Columbia Pierians quilt together history

The Columbia Pierians, an organization of African-American women dedicated to supporting the arts, are about 30 members strong, each with her own artistic interests — painting, music, dance, among others. None had ever quilted.

That aside, two years ago the local nonprofit created a quilt detailing African-American history in Howard County, a project they recently completed.

"We thought it was a good way to get together, to bond and get to know each other better," said Linda Outlaw, co-chair of the quilt committee.

The Pierians, Inc., was founded in Baltimore in 1958 and has 11 chapters nationwide, including five in Central Maryland. The Columbia chapter was founded in 1983 and has hosted events and given scholarships to Howard County students pursuing higher education in the arts.

The theme of the quilt is "Pioneers of Columbia," and features 16 men, women and locations (like the Howard County Colored School) that have a place in Howard County history.

"We looked at people who have made a significant impact in Columbia," said local past president Mary Bracey. "Naturally, we came up with hundreds of people. Whittling it down was the hard part."

Harder still was the actual quilting, Outlaw said. The group met for months at Columbia's Florence Bain Senior Center to sew, talk and explore Howard County's history.

"As a group of African-American women that supports the arts, obviously it's important for us to celebrate the 'firsts' in Howard County," said local president Rosalynne Atterbeary.

The quilt includes Sydney Cousin, the first black superintendent of the Howard County Public School System; C. Vernon Gray, the first black County Council member; Maggie Brown, the first black president of the Columbia Association; and Gail Clark, the first black elected judge, among others, all centered on an image of the Columbia People Tree.

The only white person featured on the quilt is James Rouse, the founder of Columbia.

"None of us are originally from Columbia," Bracey said. "Obviously, we wouldn't be here if not for Rouse. We learned so much — we learned the names, the deep history of this place by doing this project."

Still, many of the Pierians have called Columbia home for decades, Atterbeary said, so they know many of the people featured on the quilt. That living history made the project all the more personal, she said.

"We're so blessed to know so many of these people," she said. "We want future generations to remember their work."

The quilt will be on display for the public at the Columbia Sheraton this fall, as the group holds a national assembly for all Pierians chapters. Bracey said the group was also in preliminary discussions with the Howard County Library System to display and give presentations on the quilt.

For the women who helped create it, the quilt has helped bring them closer. The women tease Outlaw that she did "98 percent of the work," she said, while the rest chatted.

"But even the talking was a contribution," Bey said.

Pierians members echoed Atterbeary's sentiment that the most important thing about the quilt is that it's preserving history for future generations.

"They'll need to know these things, too," said Columbia Pierians founding member Frenzela Credle.

When Credle looks at the quilt, she said she sees three things: "history, love and pride."

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