This blog is composed of images and writings related to the life and work of Faith Ringgold, her mother Mme. Willi Posey, and her daughters Michele and Barbara Wallace. There are pages with links to blogs composed of the materials arranged by decades. The blog, itself, will ultimately be composed of materials related to the life of the family in the 90s and the 21st century.


The Any One Can Fly Foundation

Faith Ringgold and Lifetime Achievement Honoree Painter Richard Mayhew having a laugh on the porch at the Foundation Garden Party in 2008, Englewood NJ

I have written an article on the programs of the Any One Can Fly Foundation, my mother's foundation, for a book on artists foundations edited by Barbara Hoffman .

This Chapter 7 --The Anyone Can Fly Foundation: The Life, Career, and Mission of Faith Ringgold--African American Artist, Feminist Writer, and Children's Book Illustrator, Par Excellence, along with the entire manuscript entitled 2008 Supplement Update to A Visual Artist's Guide to Estate Planning is available online at  

Faith is the only African American artist with a functioning foundation, the purpose of which is not only to further the study and knowledge of the canon of African American artists but also, upon her death, to inherit and manage her entire art collection mostly composed of works by herself. 


Critical Essay: Concerning Work on The Ancestors

Michele Wallace and Mme. Willi Posey (Momma Jones) after the college graduation of the former standing outside of Madison Square Garden, New York June 1974.  It was a windy day and Mom (Faith Ringgold) was took the picture.

Yesterday I attended a powerpoint Faith did at the National Arts Club as she was receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award for the City College of New York Art Alumni.

She presented recent soft sculpture of her ancestors--her grandmothers and grandfathers, and her great-grands and great-great grands with the years of the life span following the place of birth.  Almost all died some place else other than where they were born owing to the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North during the early decades of the 20th Century.

In particular I was struck by this in the case of Ida Matilda Posey, Mom's grandmother, who was born in Jacksonville, Florida in 1869 but then died in New York City in 1927. It creates an entirely different picture if you think she lived her whole life in Florida, which she did not. Mom's grandfather was born in Rocky Grove, Aiken County, South Carolina--so far as I can tell--but he died in Palatka, Florida in 1912 suddenly of appendicitis. 

Although it is often remarked how young he was when he died, he was born in 1860 and he was 52. The same story was told of Ida that she died in her youth, yet she was actually 58. Not that 52 and 58 are that old but it isn't the first blush of youth either. Ida died of Bright's Disease. Obviously they both died of the tenuous health care of the early 20th century, with an added component perhaps of Jim Crow health care although how this worked for Ida Posey in the New York hospitals is a subject to be explored.  I am assuming that blacks received sub-standard health care in the hospitals of New York in the 20s since they still do especially in the public hospital of New York in 2009.

But it may be that people didn't often live of a burst appendix in 1912 or of Bright's disease in 1927 period.

I do know that great care was frequently taken to conceal the true age, to the point of lying to the census takers, for which they no doubt had their very good reasons. I suspect in cases where education was highly valued (such as happened with Zora Neale Hurston), the age was put back in order to take advantage of some public program restricted to the young. From the time of the Emancipation Proclamation until now blacks were always playing catch up.

But the location and date of B.B.'s death in Palatka in 1912 is very important because Palatka is also where his youngest children Edith, Willi (Mom's mother) and Hilliard were born. It was when BB died suddenly of appendicitis that the family was gradually split up and scattered. It is also important because in the interviews I did with her in 1978 and 1980, MJ obviously considered Palatka her true place of origin. Apparently MJ ended up staying in Palatka to finish her primary schooling perhaps at that very same primary school for colored listed in the directory, living with a family named the Massingales, who had never had children themselves, whereas Ida sold the house in Palatka and took the other children with her to live with her mother, Betsy Bingham in Jacksonville, Florida. 

Palatka and Jacksonville are only about 30 miles away from one another and connected by a very convenient railroad line then.  There was also a ferry although MJ doesn't mention it.  No doubt it practiced Jim Crow and it may be that blacks carefully avoided Jim Crow accommodations and shielded their children from them whenever they could.  MJ remarks upon how her mother would bring Edith and Hilliard with her to visit MJ in Palatka on Christmas and other holidays.  Could it be that the commuter rail was small enough that the seating wasn't racially segregated or perhaps it was underutilized?

The education of the eldest children Cardoza, Bessie and Inez at the Florida Baptist Academy was terminated because of lack of funds. Cardoza who had been born in 1892 was 20 years old and would by 1917 move North to New Jersey, establishing the first outpost of the immediate family in the North. Bessie who was 16 in 1912 and would live with her mother in Jacksonville until she married Henry Austin and then moved to Harlem with her husband who had a job as a cook on a boat docking in New York. This change of venue is important to our wing of the family because MJ would travel to Harlem to live with her and to attend Wadleigh high school in New York, and so therefore MJ went from really small rural town, which was hardly racially segregated to Harlem which was the capital of the black world.  Although she was born in the South, she had never really experienced the pain of segregation and Jim Crow first hand.

Which may account for much of her sunny disposition toward life, I wonder?  She was no doubt of an optimistic bent but whether this was her innate disposition backed up by life circumstances or whether life circumstances generated her optimism is not a question I can answer any better than most psychologists.

For me the fact that Mom is doing this work is fascinating, particularly since she has done so much other work using the figure of MJ and her immediate family. If it happens over and over again in an artist's work, one must ask how has that meaning grown? What does it mean this time, as she grows older. It's like artist self-portraits as the artist changes. 

One can see the development in self-perception and world perspective. In any case, this project was initiated with friends Linda Freeman and Grace Matthews.

1909 Palatka Directory

This is information culled from the Palatka City Directory:

Public School #2 for colored,
cor of North and Reid,
CB White, Principal, Mrs. Maggie M. Drakeford,
asst. Misses Bessie E. Hawkins, Estelle D. Drakeford, Alaie J. McLaughlin, Margie E. Trapp.

St. Mary's Day School (negro Episcopal),
Lemon (the street MJ is always talking about) between 8th and 9th Street, Mrs. L.A. Morris< Principal.
Presbyterian (negro) cor Lemon and S. 8th Street. Rev. F. Gregg, principal.

How could MJ not have noticed that every thing was segregated although she readily conceeded that she didn't know where the white kids went to school. It just underscores the observation my therapist Dr. Lila Coleburn made in her Ph.D. thesis at the CUNY Graduate Center in Psychology that children under a certain age, children aren't able t incorporate the full complexity of racial segregation as a social practice since superficial groupings such as races are not a part of their world view yet anyway.


Photo Collection: Concerning Copyright Use of Images--Very Important

All images posted on this blog, including both photographs and works of art, are restricted by copyright use.  With very few exceptions, the copyright registration is Faith Ringgold.  It is illegal to use any of these images in any manner without the explicit permission of Faith Ringgold or her legal representatives (which I have!)

All such request for use, which will be given due consideration in the order of their receipt, should be made to Grace Matthews, Artist Assistant, and/or Faith Ringgold at For more information concerning the art work, see, Mom's website.

Presentation of these images on my blog and my website is purely for research and scholarly purposes in order to disseminate the existence of such images under the "fair use" provisions of the copyright law, and in all cases in which copyright use applies.  

