"Ozella's Story", An Underground Railroad Quilt Code


The Racine Arts Council and Real Racine are hosting an Underground Railroad Quilt Exhibit in Downtown Racine shop windows, October 1 – 31, 2021. Ozella’s Quilt cards available at Real Racine, DRC, RAM and each downtown business.
Ozella McDaniel Williams, an African American quilter from Charleston, South Carolina, was the keeper of an important part of American history. Passed on through generations of women in her family, mother to daughter in the oral tradition of storytelling. Williams knew a secret code of quilt patterns, which was in jeopardy of being lost. This code was used as a map to instruct slaves fleeing north toward freedom on the Underground Railroad. On May 11, 1996, Ozella revealed this family code to Jacqueline Tobin who was told “to write this down” …from the book Hidden in Plain View by Jacqueline L. Tobin/Raymond G. Dobard.
The Monkey Wrench turns the Wagon Wheel toward Canada on a Bear’Paw trail to the Crossroads. Once they got to the crossroads, they dug a Log Cabin on the ground. Shoofly told them to dress up in cotton and Bow Ties and go to the cathedral church, get married and exchange double wedding rings. Flying Geese stay on the Drunkard’s Path and follow the Stars.
In 2001, local citizen Kathi Wilson had an idea to make this code into a community project by creating replica quilts of each one of the quilt patterns from Ozella’s story. Community members gathered on Saturday mornings to piece and hand quilt each one of the many quilts. Many of us did not know each other and came from different cultures. We gathered at homes and sat in small circles with the quilt in our laps telling family stories, as we laughed and cried together becoming very dear friends along our stitching path. Vicki Madsen shared “I had not hand quilted in years and I learned so many details about the UGRR!” We sewed a Nine Patch quilt with civil war fabrics and tied the center of each square like they would have done in those past days. “Some of the warmest memories of my life happened with those women” stated Marlene Wilson. All eleven quilts are registered in the Wisconsin Quilt History Project.
To view these quilts, take a drive-by or walking tour along city streets and stop at: RAM, Indian Motorcycle, Lakeview Pharmacy, Dewey’s, Brit’s BouChic, Uncorkt, Lornacopia, Red Onion, SheaBrojae’s Natural Expressions, Main St. Bakery, OOHP 6th Street Theatre and your final stop, First Presbyterian Church Atrium Windows.
For more information go to: racineartscouncil.org

  • October 1, 2021 - November 1, 2021
  • Recurring every 31 days
  • Location:
  • Phone: (262) 635-0261
  • Time: 9:00 AM
  • Price: FREE
"Ozella's Story", An Underground Railroad Quilt Code