Thursday, July 16, 2020

I'll Fly Away

“I’ll Fly Away”
40"x42" Copyright 2020 by Susan Brubaker Knapp
White cotton fabric, acrylic textile paint, cotton thread, cotton batting, cotton backing fabric
Free-motion machine quilted

This piece is my tribute to the countless African Americans and people of color who have been killed in incidents of racial violence and injustice, including recent ones: Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. 

The type on the birds, which was applied with a stencil, is illegible, but is intended to suggest overlapping names of thousands of victims. 

This piece honors the resiliency and courage of black people in America, who have faced violence, oppression, injustice, generational poverty and racism for more than 400 years in this country of “liberty and justice for all.” The bird imagery suggests their dream of “flying away” – of escaping all of this and going to a better place (whether on earth or in heaven). 

When I was a senior in college, I was required to write an undergraduate senior thesis or “comprehensive,” and I chose to focus on the writings of Toni Morrison and Alice Walker, two of my favorite writers. 

One of Morrison’s novels, “Song of Solomon” includes a lot of flight imagery, and when researching it, I learned about the folktale of “flying Africans” that was passed along by Africans held in slavery in the United States. The story says that slaves who possessed ancient magic words could fly away to freedom. (To read the original folk tales, I recommend the book “The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales,” by Virginia Hamilton, 1993.) 
“They say the people could fly. Say that long ago in Africa, some of the people knew magic. And they would walk up on the air like climbin' up on a gate. And they flew like blackbirds over the fields.” – Costanza Knight,
The name of the piece references the hymn written in 1929 by Albert E. Brumley and published in 1932 by the Hartford Music company. It was influenced by the 1924 secular ballad, “The Prisoner’s Song.” It is a gospel song that has been recorded many times, and is often used in worship services. These are the lyrics (although many versions use slightly different words):
Some glad morning when this life is o'er, 
I'll fly away; 
To a home on God's celestial shore, 
I'll fly away (I'll fly away). 

I'll fly away, Oh Glory 
I'll fly away; (in the morning) 
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by, 
I'll fly away (I'll fly away). 

When the shadows of this life have gone, 
I'll fly away; 
Like a bird from prison bars has flown, 
I'll fly away (I'll fly away) 


Just a few more weary days and then, 
I'll fly away; 
To a land where joy shall never end, 
I'll fly away (I'll fly away)

I later added most of the list compiled by Renée Ater to the back of the quilt. She has researched and compiled a list of unarmed people of color killed by police in the last few decades.