Between the stitches, they laughed. Between the patches, they shared stories.. As they sewed, the women shared a camaraderie that stretched history over a fabric and into a time when runaway and freed slaves owned land in Fairfax County.
When the tales were told, the needles and thread put away and the scraps of materials were gathered, they had a quilt that spoke the history of black people in the county.
"I'm so proud of it, I don't know what to do," said Sheila Coates, a founder of Black Women United for Action in Fairfax County, a group of homemakers, educators, doctors, professors, psychologists and members of other professions organized to give blacks and women a voice in the county.
"What amazes me is there is so much land black folks owned," Coates said. "We wanted our children to know they were deep in the roots of this county."
Black Women United decided a few months ago to create a quilt of black history after some women in the group noticed that a quilt hanging in the county administration building "was not representative" of the total population in the county. The group, in celebration of Black History Month, presented the quilt to the county Board of Supervisors on Sunday. Before the quilt hangs permanently in the Massey Building, the group wants to take it to county schools to teach children about their history.
"We saw this, and said our children needed to have something tangible," Coates said. So the group set out on a road to piece together a quilt that filled in the blanks.
Lillian S. Blackwell, 79, who has quilted for almost 40 years and was raised in the county, and Betty Fields led the way. The other women in the committee were given a piece of bleached muslin and directed to into Fairfax and seek out places in Fairfax where blacks had sunk roots.
Some of the women found histories that had already been written. Others talked to older residents who still remembered. They took what they learned and each, no matter what her artistic ability, designed a patch for the quilt.
The quilt, bordered by black sashes, has 25 squares depicting black landowners, one-room schools, "colored dairies," churches, a Bible, brown hands pressed together in prayer to symbolize the importance of religion in black history, and men and women who were trailblazers and educators.
The quilt shows "where we lived, where black people lived before the developers came," said Ora R. Lawson, a historian, who told of one of the first black landowners, Alfred Odrick, who bought land from his white owner and built Odricks Elementary, one of the first schools in the area for blacks. Odrick also donated land for Shiloh Baptist Church, one of the oldest black churches in the county.
Odrick's acreage near Tysons Corner became a small settlement, and was called Odricks Corner, where 11 black families still live.
"Why couldn't something like this be in the school textbooks?" Lawson asked.
The quilt also tells the story of Frederick Forrest Foote, who worked at night for his former master and saved enough money to buy Seven Corners. He bought 28 acres for $565 and later bought three lots in Falls Church for $2,100. A developer bought the land at Seven Corners from descendants of Foote, then built a shopping center there.
"I knew a black man owned Seven Corners, but I didn't know the history," said Gladys Lewis, who stitched the square listing the trailblazers. "Nobody took the time to tell us anything. We have so much to be thankful for. To rob us of where we came from was one of the worst things they could have done to us."
Lewis said that during the research the women learned about the perserverance of the blacks who lived in the county before them.
"Mr. Foote, to me was fascinating. The land, how he got it. Stop and think, this is a man with very little education . . . . I admire people like that."
For other women, the history was something they had lived.
"Some of this is personal experience," said Blackwell. "The one-room school? I went to that one-room school. I walked five miles to get to it and five miles to come home. They called it the Vienna Colored School then . . . . We had the least of everything. But what you learned you remembered."
The Vienna Colored School, a one-room schoolhouse, was built in the 1890s on what is now Lawyers Road in Vienna. In the 1950s, the school was newly dedicated and its name was changed to the Louise Archer School, and it remains there today.
The dairy farms depicted in the quilt were a large part of life in the county. Three prominent black families -- the Coateses, Lees and Burkes -- owned farms and produced milk for distributors. Much of the farmland is now gone.
Blackwell said as the women stitched the quilt, a tradition in African folklore, they reminisced and told those county newcomers among them how it used to be.
"We told them how you used to go up on Route 7 and there would be nothing but farms around Chantilly," Blackwell said. "Now there is nothing but construction. It's just different. It's just gone."