In this regard, I am also eager to receive information concerning any and all the photographers who produced the photographs included herein, and can be contacted via my webpage at  

Yes, I've decided to use my middle name (faith) afterall.  Or at least the first initial f for purchase of a domain name.  Apparently Michele Wallace is actually taken so don't go there looking for me. My name was at birth Michele Faith Wallace, as my sister's name is Barbara Faith Wallace.  And my niece was named after Grandma and as such has both her first and middle name, Faith Willi, and so you see we are all named Faith. FYI, both Faith Sr. and Faith Jr. get their middle names from my grandmother Willi Posey, who provided the inspiration for this blog.



The French Collection Number 8:
On the Beach at St. Tropez,
Acrylic on canvas, tie-dyed quilt frame
74 x 92 inches
Copyright Faith Ringgold, 1991.

The French Collection Number 7:
Picasso's Studio, 1991
Acrylic on canvas, tie-dyed quilt frame
73 x 68 inches
Worcester Art Museum
Worcester, Massachusetts
Charlotte E. Buffington Fund
Copyright Faith Ringgold, 1991

French Collection Number Five:
Matisse's Model, 1991
Acrylic on canvas, tie-dyed quilt frame
73.5 x 90 inches
Baltimore Museum of Art
Baltimore, Maryland
Copyright Faith Ringgold 1991

French Collection Number 6:
Matisse's Chapel, 1991
Acrylic on canvas, tie-dyed quilt frame
74 x 79.5 inches
Collection of George Wein
Copyright Faith Ringgold 1991

French Collection Number Nine:
Jo Baker's Birthday, 1993
Acrylic on canvas, tie-dyed quilt frame
73 x 78 inches, St Louis Art Museum
St. Louis, Missouri
Copyright Faith Ringgld 1991

French Collection Number Three:
Picnic at Giverny, 1991
Acrylic on canvas, tie-dyed quilt frame
Private Collection
Copyright Faith Ringgold 1991

See "The French Collection: Momma Jones, Mommy Fay and Me." In Dancing at the Louvre: Faith Ringgold's French Collection and Other Story Quilts edited by Dan Cameron, University of California Press 1998. Forgot to mention that this is a pretty expensive book if you buy from the University of California, which is where this link goes. The price is $35 or so at Amazon. Of course, there's shipping. Also, for more on this topic see The Mona Lisa Interview at

The Place of the Photograph in a Digital Universe

The French Collection Number 4: Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles, 
acrylic on canvas, tie-dyed pieced fabric border
73.5 x 80 inches 1991
Collection of Oprah Winfrey
Copyright Faith Ringgold 1991

This blog is devoted to exploring the photographs and art works of Faith Ringgold, with a particular focus on the photographs, documents and art related to the lives of Ringgold, her mother Willi Posey and her two daughters, Michele Wallace and Barbara Wallace.

We have always lived in the immediate context of a world mediated by visual art and photography.  Both Barbara and Faith, Sr. are wonderful photographers in their own right. Barbara's oldest daughter Faith, whose major occupation is as a micro-biologist, is also a wonderful photographer, as well as the prime initiator of these blogs and my new website,  Barbara has also been tremendously helpful in getting the blogs started and I am looking forward to loading onto this site the many wonderful pictures she took of me during the heyday of my first book Black Macho and The Myth of The Superwoman in the late 70s.  There are also the photographs she took of us around the time that Faith Jr. was born. I find that I am scarcely able to remember those chapters in my life which aren't bookmarked with photographs taken at the time.  

I find that often when I look at a picture of myself, whether it is photographic or an original work of art, I can remember exactly what I was thinking at the time, and even though a moment before I had no recollection of the events, I can now remember the context, the people that were there and things that happened that I had completely forgotten.  This is also true, sometimes, of photographs and images of others, photographs and/or images of news events or photographs which recall for me a landscape or a location or even a piece of furniture that was once in my life.  It seems that these images occupy the key to the cryptic manner in which my memories are arranged, with the most important memories right beneath the surface of the gaze when my eye comes in contact with something visual that seems familiar.  The next moment I am remembering something that I had completely forgotten, in oddly shaped fragments.  Each time, for particularly powerful images, I will remember something altogether different.  

I don't believe it has much to do with the intrinsic qualities or value of the image-- how well it is done according to some impartial standard of photography or art making-- although it may be that the images to which we attach the most meaning, significance and financial value are those that touch the widest array of people, or maybe they touch the richest people, or the whitest people, or the people who think of themselves as white.  I don't know and I don't have much interest really in figuring this part out.  All I know is that the images you care about (or that I care about) have to be safeguarded because there are a lot of people out there who wish to tell you that your visuals are without value or importance and that you should stop looking at them and get rid of them.  This seems perhaps the unintended consequence of the digital revolution and everybody snapping cell phone images twenty-four-seven.  

In short order, if it hasn't already happened, this endless proliferation of digital images which are crowding everybody's hard drive and so forth will drown out all sense of the place photography once occupied in our lives before computers and digital files and digital cameras.  Not that digital cameras don't produce beautiful pictures.  They can and they do.  And it seems the difference between the real photographers and the fakes is as much in place as ever.  

BUT it is going to get harder and harder for ordinary people (who have no time to study the situation) to tell the difference and to attach value and/or meaning to visual images in general, photographs perhaps in particular. 

Photo-Essay: Picture of My Family

The picture which provides the opening image for this blog is of my family, my mother and father and my Aunt Barbara on the eve of Aunt Barbara's wedding.  It is a party taking place in my grandmother's livingroom at 363 Edgecombe Avenue in Harlem in 1950.  I am not yet born or even considered. My  parents are not yet married.  They will elope and marry later in the same year.

After this lovely wedding, in which Aunt Barbara married Jo-Jo, the man who is kneeling in the picture, they will live together with Momma Jones and my Mom Faith in this same small appartment. Faith says now the reason she decided to marry Earl was to avoid the crowd at the house, principally composed of Aunt Barbara and Jo-Jo. Aunt Barbara, Mom says, would strut around in her slip on hot days while Mom was forced to be fully clothed from the first thing in the morning to the last thing at night because Jo-Jo was there.

I can imagine that the party wore pretty thin after awhile.

So Mom and Earl eloped also in 1950, timing it to coincide with Momma T (Earl's mother) getting married to someone I called "Chiefie," or "Sarge," whom I thought of as one of my four grandfathers and going off to the Air Force post in Guam as his wife.

It was a series of endless weddings, triggering one another like falling dominoes. Weddings have potentially tragic consequences. They are major events, one of the few ways to completely change the trajectory of whatever your life might have been without them.

As it turned out, Jo-Jo, who had been the cause of all this dislocation, was already married to somebody else. One day, Jo-Jo's real wife appeared at the door. Aunt Barbara and Jo-Jo's marriage was subsequently annulled.

A few years laters, my mother and Earl had married, and my sister and I were born, and my Mom left my Dad and took us to live with Momma Jones at 363 Edgecombe Avenue.  Mother's marriage would be annulled as well on the grounds that she had not realized that he was addicted to heroine. In those days, it was not so easy to sever a marriage.

This seemingly happy-go-lucky photograph continues to wreak of tears and sadness to me. And yet I love it still. Soul Pictures. Such is the spirit in which this blog, which I hope one day will be a book, is constituted.


