Ashley’s Sack

Ashley’s Sack, an object handed down across three generations of Black women, tells a story about the beauty of courage and care and how women’s handicraft was deployed not just to adorn but to express feelings not found in the historical record. Here is what Ashley’s granddaughter embroidered on the seed sack given to her by her mother, when she was separated from her and sold at age 9. “It be filled with my love always.”

In One Modest Cotton Sack, a Remarkable Story of Slavery, Suffering, Love and Survival - The New York Times

As Tiya Miles tells us, “the past seems to reach out to us” through this fabric. Before women and enslaved peoples had access to the instruments of writing, cloth became a medium for for preserving the “mythohistories” of entire groups. Ashley’s Sack reminds me of Philomela’s tapestry and other ancient story cloths that documented atrocities yet also revealed the fearlessness and love that could not be vanquished under the most oppressive circumstances. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich refers us to the “mnemonic power of things,” the evocative force of stories hitched to homespun or handmade everyday objects. “We have made art out of pain,” Miles writes, “sustaining our spirits with sunbursts of beauty, teaching ourselves how to rise the next day.”