HIGHLAND MILLS-As Charlene Ganga watched and listened Saturday, memories began to overcome her. She started to remember these very stories of slavery and the Civil War. These were the stories her grandmother told Ganga when she was just a child, stories of what people did to be free. Her grandmother, she said, wanted others to know these stories so they could tell them when she was gone. On Saturday, now about as old as her grandmother was then, Charlene Ganga she stood up and told the audience that she wanted others to know those same stories, so they can tell them when she is gone. Ganga was among more than 50 people who spent several hours Saturday at the Woodbury Library and Senior Center in Highland Mills, listening to a presentation by Trish Chambers entitled "Freedom Quilts and the Underground Railroad." The event, funded by the Woodbury Historical Society, brought the audience members back into the time of slavery and Civil War in America, or as Chambers called it, "a time in which portrays our country at its best and worst." The "Underground Railroad" was a route of safe passage for escaped slaves from the South to the North. It ran through Woodbury area and the entire Hudson Valley, Chambers, an independent Civil-War re-enactor, said. "There were hundreds of Hudson Valley ‘Conductors' who came to the aid of slaves," Chamber said, "but it's not the type of thing people wanted to write down, so there are not many actual records of them." For Town of Woodbury historian Leslie Rose, the most captivating part of the presentation came when Chambers explained the codes woven into the quilts. "You could hear a pin drop" said Rose. Chambers displayed a replica quilt, whose design contained various shapes and boxes. Using documents translated by former slave Ozella Williams, she explained how the quilt's codes "were used to teach slaves survival. "These codes were used by caring whites and free blacks who tried to give the slaves messages as they continued on their journey to freedom." Quilts were hung outside to convey such information as to whether there were bounty hunters in the area or if the escapee should come inside or wait until it was safe. The codes also provided encouragement such as "follow nature" and "keep your eyes on freedom." The event, hosted by the historical society and organized by program chairwoman Dot Morris, provided an afternoon that many said they would never forget. "I didn't know about any of this, any of the symbolism," said Jean Donnelly of Tuxedo. Her husband Rich agreed. "I thought, like anyone else would, that a quilt like this was just a quilt with a pretty pattern," he said. "But it's a lot more." After the presentation, Charlene Ganga told the audience how she could relate to the Chambers' stories. "My grandmother told me stories of how people ... could recite the entire Bible from memory. All you had to do was name the page and they would tell you it because they couldn't read or write. Memorization was the only way." "Things like (that) started to come back to me when listening to Trish," she added. "But, when my Grandmother told me them when I was young, I took them lightly." On Saturday, Charlene Ganga listened anew to the stories similar to the ones she heard years ago from a woman who walked from the Sout