Photo Collection: My Photo Sets on Flickr and Zenfolio

 Zenfolio Collection

Flickr Collection

I am including here links to the family photos collections I have uploaded onto Flickr and Zenfolio for reference.  All of these photos are limited in their use by the copyright of Faith Ringgold.  They are currently available at these addresses on Flickr for research and/or genealogical investigation, primarily not in large formats.

We have many more but this is a healthy group made up of photos from the teens through the 90s of myself, my sister, my Aunt, my mother, dad and grandmother Mme. Willi Posey, as well as some reproductions of the art of Faith Ringgold.


Photo-Essay: Stairs from Sugar Hill to the Valley

08stairway, originally uploaded by broadwayhousing.
These are the stairs that lead from Edgecombe Avenue, where I grew up and where my stepdad (Burdette) grew up down to the Valley where MJ and all her siblings and her mother first lived in the early 1920s and where my Mom spent her earlier years at 222 West 146th Street immortalized in her Street Story Quilt of 1986 (collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art).

When Faith started writing the stories that go with the earlier story quilts, such as "Who's Afraid of Aunt Jemima?" I had no idea where those voices in dialect telling neighborhood stories came from. It was as bracing as a cold shower. At first, I thought it was a put-on, a voice adapted for the amusement and entertainment of the reader as I came of age in a period in which anything delivered in the southern dialects of the colored tongue was considered a ruse and a form of cooning for the white folks.

I didn't yet understand that what I had been taught in the 60s and 70s to consider a deformation of black character and speech was actually an immensely rich source of a variety of working class, rural and subterranean black experiences, a series of lifestyles and adventures-- particularly that adventure of escaping hard times and Jim Crow--to emerge triumphant in the cities of the North and the West.

Chronologies and Documents: MJ Collection Inventory Notes

I. The Posey Family History: Photographs; Letters, Autobiography
List of Contents--Documents
1. Cardoza Posey note: “a part of two letters to me, father to son while in school at Florida Baptist Academy, Jacksonville, Florida. A letter from Papa, Feb 19, 1911
6 pieces of a handwritten letter from B.B. Posey, hardly legible.
2. Certificate of Death Evelyn Muriel Bingham (MJ's cousin, granddaughter of Betsy Bingham).
Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics Certificate of DeathDuval County Florida, Jacksonville 56 years old. Jan 10, 1958. Born Oct. 22, 1900 Public School Teacher Mother Janie Brown and Father Peter Bingham Address: 612 Owen Avenue.
3. Funeral Service, Friday July 31, 1964—The Late Dr. JY Posey, Third Stone Baptist Church, 1591 Boston Road Bronx New York
4. Board of Public Instruction: Contract between BB Posey and Jacksonville, Florida.
Putnam County, Sept 15, 1897. Salary $50 per month.
Public School 29 at San Mateo
5. Letter from Aunt Janie in Jacksonville, Florida to nephew Cardoza July 4, 1960.
“It is very hot down here. I miss Evelyn so much. I feel strong in a new place. I am old now and I can’t get out much.”
6. Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia October 6, 1963.
7. J.W. Posey State of South Carolina County of Aiken Teacher’s Graded Certificate. September 3, 1883. Second Grade.
8. July 1, 1953—Letter from Ida Mae Bingham, Jacksonville Florida.
9. Letter from W. Walton Edwards—Attorney and Counsellor
August 9, 1913—Mr. Bunyan B. Posey, concerning the property of brother L.O. Posey.
10. Clipping—“Lawrence Dargan Hanged in Palatka” August 19th, not sure of year.
11. Family Record Pages—
B.B. Posey—birth January 16, 1860, married Oct 15, 1891 and died May 15th 1912.
Ida Mae B Posey—birth July 18tk, death July 20, 1927, etcetera.
Blake Funeral Home Book for MJ. Died October 28, 1981. Book of Friends Who Viewed.



Chronologies and Documents: Sonny Rollins Podcast and Interview at CUNY

Sonny Rollins Videos

The link here is These materials, including lots of videos of concerts and interviews, are from the website of Sonny Rollins who was a childhood friend of my Mom, my Dad Earl Wallace and my other dad Burdette Ringgold. The videos begin with an interview with Sonny's sister Gloria reminiscencing about life in the Harlem--the Sugar Hill Edgecombe Avenue area where they all grew up-- of the thirties and forties as Sonny, her younger brother, was growing up.
Rollins playing his saxophone on the Brooklyn Bridge figures prominently in one of my Mom's painted quilts to be seen on her website Bebop was the required music of my early childhood and of my parent's youth and Rollins was one of the precocious creators of this magnificent music. Recently Rollins was interviewed by Gary Giddins at the CUNY Graduate Center where Giddins teaches and where I am also on the faculty of the English Ph.D. Program. My sister and I were in attendance and hoped to get a chance to say hello personally because my sister Barbara hasn't met him (not much of a jazz fan) but the magnitude of the event including an overflow room made it an accomplishment just to get into the auditorium. I don't know Giddins personally and there were clearly so many fans of one kind or another in the audience who were obviously willing to stand on their heads to greet Sonny, Barbara and I decided to retreat to my office on the fourth floor quietly. I hope Barbara will get a chance one day to meet him. I wonder what she'll think?
Here's the link to the interview with Gary Giddins on the CUNY website at


Photo-Essay: Ida Matilda Posey

The mother of Willi Posey, and the grandmother of Faith, was Ida whose middle name was Matilda. I guess I should say also that she was my maternal great-grandmother, which makes her more cuddly, although I never knew her.  I was always told of her that she died prematurely of a broken heart in 1927 in New York City.  MJ never spoke of her without a pained expression on her face.

From my limited study of the census records and the variations over a period of decades, it would appear that some people did a lot of fiddling with their birthdates as time went on so it is difficult to tell with certainty when Ida Matilda was born but my guess would be 1869, which would have made her 58 when she died.  I guess that could be considered rather young to a grieving daughter with young children (Uncle Andrew and Aunt Barbara, four and one, respectively.  

B.B., my great-grandfather and MJ's father, was born in 1860 in Rocky Grove, Aiken County, South Carolina of Free and Matilda Posey, and he died in 1912 in Palatka Florida, which would have made him 52, also a fairly young age.  He was nine years older than his wife Ida.  This information I gathered from census records from Palatka, Florida in 1880.

B.B. Posey also died young of an attack of appendicitis.  This could not have been an easy thing to die of in 1912 in Palatka, Florida.  With no x-rays and I don't know what else (but maybe some morphine), this meant a protracted death at home.  As MJ tells it, he died at home.

This picture, which is extensively doctored and colored, may have been taken soon after Ida Matilda's husband's death or around her move to New York, maybe in about 1918 or so, although the long skirt suggests closer to the earlier date of 1912.

I used to call her Ida Mae because there is another Ida Mae, the daughter of Hilliard Bingham (Willi's Uncle), Ida Mae Bingham who never married, and who was a choral director at the Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida.

Matilda seems to have been a somewhat popular name during the period.  Free Posey's wife, and the mother of B.B. Posey was named Matilda, born in about 1815 in Aiken County,  South Carolina. Her husband Free Posey was born in about 1813.  The first name is highly suggestive.  


Chronologies and Documents: 1900s--Posey Family Chronology

Mme. Willi Posey was my grandmother, and Faith Ringgold's mother.  Posey was her maiden name, and the name of her father Benjamin Bunyon Posey who was educated in D.C. and a teacher in South Carolina and in San Mateo and Palatka, Florida in the late 19th Century and the early 20th century.  He had a great many siblings and he had six children, one of whom was Willie, Faith's Mom.  

