Freedom Quilting Bee

Freedom Quilting Bee sign, showing the Civil Rights emblem. Freedom Quilting Bee sign, showing the Civil Rights emblem.

The Freedom Quilting Bee was a quilting co-operative of rural African-American women, founded in Rehobeth, Alabama (USA), in 1966. The co-operative had two major goals: to raise money for the civil rights movement and to improve living standards for the quilters’ families.

In 1966, the women donated their quilts for two auctions to raise money for the American civil rights movement to end racial inequality, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The auctions were held in New York City and attracted the attention of wealthy white sympathizers. An influential interior designer began using the quilts in her work; the editor of Vogue promoted them in the magazine; and department stores such as Bloomingdale's and Saks Fifth Avenue sold the quilts in their shops. Some art critics, influenced by the then popular Op Art movement, argued that the quilts were representative of modern American art.

Publicity from the auctions is credited with reviving the popularity of quilt making in the USA. The quilts, in bright colours and geometric patterns, originally sold for US$ 10 to 15. After the first auctions they began selling for US$ 100 each. The patterns were traditional and included styles such as a star, Roman cross, pine burr and chestnut bud. The most popular quilts were made of patchwork from ragged denim jeans, worn by family members working in maize or cotton fields. Supporters helped cooperative members, which included some quilters from nearby Gee’s Bend, to learn business skills and to improve their sewing. Money from the sale of their work enabled many women, for the first time, to install indoor plumbing and electricity in their homes, and to send their children to university.

The Freedom Quilting Bee was officially disbanded in 2012.


  • CALLAHAN, Nancy (2005). The Freedom Quilting Bee, Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.
  • (retrieved 19 April 2016).

Digital source of illustration (retrieved 20 June 2016).


Last modified on Friday, 21 April 2017 11:41
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