Quilt tells the story of Black pioneers in western North Carolina

Attorneys, politicians, doctors and more are honored on the Gaston County Black Business Pioneers Quilt

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A quilt featuring Black pioneers of the past century from a county in western North Carolina is on display at a recently opened African American museum in the state, according to the Gaston Gazette.

The decorative spread, measuring 5-by-6 feet, contains more than 60 squares that display headshots of business owners, medical professionals, attorneys and public leaders from Gaston County, according to the news outlet.

The Gaston County Business Pioneers Quilt is being shown at the African American Museum of History and Culture, which opened in the city in 2019 to highlight the contributions and history of Black people in Gaston County. In addition to the quilt, artifacts at the museum include photos and books, among other items.

“It’s important for our children to know that the county had a lucrative business community years ago,” museum founder Dot Guthrie, who led the effort to create the quilt, said, per the Gazette.

She received help from the African American Quilt Guild of Gaston County and the Gastonia Business Association.

The Gaston County Business Pioneers Quilt on display at the African American Museum in Gastonia, North Carolina. Pictured: Dot Guthrie and Charles Whitesides (via Gastonia Gazette)

Black people have traditionally used quilts to tell their stories.

The collection of squares on the Gaston quilt features: Gastonia, North Carolina’s first elected Black mayor, Thebaud “T” Jeffers; its first Black doctor, Dr. Herbert J. Erwin Sr; and its first Black attorney and Negro Colored Hospital founder, Donald E. Ramseur.

West of Charlotte, Gastonia has about 72,000 residents, roughly 30% of whom are Black, according to the Census Bureau.

Among the quilt’s box is Nathaniel Barber, the first Black member of the city council who also co-founded a credit union there, the Excelsior Credit Union. Launched in the 1940s, it has a place in history as one of the largest Black-owned credit unions in the U.S., according to the Gazette.

Charles Whitesides, a museum board member, told the newspaper that he used to frequent the credit union.

A portion of the The African American Museum of History and Culture, (Photo via YouTube)

“I remember as a child, I would go deposit 10 cents and a quarter at Excelsior (Credit Union),” he said, the paper reported.

“I want people to know how rich our history is in Gaston County,” he added. “We worked for one another and worked together to better the community.”

The museum also offers a free online virtual tour that examines the historical achievements of Black people in Gastonia. Mayors, doctors and military veterans are among those included.

The museum’s website also offers a number of educational resources that provide information about Black inventors, including historical luminaries such as George Washington Carver, Percy Julian, and Madam C.J. Walker. The site also links to a list of prominent Black figures on biography.com, including baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson, gymnast Dominique Dawes and astronaut Ronald McNair.

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