Not sure why the census says BB Posey is a drayman in 1900 except that in those awful days it was not unusual for blacks who were professionals (ministers, teachers) to engage in more than one occupation with the second one being more menial such as being a laborer of some kind or a farmer.  Being a black teacher in the public schools in the South then was far from a secure or reliable line of work from what I gather from reading some of the histories.  It has occurred to me as well that descriptions recorded in the census or in city directories may have been distorted by racist competition, and that considerable inaccuracies might creep into the records.  

The Binghams are the family of MJ's mother.  There were two generations of Peters and three generations of Hilliards, which can get confusing.

1900s—Posey Family

1900—Benjamin Bunyon Posey, enumerator of the 12th Census of the U.S. Precinct #24, Palatka, Florida, 6th Ward, Putnam County. Peter Bingham (Ida’s father) “can read, can write, can speak English, Drayman. Owned land and business.”

1900—Susan and Robert Shannon (Willi’s maternal great-grandparents) residing at Waller Street near Day Avenue, married 60 years. Susan had borne six children, three of whom survived—Betsy, Peter and Hilliard), Jacksonville, Florida.

1900—Peter Bingham II (Willi’s Uncle) and Janie marry in Jacksonville.

1900—12th Census of the United States
Schedule No. 1—Population
Precinct #24 Palatka, 6th Ward of city, Putnam County
Enumerated by me on the 21st day of June 1900,
Benjamin B. Posey, Eumerator
Enumeration District 151
Supervisor’s District #2

Peter Bingham, Black Male, Born March 1841, 59, Married 38 years. Born Virginia
Drayman, Can read, Can write, can speak English, Owned land, mortgage, business

Bessie (or Betsy) Bingham, Black Female, Born May 1850, Married 38 years, Borne 8 children, three of whom survive (Ida, Peter and Hilliard or Hillyarde), Born in South Carolina, Can read, can write, can speak English.

1900 Census, Putnam County
B.B. Posey, 40 years old.
Spouse: Ida, born 1869 in Orange Springs, Florida
Isaac C. Posey (45), BB’s brother living with them.

1901—Andrew Jones born in Alauchua County, Florida to Walter Jones and Baby Doll.

1902—Gainesville, Florida—March 20, 1902.
Dear Brother: This will inform you that Babe (not sure who this is, maybe Mary E. Knight) is dead and buried. She died Sunday night March 16th. She had the pneumonia, had been sick about three weeks. I arrived in Tallahasee Monday 3:30 p.m. and saw that she was nicely laid away. Rev. JB Hawkinson preached the funeral at the cemetery.

She was buried late Monday afternoon. (maybe William Knight) had a good Dr. treating her, and she seems to have been well cared for. She looked natural. She was speechless about three days before she died. She asked her husband was Joe going with her. Sunday during the day she though speechless called me loudly, and that was her last talking. She leaves three beautiful little girls to mourn her loss. Her husband expects to keep the children. It was a sad funeral to me. I am your brother J.W. Posey.

I do not know Bingham’s address. Please send this letter to him after you’ve read it.

1903—Evelyn born to Peter II and Janie Bingham in Jacksonville.

1903—March 22nd, Willi Posey born in Palatka to Ida and BB Posey in Palatka, Florida West side of Peck Street at #203, Block 58, Sheet 13.

1907, August 27--Letter from lawyer Wm. L. Pollard, Attorney in D.C. to Bunyan B. Posey, Esq. (the father of Willi Posey) Palatka, Florida. This list refers to all of B.B.s siblings, as well as their children and husbands in those cases in which the sibling is deceased, together with the place of their most recent address.

Concerning Lawrence O. Posey’s death. Unmarried. No children.
Silbings who are alive:
Mrs. Aklin Stroman, Springfield, SC
Mrs. Annie L. Frazier, Blackville, SC
Mr. Bunyan B. Posey, Palatka, Florida
Mrs. Emma Blasengale, Salley SC
Mrs. Frances Simons, St. Augustine, Florida
James N. Posey (deceased)
• Mary Posey (wife) Kitching Mill, SC
• Aquilla Posey, Kitching Mill, SC
• Priesta Posey, Jacksonville, Florida
• Belle Posey, Kitching Mill, SC
• --- Posey, Kitching Mill, S.C.
Viney Dunbar (deceased)
• Washington Dunbar (Husband) Aiken, SC
• George Dunbar, Texas
• Della Stroman, Dupont, Florida
• Chas. Dunbar, Aiken, SC
• Dorsey Dunbar, Aiken, SC
• Eddie C. Dunbar, Palatka, Florida
Issac Posey (deceased):
• Sarah Posey, Palatka, Florida
• Pauline Posey Palatka, Florida (deceased)
• Daniel Posey Palatka, Florida
• Lenora Posey Palatka, Florida or Federal Point
Mary E. Knight (deceased)
• William Knight (husband), Tallahassee, Florida
• Alwillie Knight, Tallahassee, Florida
• Sally Knight, Tallahassee, Florida
• Mabel Knight, Tallahassee, Florida

1907, Aug 26 Letter from Rev. Jacob Posey from Washington D.C. concerning the death of their oldest brother Lawrence who had no wife. All of his things had already been claimed by the city authorities.
$2800 worth of real estate
$700 in cash in the bank.
Safety vault had $100 in cash including gold, and two gold chains. Some stock. Some mortgages and notes.
5 or 6 lots, the most valuable of which was assessed for $916.
He was once worth $25,000. Should be able to find $7000 all told.
Location: 609 F Street, Washington D.C.

1907—Letter from Jacob to B.B. He will need to publish all debtors and creditors in the paper in response to Bunyon’s complaints of immediate financial need.

1907. December 31st—Jacob thought he would be
able to send a check by now but the Judge allowed the lawyer Pollard a fee of $300, another judge revoked it and allowed $150. He paid the first order and now Pollard says he will not repay the $150 unless ordered to do so.

1908--Letter January 10, 1306 22nd Street, NW
Concerning the problem of brother Frazier who wants a promissory note for his portion of the estate in exchange for paying some of the expenses.
He says he’s found about 3 acres of land out in Mt. Pleasant. He had begun to see one of the Anacostia properties, and it is almost paid for. He claims that none of the creditors wish to pay.

1908, January 17, 1908—Letter from Jacob Posey continuing to track down parcels of land and determine their status. He goes to visit a piece of land at Mt. Pleasant, which is 5 or 6 miles from the city. The car runs within half a mile of the land. There is an open road from the cars to the front lot. The back lot has a stream running through it. Before Lawrence bought it, it was sold for 1903 taxes. It might cost $100 to redeem.

He hasn’t gone to Delaware (not sure what is there) but he says he’s been to Alexandria, Va., found $500 in furniture, clothing, books, etc. “I have all of his clothing and books here in my room. They can be divided at any time. The money comes to slightly more than $1000 dollars.” This is for money owed, which he may not be able to collect.  He mentions a letter that Daniel Posey wrote to the lawyer, which he hasn’t seen and didn’t ask to see.

1908---January 11th--“I can’t see how a man of your intelligence can speak as you do.” I think he is saying his share is $172. He is still waiting on the $150 refund from Pollard.

