A Patchwork History of Hate

Patricia A. Turner, Los Angeles Times, August 14, 2009

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I’d heard of Klan quilts, though they’re surprisingly uncommon–particularly considering that the wives and daughters of “Kluxers” during the early 20th century often got together to socialize and support the cause.

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I was eager to see what promised to be a fascinating–if disturbing–historical artifact, so one afternoon this spring I met the teacher, Linda Brant, at her school, and we laid out a red, white and blue quilt on a large table. The quilt’s 18 primary blocks each carried a fiery-red cross surrounded by white and blue squares in what quilters call a nine-patch pattern. Each small blue and white square of fabric had meticulous white stitches that formed an “X,” bringing to mind the Confederate flag. The quilt could easily have been seen as simply having a Christian theme. But the story Linda told–along with the bright red crosses often used in Klan imagery–suggested otherwise.

Quilters have longed used their skills in the service of political, social and religious affiliations. Quilts have celebrated sororities and garden clubs; they’ve memorialized AIDS victims and honored subjects of the Tuskegee Experiment. And there was this quilt, celebrating the chilling Klan practice of burning crosses at outdoor meetings or near the homes of those the group wanted to intimidate.

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Brant told me that the quilt had been passed down to her from her mother, who had spent her adolescence in the home of a relative–a cousin of her grandmother–in Leavenworth, Kan. Brant told me that her mother didn’t recall her relatives using racial slurs, but she did remember her cousin’s husband dressing up in Klan garb and heading to meetings. The cousin hosted a group of female Klan teenagers every Wednesday night, but Brant’s mother stayed in her bedroom during those weekly sessions.

The quilt, Brant’s mother told her, was made by her relative during the late 1920s and used only on “special occasions,” when guests came to stay. When her cousin moved into a nursing home, Brant’s mother became the custodian of her quilts.

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Seventy years or so ago, a white woman in Kansas made a quilt celebrating the Klan. Fifty years later, its inheritor found herself unable to discuss the quilt’s provenance with the mostly white Kansas quilt documenters. Today, that woman’s daughter felt comfortable reaching out to an African American professor to tell the true story and to get help figuring out what to do with the quilt. {snip}

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