Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Stories of a Quilt Square: Annie Mae Coleman

Mary Anne Robinson honors her mother, Annie Mae Coleman, in this piece of the “Blue” Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilt. This wonderful depiction opens up the world of farm work from a woman’s perspective – a story that is often untold.

The muck farms of Lake Apopka were created during the WWII era in order to supplement the country’s food supply. During this time, virtually no agriculture or labor regulations existed to protect classes of people like women or people of color. Farms also faced very little pressure to provide basic rights like access to restrooms, eating facilities, or clean water. So during long, hot days on the muck farms, workers like Annie Mae adjusted to the slave-like conditions and found ways to continue working without these basic amenities.

In the square, Annie Mae is depicted wearing a large blue dress that was functional in more ways than one. Women often used the skirts of their dress to hide themselves, providing privacy, to relieve themselves in the middle of a field (remember: bathrooms were not available for farmworker use). Large farm dresses were also used as a protective cover for children who often accompanied their mothers to the fields for work. Crop dusters which sprayed the fields with pesticides and other chemicals did not discriminate against the farmworkers or their children – they were sprayed along with the crops. To protect their children, mothers hid kids underneath the skirts of their dresses. 

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