1909—March 16th, Letter from Denmark (where Jacob lives?)
“Booker T. Washington spoke here today to an immense audience. He is touring this state for the next week or so.”

Chronologies and Documents: 1910s--Posey Family Chronology


1910 Census—Alachua County, Florida, Tampa.
Walter Jones can read and write, married to Baby Doll with 7 children recorded: listed Walter Jr. 15, Mary, 12 and Andrew 9, Erwin 7, Laura 4, Anna 3.

1910 Census. Duval County Florida, Election Precinct 27.
13th Census of the United States. Population.
Peter Bingham Head of Household, 49, married 20 years, from Florida.
Janie Bingham 39 married 20 years from South Carolina.
1 child: Evelyn Bingham, Daughter 7.

Jacksonville 1910 Directory, Volume 1 & 2
Elizabeth Bingham ,Waller near Day Avenue.
There is also Hilyard Bingham, laborer, at 1116 W. Ashley
Peter Bingham, laborer, Owen Avenue near Waller
Lydia Bingham (wid of Elisha P), 1015 E. Duval
Ella Bingham 605 Main

Susan Shannon
Died March 22, 1910, Article from the Metropolis Newspaper, pg. 17
dated March 23, 1910.
Survived by 2 sons and one daughter (Betsy, Peter and Hillyard)
Mrs. Shannon’s body was shipped by Geter and Baker undertakers to Reddick (Marion County), Florida.

Cardoza Posey note: “a part of two letters to me, father to son while in school at Florida Baptist Academy, Jacksonville, Florida. A letter from Papa, Feb 19, 1911
6 pieces of a handwritten letter from B.B. Posey, hardly legible.

1911—from Anna L. Frazier: Sister Emma died on the 12th of February in 1911 in Blackville SC. This letter is from Anna L. Frazier.

1912--B.B. Posey of North 7th Street died this morning. Mt. Tabor Baptist Church, Rev. William Bell presiding. Resolutions read by Mrs. D. Drakeford of the Central Academy recognizing him as a teacher.

1912--A letter to BB Posey from the Fessenden Academy, English and Industrial Departments, Martin, Florida. Principal.

1912--Letter to Mrs. Ida Posey in Palatka, Florida. Sympathy note D.A. Thomas. May 13th—B.B. Posey dies in Palatka, Florida.

1913—August 16th, Letter to Mrs. Ida Posey, Palatka. The Posey case has been referred to the auditor of the court, to state the account and determine what is due each one of the heirs out the fund now in hand. One month after he files his report in the clerk’s office, the distribution can be made. Thomas Walker Attorney at law in D.C.

Letter from W. Walton Edwards—Attorney and Counsellor
August 9, 1913—Mr. Bunyan B. Posey, concerning the property of brother L.O. Posey.

1912—Benjamin Bunyon Posey dies at home of appendicitis in Palatka.**
B.B. Posey—birth January 16, 1860,married Oct 15, 1891 and died May 15th 1912.
B.B. Posey of North 7th Street died this morning. Mt. Tabor Baptist Church, Rev. William Bell presiding. Resolutions read by Mrs. D. Drakeford of the Central Academy recognizing him as a teacher.

Photographic Portrait of B.B. Posey taken by the Nugent Studio at Fourth and Lemon Street in Palatka, Florida.

Notice in the Paper—Gem City Paper:

While lying . . . . Monday night . . . . to the Sweet singing of the children at the graduating exercises being held in Bethel Church only a half block away, and as hundreds of hearts were beating with joy and ecstacy at the success of each number, and while one graduate whom had performed her part well, was awaiting her diploma. Hark! There breaks in on the stillness of the night, the solemn toil of Mt. Tabor Church bell a block away, heralded to the citizens that the grim reaper had stalked into the city.

About 9 a.m., word was received of the death of Prof. B.B. Posey of N. Seventh Street, whose daughter Edith was the graduate. The end came unexpectedly, as but very few knew him to be but little indisposed. Prof. Posey was well known, having lived here a number of years, and having lived here a number of years, and having been a school teacher for some time. He was a man who stood by his judgement, and dared to do the right as he saw it for this cause as all good men do. He had some enemies, nevertheless he feared them not. The funeral was held on Wednesday at Mt. Tabor Baptist Church at 2 pm. Rev. Wm. Bell officiating, words of eulogy by Revs. T.E. Debose, MD Potter and LW Robinson. An excellent set of resolutions were read by Mrs. M. Drakeford on behalf of Central Academy, recognizing him as an ex-teacher.

A letter to BB Posey from the Fessenden Academy, English and Industrial Departments, Martin, Florida. Principal.

1914—Bessie Posey marries Henry Austin at 1607 Davis Street, Jacksonville, Florida across from 8th Street.

1916—Inez Posey marries George Washington in Jacksonville.

1917—Willie comes to New York to stay with Bessie who has married a seaman.

1919—Willie Posey graduates from Wadleigh High School.


Chronologies and Documents: Mme. Willi Posey Family Tree-- 19th Century: Binghams/Shannons

The Shannons were Faith's great-great grandfather and great-great grandmother.  We assume they were both born as slaves but we have no further details yet, both of them from Virginia.
Their daughter was Betsy Bingham, who was MJ's grandmother and Faith (Mom)'s great-grandmother.  She was a quilter and a dressmaker in Jacksonville Florida.

1815—Robert Shannon born (MJ's maternal great-grandfather), farmer in Palatka, Marion County according to 1900 Census.

1817—Susan Shannon (MJ's maternal great-grandmother) born in Virginia, according to the 1900 Census, Marion County Florida.

1845—Peter Bingham I born in Virginia, Farmer.

1850—Betsy Bingham (MJ's maternal grandmother) born in May in South Carolina.

1867—Betsy and Peter marry (maternal grandparents of MJ), bore eight children, three of whom survived, Ida Mae (MJ's mother), Peter and Hilliard.

1869—Ida Bingham born in July in Orange Springs, Florida, MJ's mother.

1870—Peter Bingham II born in Orange Springs  to Betsy and Peter, MJ's Uncle.

1880—Janie born, will marry MJ's Uncle, Peter Bingham II.

1880 Census Data

Schedule 1—Inhabitants in District 14, in the County of Marion, State of Florida enumerated June 1880: Peter Bingham Black Male 35 years old Farmer. Born in Virginia.

1880—Peter and Betsy Bingham (Willi's grandparents) living in Marion County, Jacksonville.

1880—Janie born, will marry MJ's Uncle, Peter Bingham II.

1880 Census Data

Schedule 1—Inhabitants in District 14, in the County of Marion, State of Florida enumerated June 1880: Peter Bingham Black Male 35 years old Farmer. Born in Virginia.

1880—Peter and Betsy Bingham (Willi's grandparents) living in Marion County, Jacksonville.

1890—Peter Bingham II (Willi's Uncle) marries Janie Bingham.

1891—BB and Ida Posey married in Orange Spring, Florida.

Teacher’s County Certificate of Qualification, Second Grade. (This grading refers to a tripartite system in which the highest grade was third grade, representing the highest score and also the greatest level of teaching experience).  Third grade qualified one to teach at all levels.  Second grade qualified to teach at a variety of grade levels, as I understand it.

These certificates were awarded on the basis of extensive examinations partly enforced in order to discourage black teachers in Florida and other Southern states, and to make the educating of blacks that much more difficult since education was not something that white Southerners wanted for blacks.  The white landowners who were Democrats felt education of whatever kindwould not help them to be more contented poorly paid workers in their fields.  The white Republicans were not much better.)

