Hampton Commission Issues National Quilting Challenge

April 4, 2019

Hampton, Virginia- The 2019 Commemorative Commission invites quilters across the nation to participate in the Hampton 2019 400 Year Legacy Quilt commemorating 400 years since the first African landing at Point Comfort, site of Fort Monroe in Hampton. Quilters should submit a 10-1/2” square that depicts the history and the 400-year impact of African Americans in our nation. Quilters may enter up to two squares, each signed by the artist.

Quilts communicate, tell stories, document history, and reconstruct experiences through careful handiwork. They have become a treasured reflection of culture and artistry. The challenge asks quilters to convey noted moments of African American history that may or may not have occurred in Hampton since the 1619 landing, provided they remain on theme and are historically accurate. For inclusion in the legacy quilt, quilters should submit their work by June 1, 2019.

The 54-40 Quilting Guild of Hampton will review squares submitted. Members of the guild will carefully select the most compelling for inclusion in the Hampton 2019 400 Year Legacy Quilt. The public may visit a display of the resulting quilt, or quilts, in final form during 2019 commemorations held August 23-25, 2019 in Hampton. Find information on commemorations at HamptonVA2019.com and through social media.

History of the 54-40 African American Quilting Guild

Eight women who had attended a quilting program at Newsome House Museum and Cultural Center in Newport News formed the 54-40 African American Quilting Guild in March of 1993.  They contacted a quilt teacher and took a six-week class in basic quilting. The quilt block named “54-40 or Fight” was chosen as their Logo, and they named their guild “54-40” because its name represented change as an outgrowth of protest.  It was during the James Polk Presidency that the phrase “54-40 or Fight” was coined.  This block was conceived as a symbol of support for Polk’s presidential policies as well as making a political statement in support of women’s rights.

Many inherited African American family stories hint that the “54-40” block was one used in quilts during the “Underground Railroad” period.  While its accuracy is not formally documented, the block was chosen to represent the guild, along with the colors red, black and green. Representing freedom, the colors are a tribute to those people who shed their blood and walked to freedom along the Underground Railroad. The 54-40 African American Quilting Guild promotes friendship, family, fun and a common interest in the art of quilting.

The Hampton 2019 400 Year Legacy Quilt Challenge is one initiative in a series of programs, events, and exhibits presented by the Hampton 2019 Commemorative Commission that serves to engage residents and visitors in learning about the critical 1619 turning point in our nation’s history. The 400-year anniversary of the first recorded African landing in English occupied North America at Point Comfort serves as an opportunity for reflection and education.