Kids at the Women's Shelter
Each year I use a quilt theme with the Shelter kids around MLK Day. There are so many ways to use the idea of a quilt to focus on the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Belle, the Last Mule at Gee's Bend", by Calvin Alexander Ramsey & Bettye Stroud, was the perfect book to help get us started.
Quilts and Dr. King
This colorful book not only spoke of the beautiful quilts that have been made in this small Alabama community, since the days of slavery... But the book focused on Dr. King's long ago visit to Gee's Bend, to encourage voter registration.
The story ends with 2 mules from Gee's Bend pulling the wagon that carried Dr. King's casket on April 9, 1968.
I sat on the quilt outside with the kids, since our January day was warm and sunny. I could hardly get through a page with all the questions from the kids. "Is it a wedding!"
A 6 year old asked when she saw the crowds and flowers in John Holyfield's final illustration. It was sad to have these kids, all African American, pondering about who this man was and why he died. But as kids will do, they found the positive. "Dr. King got his wish! He got to have Belle pull his wagon when he died!" "I think that one is Belle for sure!" Said another child, pointing to the mule in full view.
Visiting Gee's Bend
I told the kids how I once visited Gee's Bend where the women still make quilts from scraps, like their great, great, grandma's did.
We talked about how Dr. King liked it when people worked together and how quilts are often made by the cooperation of a few people. They liked seeing how many different shapes were in this old quilt of Mary Anne's. Different shapes and colors, like all the different people who helped make the quilt.
Little Quilts for Little Kids
I pulled out some tiny fabric pieces and some poster board squares to let the kids work on designing their own little quilts.
What Would MLK Do?
This mini project didnt have kids cooperating on one large quilt, but they still had to share materials... which for kids, is sometimes a big enough challenge. "Hey she's copying me!!" That was another problem, that required a reminder about how Dr. King would expect us to listen to each other and not shout.
Working together is a wonderful thing. But sometimes it's not a bad idea to find our own space and just work alone. Even if that means finding a patch of sidewalk... with bugs. "Miss Beth! There are ants over here!"
What Did I Learn?
I was a little surprised at how little these children (ages 4 to 9) knew about Dr. King. I was glad I was able to use this wonderful book as a tool. I'm guessing they will remember 2 things about what we discussed. They'll remember Belle, the Mule. They loved her. And I think they'll remember that I am very, very old!! They could hardly believe it when I told them "Yes I was alive when Dr. King lived. His funeral was on my 11th birthday."
For 20+ years children have called it the Magic Quilt. They've danced and pretended all over these colorful squares. I've dragged it to schools, shelters and studios where children have climbed on top to hear Magic Quilt Stories and to act them out.