State of South Carolina, County of Aiken, Teacher’s Graded Certificate.

This Certifies, That JW Posey having furnished evidence of good moral character, and having passed a satisfactory examination in the following named branches, with the annexed results, is recommended and authorized to Teach in the Free Public Schools of this County:

(JW was apparently an older brother of B.B., MJ's father.)

Orthography 10
Reading 10
Writing 10
Arithmetic 4.5
Geography 8
English Grammar 7
History 5.5

This Certificate to continue valid for the term of one year from the date hereof, unless sooner revoked, given under our hands and seals at Aiken the 3rd day of September AD 1883
SW Williams and Chase ER Drayton, County Board of Examiners for Aiken County.

Note—The figure against each of the branches denotes the grade of attainment in such branch, 10 being the highest and 1 the lowest. If the average for all the branches reaches 8.5 or more, this Certificate should be marked First Grade; if under 3.5 Second grade, if 5 and under 7, Third Grade.

Photo Collection: Susan Shannon circa 1910

Susan Shannon circa 1910, originally uploaded by olympia2x.

Susan Shannon was the great-great-grandmother of Faith Ringgold, the great-grandmother of Willi Posey and my great-great-great-grandmother.  In this photo, which may have been taken by Uncle Cardoza, she was almost 100 years old.  Born in 1917, she surely had many memories of slavery. 

Photo Collection: Betsy Bingham's house

Betsy Bingham's house, originally uploaded by olympia2x.
This photograph is taken by Cardoza Posey. The writing is Uncle Cardoza's.
This is Betsy Bingham standing in front of her house in Jacksonville, Florida. In the background one can see a sign that identifies her as a dressmaker. Also sitting in a chair with a blanket over her legs is her mother Susan Shannon.  The child standing next to her is hard to say.

Chronologies and Documents: Mme. Willi Posey's Family Tree--Poseys & Jones 19th Century


Abt 1813—Free Posey (MJ's paternal grandfather) born, farmer in Rocky Grove, SC in 1880 Census.

1830—Matilda (MJ's paternal grandmother) living in Rocky Grove, Aiken County with husband, Free Posey

1854—Jacob Posey born in Rocky Grove, SC., son of Free Posey and Matilda, older sibling of Benjamin Bunyon Posey, father of MJ.

1855—Isaac Posey born April in SC., BB Posey sibling.

1859—Anna Posey born, child of Free and Matilda in Rocky Grove, SC., BB Posey sibling.

1860—Benjamin Bunyon Posey (MJ's father) born in July to Free and Matilda Posey in Rocky Grove (Davis Bridge), Aiken County, South Carolina.

1864—Joseph Posey, born in Rocky Grove, SC., sibling of B.B. Posey.

1865—Francis Posey born in Rocky Grove, SC, to Free and Matilda, sibling of B.B. Posey.

1867—Mary Posey born to Free and Matilda in Rocky Grove, SC., B.B. sibling.

1879—Horatia Posey born in Rocky Grove to Jacob and Anna DB, BB Posey sibling.

1880 Census: Bunyan Posey born in Rocky Grove, Aiken County, South Carolina (1880 Census) 20 years old

Siblings: Anna (21), Joseph (16), Francis (15), Mary (13)

J.W. Posey State of South Carolina County of Aiken Teacher's Graded Certificate. September 3, 1883. Second Grade.

1892—Bunyon B. Posey and Ida Mae Bingham marry (Willi's Parents)

1892—Cardoza Posey born in Palatka, Florida.

1893—Teacher's License B.B. Posey, Public School #24 at San Mateo.

1895—Alsada (girl) born to Peter and Betsy Bingham (Willi's grandparents), MJ's grandparents and Ida's grandparents.

1895—Bessie born to BB and Ida Bingham Posey.

1897—Blanche Inez Posey born in Palatka, Florida

Board of Public Instruction: Contract between BB Posey and Jacksonville, Florida.

Putnam County, Sept 15, 1897—1899 to teach Third Grade. Test Grades: Orthography, Reading, Penmanship, History, Arithmetic, English Grammar, Geography, Composition, Physiology 80%, Theory and Practice of Teaching, 51%, General average 63 2/3%, .

Salary $50 per month.

Public School 29 at San Mateo

1899—Edith born to BB and Ida in Palatka.


1857—Walter Jones (FR's paternal grandfather) born in Georgia, married to Doll Baby, birth father of Andrew who will marry MJ and be the father of Faith. According to the 1910 Census in Alachua County, Florida. Tampa.

1870—Sam Johnson, Andrew's stepfather born in Georgia according to 1920 Census, Tampa City, paternal step-grandfather.

1881—Doll Baby born in Georgia, mother of Andrew Jones.


Photo Essay: Dark Designs and Visual Culture

Wedding Gathering 2, originally uploaded by olympia2x.
This photograph is used on the cover of Dark Design and Visual Culture, Duke University Press 2004. The picture was taken in 1950 and it forms the thematic basis of my writing on photography since the year 2000, which forms a continuation of my work on African American visual culture since the completion of my dissertation on the topic: Passing, Lynching and Jim Crow: African American Visual Culture, 1895-1927 in Cinema Studies in 1999.
This event takes place in 1950 outside of Abyssinian Baptist Church where my Aunt Barbara is about to be married.  This collection of people is composed of Mme. Willi Posey, my grandmother, and a fashion designer who had designed her own dress as well as all of the dresses of the other participants in the wedding; Aunt Barbara, her oldest daughter, is the bride; her youngest daughter, Faith, 18, is on the right and wearing glasses which she will not wear in the portrait shots.  Also in the shot is a rented limousine, which they are getting out of.  Brownie who was MJ's best friend immortalized in Faith's mask series as "Mrs. Brown," is engaged in some business with Aunt Barbara's dress.  Andrew Jones Sr., the father and the only man in the picture, has been resurrected in his role as patriarch for this occasion.
MJ and he are already divorced owing to his drinking and his fondness for the sporting life and she has already begun to use her maiden name, Willi Posey with Madame on the front, as her professional name.  In the lower right hand of the photo is Cheryl, MJ's first grandchild, the daughter of her oldest son, Andrew Jones.  She is dressed as a flower girl.
MJ must have paid dearly for this wedding because there was never to be another one like it in the family.  She was a woman who knew how to stretch a dollar until it screamed and these wedding pictures serve as the ultimate verification of that skill.  On exhibition here is not a casual, bourgeois wealth but rather the serious discipline imposed by a standard of chic, style and glamour which Harlemites of my grandmother's ilk simply took for granted.  MJ was also no doubt celebrating the fact that she had successfully ushered Aunt Barbara through her college graduation at New York University the spring before.  The first college graduate in two generations.
This is a candid shot taken perhaps accidentally at the spur of the moment by MJ's favorite photographer, D'Laigle.  It never made it past the proof sheet, which happened to survive.  I cut it out, mended it and had it restored for the picture it presents of the state of my family of origin in 1950.
I love the way the personalities are revealed by it. Everybody is on a different wavelength.  Aunt Barbara is tiny (she weighed less than 100 pounds and the dress, which survives, looks like it is for a 12 year old) and has assumed almost the character of a madonna through the mystery of the veil.  Faith has a look of anticipation and expectancy, perhaps indicative of the plan that must already be evolving in her head of eloping with my dad later that same year.  Grandpa Andrew seems to me charmingly tipsy.  The surprised, sort of caught in the headlights elegance of MJ reminds of some of the Weegee photographs of the rich on their nights out.  That's another thing.  It appears to be a night photograph but am not sure if it is.


