Delia Bennett was the matriarch of an extended family of quiltmakers, including her daughters Creola B. Pettway, Georgiana Pettway, and Ella Mae Irby. Her quilts’ emphatic and wildly asymmetrical geometries are echoed in quilts by her granddaughters, Mary L. Bennett and Linda Diane Bennett. In 1999, Bennett's daughter Ella Mae Irby described her mother.
My mama was Delia Bennett; daddy named Eddie Bennett. She lived on a farm, born 1892, and raised here in Gee’s Bend. Her daddy S.S. Pettway and mama Pleasant Pettway. She raised seven girls and four boys. We farmed. Lived on the Brown plantation under what they called “landlords.” Cotton, corn, peas, sorghum syrup, hogs, cows. My father was born in 1886.
The main thing I know about my mama was she was kind of rough on your tail. A smart lady, farmed right along with us until she got disabled. Got sickly, and after that she stayed and kept house, a hard job with eleven children to care for. Back at that time you worked for thirty cents, forty cents a day, and out of that you pay the landlords.
She was a Christian woman, loved to go to church. One thing about her, she’d tell you do something, you do it. You don’t talk back. But if she tell you, “Go somewhere, do something,” and you don’t look like you want to, that switch tell you go do it.
She loved to raise chickens-had to raise them to sell eggs—and we’d tote chickens across on the ferry to Camden to sell.
Time was hard. They call it “advancing” back in those days. The Man wouldn’t give you nothing but meat and meal, wouldn’t give you no flour, sugar, or nothing else— you had to hustle for extra stuff. There was a store at White plantation for a while; you could get mule feed, flour, and sugar. They advance you stuff, and then when payday come you got to pay it down and work it off, and hire your children out to work for the store man. After that store closed, you had to go to Camden to get everything.
It was hard for her raising all us. Didn’t have hardly nothing to feed us. We raising our own food, made sweet potatoes, syrup; we had peanuts and corn, milked our cows. We had a hard way to go. My daddy, Eddie Bennett, was head of the family. We picked cotton and things, but it wasn’t for us. It was for the white man, the boss man, Old Man Spurlin. They lived in Camden. We didn’t get nothing for doing it. We had to do it cause we was living on his plantation. He took every last bit of it. Did not give us nothing. We come up hard.
It was eleven of us. She tried to do the best she could. Made soup and food and tried to feed all us. We had to go to school barefeeted. It was cold. We went to school till February, had to stop then and go to the field to cut bushes and knock cotton stalks.
Delia Bennett’s work is in the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.