1931 - 2022

Addie Pearl Nicholson


    Gee's Benders use the term "incomers" to describe outsiders who settle in the Bend. Addie Pearl and Daniel Nicholson moved from nearby Coy, across the river, to Gee's Bend after purchasing land through the federal government.

    ADDIE PEARL: I was born in 1931 up in Dallas County, a little old place call Pleasant Hill, out from Selma. Daddy was renting a small farm there, and I was about three. He heard about farms for sale over on the McDuffie plantation. McDuffie, you see, had this place, and wasn't treating the people right, so the government came in, and McDuffie homestood his land off. So we moved down there. Everybody thought at the beginning the government was going to be just like the white man, take your crop and run you off, so a lot of colored people left, said they knew they wasn't going to ever be able to pay for the place. But my daddy stayed, and them that stayed got treated right by the government. The government had sure enough come in to help. My daddy got 150 acres up there, at the town of Coy.

    DANIEL: I had been born in '27 over in Cold Bluff, below Pine Hill. My daddy had milk cows and goats and hogs, Back in them times they could do anything to us. Mr. Sheffield was our overseer, and he took everything my daddy had, mules and all. Corn out of the barn, sweet potatoes out of the shed. Took everything. My oldest brother had a old pump .22 rifle, told Sheffield's rider, "You want to get back to Pine Hill alive, you better turn that cow and calf loose." Mother said, "If you don't finish him up, I'll take me a stick; and finish him." We had some rough time back then. Daddy had took us down to Coy. It was meant to be more better. I remember it so well. You supposed to clear about five bales of cotton for the man, three bales rent, two bales expenses, cover your fertilizer, seed and stuff. We come in, supervisors say, "I'll tell you now, Mr. Nicholson, you done pretty good this year, but got to try harder next year. Ain't nothing left. You got rent, expenses, and the rest got to go for stuff we going to provide your family. You know, children's clothes and stuff." I say to the supervisor, Mr. England, "I got eight bales. I can buy my own children's clothes and stuff." They had something they say back in them times. "Naught is naught, figure is figure, all for the white man, none for the nigger." The government took they land, them that was cheating the colored people. Government got so many complaints about colored people being treated bad, and some poor white people too, government took over the land and made it available to colored and white ones alike.

    Used to have old rough lumber houses on that land. You could look through the floor and count how many chickens you have, if they was roosting under the house. Well water, outside bathroom. Government got a colored outfit, Landis Brothers, build the houses for the government. Built some barns too. Those colored people knowed what to do with a piece of lumber. They didn't have no skill saws like now, just old hand saws, crosscut saws.

    ADDIE PEARL: We started off regular farming in Coy. Corn, cotton, peas, millet. I was about eighteen years old I met Daniel. We got married. His family had also moved down to the Coy area. Daniel's brother let us stay in a little old one-room house he used to live in before he got his government house. We worked the fields with Dan's brother. Worked so hard. The overseer used to come by, say, "Them look like some smart people. There's a farm over in Gee's Bend. Would y'all like to have it?"

    DANIEL: I had been asked him, if something come available consider me for it. I'm good as gold, man. I had my own mules, every stuff of my own. He put my name down. Even if I was lacking three days from qualified, they approved my application.

    ADDIE PEARL: Man brought us across the river on a boat. I had never rode in a boat in my life. Cranked up that little old boat, little old three-passenger boat, rode about two inches out of the water across that big river. Scared me to death. Got out of the boat, put us in a jeep, brought us straight up to this place. We had three children at that time, had seven more after we got here. Six boys, four girls, in all. I losed one of my boys, nineteen years old, died in a car accident in the army in Germany. That's what they said. I got to take they word. We still got a little garden going, and cows.

    Started piecing quilts. I made a easy "Nine Patch" when I was about sixteen, before I married. When I got married I had me some quilts.

    DANIEL: I helped her piece them, quilt them, too. She couldn't beat me sewing.

    ADDIE PEARL: We used them quilts up. We'd get up in the morning time, fix breakfast, go in a wagon to the field, stay in the field till late evening, come back and cook dinner, give them children they bath in a number-three tub of hot water.

    DANIEL: Ants wasn't so bad then. Addie spread the quilts out, lay them children on the quilts while we worked the field. We come take a break to eat, children be right as we left them. Come back after we finish working, they right there. We had this old hound dog stay and guard the children, safe as you want them to be.

    Gee's Bend: The Women and Their Quilts

    Gee's Bend: The Women and Their Quilts

    Gee’s Bend quilts carry forward an old and proud tradition of textiles made for home and family. They represent only a part of the rich body of African American quilts. But they are in a league by themselves. Few other places can boast the extent of Gee’s Bend’s artistic achievement, the result of both geographical isolation and an unusual degree of cultural continuity. In few places elsewhere have works been found by three and sometimes four generations of women in the same family, or works that bear witness to visual conversations among community quilting groups and lineages. Gee’s Bend’s art also stands out for its flair—quilts composed boldly and improvisationally, in geometries that transform recycled work clothes and dresses, feed sacks, and fabric remnants.

    The Quiltmakers of Gee's Bend

    This uplifting, Emmy-winning PBS film tells the modern-day "Cinderalla" story of the quiltmakers of Gee's Bend, Alabama. Artists born into extreme poverty, they live to see their quilts hailed by a The New York Times art critic as "some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced."