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About Gee's Bend

Named after Joseph Gee, the first white man to settle in the area in the early 1800s, the community is home to some seven hundred residents, many of who are descendents of the slaves who worked Gee’s plantation (sold to his relative, Mark Pettway, in 1845). After emancipation many freed slaves took the name Pettway and continued to make their living off the land as tenant farmers or sharecroppers. Quiltmaking had always been a domestic responsibility for the women of the community, and had always been considered as well as a form of personal expression.

Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke in Gee’s Bend in 1965; shortly after, many residents attempted to register to vote. Those who marched were sent to jail, fired from their jobs, and often lost their homes. The Freedom Quilting Bee was organized in 1966, and the townswomen subsequently earned income by creating quilts sold at large department stores such as Bloomingdale’s, Saks, and Sears.

The quilts in this exhibition are drawn from the collection of the Tinwood Alliance, Atlanta, a nonprofit foundation for the support of African American vernacular art founded by William Arnett. Arnett first traveled to Gee’s Bend, a small and isolated rural community situated on a peninsula on the Alabama River, in 1997 in search of Annie Mae Young, whose quilt he had seen in Roland Freeman’s book on African American quilters, Communion of the Spirit.