Warren County textile and cultural heritage specialist Jereann King Johnson was among 15 North Carolinians honored on Feb. 15 by Gov. Roy Cooper with the Old North State Award for their efforts to preserve African-American heritage and culture.
“Our celebration of African-American culture and heritage would not be possible without the work of those who preserve the stories, memories and contributions of African-Americans,” Cooper said. “They have kept this history and these traditions alive despite decades, and centuries, of African-American history being relegated to the sidelines. But often, their work to keep this history alive goes unsung. So this year, we honor the keepers of our state’s rich African-American culture.”
The Old North State Award is given for service and commitment to North Carolina.
Johnson and the other recipients of the recent honor included historians, curators, artists and others who work to keep African-American history alive for future generations.
Johnson’s lifelong interest in quilting began when she was a child, and her mother sewed quilts to keep the family warm. Johnson’s mother introduced her to quilting by teaching her how to piece together blocks of fabric, which her mother would form into patterns to make a quilt top. After setting up a quilting frame, Johnson’s mother would begin the quilting process, sometimes with the assistance of other women.
Johnson rediscovered her passion for quilting in the late 1970s, when she was browsing through the craft section of a pattern book. She became interested in the Carolina Lily quilt, bought a pattern and crafted blocks from leftover African prints from clothes she had made.
Decades later, Johnson’s passion for history and quilting continued to flourish. In collaboration with several North Carolina Quilters, she helped to launch the African-American Quilt Circle in Durham in 1999, and the Heritage Quilters in Warrenton in 2001. Both groups focus on the preservation and continuation of the quilting heritage and arts. The Heritage Quilters model community-mindedness through work with schools, by leading community tours, and by maintaining a giving circle that provides funds for youth field trips and scholarships.
To Johnson, the Old North State Award represents not an individual honor, but a recognition of the local community’s effort to keep traditions alive.
“The award is not just about me,” she said. “It is about this community and the rich cultural heritage of the community.”