Sunday, August 18, 2019
African American Heritage, Gee's Bend, Women

The Quilts and The Women from Gee’s Bend

Many Bridgeport residents have strong ties to the farming community in Alabama known as Gee’s Bend.

Gee’s Bend was part of a larger plantation on the Alabama River that came into existence around 1830.  After the Civil War, when the former slaves were given the option to own their own land in the area, a small community of black residents continued to live off this land.

In 1937, during the Great Depression, the New Deal Era brought the Federal Farm Security Administration into the Gee’s Bend area to help them build a model community of independent farms.

Arthur Rothstein, a WPA photographer, documented the area in a series of photographs.

Many of the last names of the people depicted in the Gee’s Bend photographs are the names familiar to today’s Bridgeport residents–including Bendolph, Pettway, and Mosely.  They were the ancestors of many African American families now living in Bridgeport.

When economics and hard times forced some Gee’s Bend residents to search for work, a large migration of Gee’s Bend moved northward to Bridgeport.  Especially during World War II and after, residents of Gee’s Bend travelled back and forth with their children, sending the children to spend summers on the farm.

Clothing would be sent back and forth between family and friends in both areas.  The women would use every scrap of material in colorful quilts.

Quilting bees were common, and women sent migrating families back with handmade quilts.  The quilts provided practical coverings, but were warm in the Bridgeport winters.

The quilts made in Gee’s Bend are startlingly beautiful in their simple designs, and are prized by collectors throughout the United States.  The quilts of Gee’s Bend were displayed in museums throughout the United States.  In 2002, the quilters of Gee’s Bend visited the Bridgeport Public Library and explained the background on their beautiful quilts.

Want to learn more about the Women of Gee’s Bend and Their Quilts? The Bridgeport History Center has the following materials available:

  • Gee’s Bend:  the Women and their Quilts, by John Beardsley… et. al. introduction by Alvia Wardlaw; forward by Peter Marzio.  Atlanta, GA:  Tinwood Books, 2002.
  • The Quilts of Gee’s Bend, by John Beardsley… et. al. introduction by Alvia Wardlaw; forward by Peter Marzio.  Atlanta, GA:  Tinwood Books, 2002. Note:  Published in conjunction with the exhibition, The Quilts of Gee’s Bend, organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
  • The Quilts of Gee’s Bend

    / produced and directed by Matt Arnett and Vanessa Vadim.  Atlanta, GA:  Tinwood Media, 2002

  • From Fields of Promise, Bruce Keurten and John DiJulio

    .  Auburn, Ala.: Auburn Auburn University and the Media Production Group, 1993.

  • Newspaper clippings, Bridgeport History Center:  “Gee’s Bend”
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Mary Witkowski
Mary K. Witkowski is the former Bridgeport City Historian and the Department Head of the Bridgeport History Center, Emeritus. She is the author of Bridgeport at Work, and the co-author with Bruce Williams of Bridgeport on the Sound. Mary has had a newspaper column in the Bridgeport News, a blog for the Connecticut Post, and a weekly spot on WICC. She continues to be involved in many community based activities and initiatives on local history and historic preservation.