Yale Professor Disputes the Historical Accuracy of a Sculpture for the Frederick Douglass Memorial in Central Park

In 1999 Jacqueline Tobin and Raymond Dobard published a book entitled Hidden in Plain View. The book maintains that a secret code was embedded in quilts which were hung outside houses along the route of the Underground Railroad. This code reportedly instructed the escaping slaves on how to proceed on their journey to freedom.

Now a new memorial for Frederick Douglass under construction in New York City’s Central Park depicts Douglass near a large granite quilt. The sculptress agrees that her design was inspired by the book Hidden in Plain View.

But David Blight, professor of history at Yale University and author of a biography on Frederick Douglass, says there is no historical evidence that quilts were ever embedded with a symbolic code to help escaping slaves. “I simply object to associating Frederick Douglass in a major public memorial with such a legend,” Professor Blight told the Yale Daily News. “Frederick Douglass never saw, nor did he even hear of, a quilt used to signal a runaway slave. The memorial ought to be rooted in real and important aspects of his life and thought, not a piece of folklore largely invented in the 1990s.”