Photo-Essay: The Judson 3 and The 1970s

Jean Toche,Faith Ringgold and Jon Hendricks

312-29-021671001R, originally uploaded by Jan van Raay.
The Judson 3 in front of the Federal Court Building. Feb 16, 1971.  Photo by Jan Van Raay.
It is difficult for me to imagine that anyone who knows our family could be unaware of the events surrounding the Judson 3.  It became so crucial to who we would become as a unit, what the future would hold, particularly after MJ's death.  In any case, MJ never participated in events like this and did not approve of Faith's arrest.  MJ was somebody who thought that being a mother over-ruled all other activity on the planet for women.  It may have been that Barbara and I were brought along on mother's protest activities as much because she needed to keep an eye on us as for any political perspectives or inclinations of our own.  Protests with Art Worker's Coalition and Lucy Lippard and the Judson 3 formed our family outings, and some of the times that I can remember we were happiest together.
In 1970, a People's Flag Show was given by a Committee of artists at the Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square Park.  The show included all kinds of artists all of them lampooning the notion of the American flag as a sacred symbol.   John Hendricks and John Toche, who formed the Guerrilla Art Action Theatre and the Belgian Government in Exile, were also involved with Faith in the planning of the Flag Show.
There was a poster that was designed by Faith and made to commemorate and advertise the show.  I wrote the words on the poster as a representative of WSABAL (Women Students and Artists for Black Art Liberation), which Faith and I had founded a black feminist art activist group.  The show opened.  Faith, John Hendricks and Jon Toche were arrested by the District Attorney's office for desecration of the flag and the show was forced to close.  Thier case was known as that of the Judson 3.
The pictures assembled here are by the photographer Jan Van Raay of various events linked to the case: protests outside the court house, benefits to raise money for the Civil Liberty's Union which took the case, and an evening during the show itself.  My sister Barbara and I are in several of the ones I have chosen to reproduce here.  There are many more Judson 3 photos and photos of other art world activism at the time at Jan Van Raay's photostream on Flickr, which can be found at

Photo Collection: Mom and Barbara with Judson 3

298-14a-120170001R, originally uploaded by Jan van Raay.
Mom in mink hat and coat by MJ. Barbara in sunglasses behind her.  Photo by Jan Van Raay.

Photo Collection: Michele at Federal Court Building

312-9-021671001R, originally uploaded by Jan van Raay

Michele in a Judson 3 Protest.  Photo by Jan Van Raay.

Photo Collection: John Hendrix, Jon Toche and Faith at Museum

283-27-113070001R, originally uploaded by Jan van Raay.
Nov 30, 1970.  Photo by Jan Van Raay.

Barbara with Abbie Hoffman

307-23-020571001R, originally uploaded by Jan van Raay.

Feb 16, 1971.  Photo by Jan Van Raay.

Barbara with a Flag Pocketbook

307-16-020571001R, originally uploaded by Jan van Raay.

Judson 3 in front of Federal Court Building, Feb. 5, 1971.  Photo by Jan Van Raay.

Michele at Federal Court Building

312-16-021671001R, originally uploaded by Jan van Raay.

Feb. 16 1971. I was 19 and it was cold.  Photo by Jan Van Raay.

Kate Millett at Leo Castelli Gallery

Judson 3 Benefit in 1972. Michele in background.  Photo by Jan van Raay.

Michele and Faith at Leo Castelli Gallery

Benefit for the Judson 3 in 1972.  Photo by Jan van Raay.

Michele and Faith at the Whitney

Jan Van Raay records this as a protest demonstration of the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition at the Whitney in 1971.  They were a group of black artists founded by Benny Andrews, and this was one of several different black demonstrations that were held at the Whitney in those years. 
Mom and I were there representing the issues of WSABAL (Women Students and Artists for Black Art Liberation).  Or in other words, we were there as feminists but in the context of a predominantly black male group although Vivian Browne and other black women artists are included in the pictures.  Really really interesting set more of which are visible at

305-37-013171001R, originally uploaded by Jan van Raay.  Photo by Jan van Raay.

Critical Essay: 1960s--Barbara Ann Teer & NBFO is the address for the Barbara Ann Teer Funeral Procession as photographed by Xenobia Bailey, whose blog is a great source of information on Harlem in general.  

Here are my notes upon first learning of Teer's death:
I find it more and more difficult to take in the deaths of so many people who have been so important in my life.  When MJ, my grandmother, died in 1981 I began to wonder and continue to wonder what does life mean once you've lost your major signposts?  In any case, the longer I live, the more it seems as though everybody who really matters is gone but I remember laughing at the elders who I heard say such things when I was in my twenties.  

I use to love to hear them say it, and the attempt to imagine where it was they had gone in their thoughts when they said such things.  I pondered the names they would call as the ones who were gone and who would never return in any form.  And now here I am myself at 56 mumbling names and hoping that the young ones will have some idea of the spirits that existed behind the names because it is becoming clearer to me that some of them are not coming back in any form, at least not in the orbit I am in.  Maybe in India or in Saigon or in Moscow somewhere where they desperately need such spirits, by the way.  

So today getting this news that Dr. Barbara Anne Teer had transitioned out of my orbit brought me suddenly back to 1968 when I was 16 and the tumultuous and turbulent times in Harlem in which I first met her, studied under her and simply adored her.  After I passed on to other things, she continued to be there, to fight the very best kind of fight for the soul, spirit and culture of Harlem.  And it is the Harlem she imagined that is rising like a phoenix as I write this.  

How ever some of us may subsequently regret the excesses of black cultural nationalism in the Harlem of the 60s and 70s, I don't think we can ever afford to forget how much fun we had, how much we all learned about one another and ourselves in the course of that intoxicating moment of full body immersion into the folkways of the African Diaspora.  

I've since begun to gather that some of the larger distinctions between how others of my generation may remember it have to do with the fact that I was particularly lucky in that my home was in Harlem in the household of one of the emerging leaders of that generation (my Mom Faith Ringgold).  As a result, our brand of black cultural nationalism was stylish, sophisticated, anti-racist and cosmopolitan.   Political people sometimes make the mistake of thinking that style isn't political but when other forms of power are questionable, style can be the ultimate public protest.

And in Harlem we were stylish indeed, with both Mom and Dr. Barbara Anne Teer serving as role models along with Sonia Sanchez, June Jordan, Nikki Giovanni, Michele Murray and the stunningly beautiful Amina Baraka for all of us who happened to be born female. 

I don't think I need to mention the gorgeous men  who are better known to the general public and who were everywhere--such as Don L. Lee, Clayton Riley,  Archie Shepp, Charles Lloyd, Amiri Baraka, Rap Brown,  Stokely Carmichael, and the various Last Poets (Kane was my particular favorite) who shared a space on 125th Street with the NBT (National Black Theatre) and who were often in and out during my classes there. 

 I won't get into the hairstyles and the clothing and the accessories and jewelry because without lots of photographic illustrations it would be pointless.  Suffice it to say, that I can't hardly look at a music video or a film or a television show from any country on the planet in which that style doesn't resonate.  

