Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Gee's Bend

The small town of Boyton in Wilcox County is situated in a horseshoe shaped bend of the Alabama River that surrounds it on three sides. Therefore it is a rather secluded area. It is probably one of the poorest towns in the poorest county in Alabama.

Today Gee's Bend is first and foremost known for its Quilters Collective. The quilters of Gee's Bend make uniquely designed quilts that are shown in exhibitions in the Smithsonian and other museums in the US and abroad.

Gee's Bend was named after the first plantation owner, the plantation was later taken over by a family named Pettway. After the abolition of slavery the former slaves kept working the land as tenant farmers and took the name of their former owner, thus today you can still find the last name Pettway in the area.

Arthur Rothstein: Sewing a quilt. Gees Bend, Alabama. Jennie Pettway and another girl with the quilter Jorena Pettway,
April 1937,
Known for its isolation the Resettlement Administration started to help the community in 1935. They built houses, a school, and passed out loans to help the farmers.

Once again, I got to know this location through the photography of the Farm Security Administration (FSA), namely the pictures of Arthur Rothstein and Marion Post Wolcott who worked there in 1937 and 1939. Apart from documenting the people of Gee's Bend, the old cabins, and the newly constructed buildings, Rothstein also made a picture of a quilter. Marion Post Wolcott also documented the ferry which, for a long time, was more or less the only possibility to get to the next town named Camden.

Marion Post Wolcott: Cable ferry from Camden to Gee's Bend, Alabama, May 1939,

Marion Post Wolcott: Project manager's truck coming across on ferry from Camden to Gees Bend, Alabama, May 1937,

In 1962, during the Civil Rights Movement, the ferry service was stopped because people from Gee's Bend were traveling to Camden by ferry in order to register as voters. Without the ferry they had to drive for more than one hour to get to Camden. Eventually there was no ferry service for 44 years. Only as late as 2006 ferry services resumed.

The ride on the ferry takes about 15 minutes.

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