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Posted on April 16th, 2014, by


The case of Gee’s Bend is an extreme instance of the deprivation of slaves. Located in the U-shaped curve on the Alabama River, Gee’s Bend was surrounded by water. The dirt road in and out of the area was impenetrable for much of the year. Even when circumstances were good, traveling by land made seven-mile as-the-crow-flies distance to the county seat of Camden the trip of more than 40 miles. The ferry provided the alternative pathway, but it worked only during nice weather. Out of wilderness of slavery and then occupant farming, the gees Bend quilters cultivated the space of existential dwelling. This paper is meant to describe the social and culture issues the Pettway slaves dealt with during slavery.

History of Pettway Family

Prior to the moment Gee’s Bend was known, in fact it was the “Indian” land. It is believed that in the 16th century Spanish surveyor Hernando DeSoto visited the Indian village on creek in this place, before he passed away in Mississippi. The dark-skinned natives of this place declare to have Indian blood, possessing Native American names and the physical features (Beardsley, 2002).

The initial recorded white occupant to inhabit the place was Joseph Gee, the planter from North Carolina, who arrived in 1816, founded the plantation, and named this spot for himself. Upon his bereavement in 1824, he left forty-seven black slaves. His two nephews from North Carolina, Charles and Sterling Gee, arrived to Alabama in the hopes of obtaining the estate. During the lawful maneuverings, Sterling obtained the family estate at home and came back to live there. So, Charles became the manager of Gee’s Bend agricultural estate. Some humans assert Bend accommodated slave trade operation for Gees among North Carolina and Alabama (Beardsley, 2002).

In 1845 Gee brothers had to pay $29,000 to the relative Mark Pettway. As the settlement, they have him Gee’s Bend. One year after, Pettway and his relatives moved there in the caravan with one hundred or even more slaves. Excluding one cook, slaves basically walked from North Carolina to the Gee’s Bend. The ten thousand acre plantation maintained “Gee” but name of each of slaves turn out to be “Pettway”, name, which has dominated in Wilcox County till today. Nowadays, if somebody from the Gee’s Bend is called Pettway, he or she is successor or married to successor of those Mark Pettway slaves who came from North Carolina. After the emancipation black Pettways stayed on the land as sharecroppers or tenants (Beardsley, 2002).

Values and Spiritual Beliefs Important to the Family

Disoriented, displaced and enslaved, over a course of 300 years, groups of African people discovered themselves on the US soil in the wilderness. Cultural critic, Elizabeth Alexander asserts this displacement and the following fragmentation of individual and collective identities, which was necessary to bond together as one populace the complexities and varieties of Africans is the resource of African-American’s creative strength. The disjointed and re-assembled visuals of the African-American quilt are aesthetic and formal manifestations of the intrinsically conflicting conditions, out of which the African-American was born (Rice, 1958).

In the aggression of slavery, African-American families, cultures and communities were disjointed and scattered across the entire American South. As with the genesis of the Afro-American history, quilts initiate in acts of aggression: shredding, ripping and tearing apart of what was intact. The dynamic assemblages of quilt and collage stand in for the African-American awareness, which pieced together fragments from manifold resources to make understandable and consistent what would, otherwise, been broken and chaotic existential landscape (Beardsley, 2002).

William Arnett, the art historian describes quilts as the “art of limitations”¯ or, in the terms of African-American artist Jessie Lott, the “art of circumstances ”“ art, which emerged from the junction of monetary lack and ability, with celestial insight, to see what god has put in front of you”¯ (Rice, 1958). Art is the vehicle of exposure. The quilts are in fact, the extension of wider African-American aesthetic of improvisation, which embraces recycling, collage and language yard art assemblages. It is the aesthetic founded on “making do”¯ and discovering beauty held within the abandoned and redundant.

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