The 1990 Life Fellow Honoree
Vol. 13, No. 2, 1991, p. 13
“Both the black and the white people of Alabama’s Black Belt and the nation are indebted greatly to Estelle Witherspoon. Long before historians marked the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, Estelle was helping her poor neighbors-solving their problems, nurturing their children, and protecting their community.
“At the same time she was helping them develop an independence of mind and body so that they could free themselves from one of the worst curses of the Black Belt–the plantation mentality. She helped them survive the cruelties of racism and the despair of poverty. In creating the Freedom Quilting Bee–the nation’s oldest rural black women’s cooperative-she gave them an opportunity to realize their own self-worth and to improve their own economic conditions.
“With her late husband, Eugene, Estelle organized the whole community to stand up for their own dignity and worth: to register to vote in the face of angry whites…to demand decent public schools in the face of neglectful whites…to elect local black officials to the disappointment of whites…and to stop racial violence which did great harm to both blacks and whites. In Wilcox County, one of the most remote parts of Alabama, Estelle taught her neighbors the nature of courage and the virtue of leadership. She has challenged some of her white neighbors in Wilcox to free themselves from the racism of the past by gentle persuasion and, at times. by stubborn determination.
“Through her work and leadership, an important cultural legacy of rural black life survives and is celebrated every time one of the women of the Quilting Bee stitches another marvelous quilt pattern and every time someone in Atlanta, Dallas, New York, or London looks on their wall or bed post to view the quilting creations of Alabama’s Black Belt women.
“Her whole life captures the authentic definition of a Southerner of good will.”
Steve Suitts, in presenting the award on November 17, 1990.