As for music, which was always at the core of everything we did, our everyday choices for live entertainment might range from Aretha Franklin at the Metropolitan Opera House to Nina Simone at the Filmore East to Marvin Gaye at the Apollo to whoever was gigging at the local club just around the corner.  To this day, I still feel as though recorded sound is an insufficient second best to the vibrations of live acoustic music. 

When Fidel Castro visited the city, he stayed at Harlem's Theresa Hotel resulting in traffic jams on 125th Street in every direction.  But it was also absolutely normal because it was Harlem. There is so much more that could be said and not enough time.

These following words come from a press release I just got on her transition:

Dr. Barbara Ann Teer, Founder and visionary of the National Black Theatre Inc, made her transition peacefully at home Monday, July 21, 2008.  Dr. Teer was an icon in the healing art of Black Theatre.  Leaving behind a lucrative show business career in 1967, she came to Harlem in 1968 and founded the National Black Theatre (NBT). This began a 40-year passion that changed the cultural landscape of the theatrical world. She created a new cultural art form by blending cultural appreciation, performing arts and community advocacy. In 1983, she expanded that vision with the purchase of a 64,000 sq ft building located at 125 Street & Fifth Avenue. There she created a thriving cultural and business complex housing the largest New Sacred Yoruba Art collection in the western hemisphere.  Through a commitment to her vision and purpose, the National Black Theatre is a world-class institution that inspires cultural transformation, social change, human re-development, historic relevance, and futuristic innovation.

Throughout her life, she was always on the cutting edge as the world paced one step behind her trail blazing vision and provocative stage productions. As a former dancer, actress, producer, director, writer, cultural entrepreneur, and more recently officially an African Chieftain, she has won countless awards and received numerous Honorary Doctorate Degrees. However, what mattered most to her was spiritual, self-empowerment.  She was known for providing a cultural incubator and training forum for artists in all walks of life. Her commitment through the National Black Theater was to offer an alternative learning environment where she attracted people from around the world whose work she impacted and showcased.

Dr. Barbara Ann Teer loved Harlem and took a stand for it against the odds.  As much as she loved Harlem, she loved her birth home, East St. Louis, Illinois .  Dr. Teer leaves in spirit and love two children: Sade and Michael Lythcott and a host of long-term staff, friends and family. Owens Funeral Home will host her transition in New York. She will be released in perpetuity when returned to her home town for her interment with her family who preceded her. 

In her own words: "The only thing you can take to the bank is love."  Love is the currency, the vibratory frequency that Dr. Teer's spirit leaves for us to continue.  She's given the world her legacy as a treasure chest of authentic, unprecedented achievements that will stand forever as a tribute to her vision and tireless work.  Now and forever more, her legacy and love will live on to impact generations to come.

Contact: Pat Faison, National Black Theatre

For More information:


Michele and Faith Outside the Whitney in 1971

305-37-013171001R, originally uploaded by Jan van Raay.

Photograph by Jan Van Raay who holds the copyright.

Although Jan says this is a photograph from a demonstration by the Black Cultural Coalition in 1971 but I think it is actually a picture of a demonstration of Feminist Artists protesting the exclusion of women from previous Whitney Biennales in maybe 1969.  It is possible to check Faith's autobiography WE FLEW OVER THE BRIDGE, republished by Duke University Press, 2004.  

We certainly look happy!

Critical Essay: Palatka, Florida

Willi Posey was born in Palatka, Florida in 1903.  She describes it as a very small town in which there was little formal segregation, or so it seemed to her from the perspective of her early childhood through adolescence when she moved to New York to join her sister Bessie and her husband Henry in Harlem.

In the series of autobiographical texts I have from my grandmother (two interviews in 1978 and 1980 respectively, and an autobiographical essay 19 pages in length), some of her most fascinating observations and remarks are made concerning this place of her birth and early upbringing.  She describes in detail her memories of the day in 1912 when her father, B.B. Posey, died of appendicitis.  She was fascinated by her most visual memory in which the doctor arriving at her house in a horse-drawn carriage with the dirt in the road flying up in the air around the hoofs of the galloping horse.  Her sister Inez (who would have been about 16) was taking her for a walk, she tells me.  Her memories of this day, as well as the events that preceded and followed it, are highly elliptical and fragmentary.  That she couldn't tell me when he died or how old she was (her guess that she was about 6) made it difficult at the time to imagine what it was like for her.  But now that I know she was nine, it is perhaps a coincidence that I, too, had a harrowing experience with death at the same age when I was travelling in Italy with my grandmother, Mom and my sister, and we received the news that Uncle Andrew was dead. 

So I can compare MJ's memories to my own in terms of fullness and/or precision.  I can remember a lot of things about being nine, and before I was nine, very clearly.  For instance, I can remember the day we received the call at the hotel in Rome.  But at the same time, there are other things which are totally blank, such as the content of conversations that my mother and my grandmother had.  I don't think I can remember anything MJ ever said to me during that trip although I shared a room with her, and my sister shared a room with Mom. 

MJ can remember little of a personal and intimate nature about her father.  She was nine when he died although I wouldn't have known that when I was interviewing her in the late 70s and the early 80s because she was most insistent that I not mention her age in anything I might write about the family.  

But she needn't have worried about that then since I was so completely disoriented by her description of her life in Florida.  In particular, her total lack of a sense of hardship, either racial or economic, came as a complete surprise to me, given the literature that then provided my understanding of her historical period.  When I interviewed her, I had no knowledge whatsoever of this period of history, the turn-of-the-century, which has become my favorite. For black people in particular these were difficult times, especially in the South where the largest number of blacks were congregated.  My sense of this difficulty was only in the vaguest terms and based upon the generalizations that most people my age took for granted, which was the Civil Rights Movement was the most important thing to happen for black people in the South since the Civil War.  

I knew there was  a Reconstruction period but I had not yet become a student of DuBois's Souls of Black Folk (1903) and his cogent historical account of how black people had fared since the Emancipation Proclamation.  DuBois work had endured a kind of blacklisting and neither he nor his writings were back in fashion yet.  When I did finally begin to read Souls a few years later while I was teaching at the University of Oklahoma, I found the language and the assumptions nearly inpenetrable, mostly again, I think because I had had so little previous exposure of how black folks got from 1865 to 1965.

So the period my grandmother was born in was closed to me, especially the part having to do with the South.  The furthest South I had ever been at that point was Washington D.C. when I attended Howard University or one semester in 1969.  Then I had taken a short trip to Tupelo Mississippi to do a story for Rolling Stone about a supposed resurgence of the Civil Rights Movement in 1980.  They cancelled the assignment before I could begin to write it.


Photo Essay: Invisibility Blues, Excerpts from New Introduction

Barbara, Mom (Faith Ringgold), Michele and Willi Posey, probably a birthday celebration for Mom, October 8, 1981. Photo taken by Dad, Burdette Ringgold. Photo Collection of Faith Ringgold.

Faith Ringgold with John Hendricks and Jon Toche, The Judson 3 at the Judson Memorial Church, Washington Square Park, 1970. Photo by Fred McDarrah for The Village Voice. Reprinted in Dancing at the Louvre edited by Dan Cameron, University of California Press, 2001 with essay by Rick Powell.

Oil on canvas, 30" x 24," Collection of the Artist

New Introduction by Michele Wallace
Englewood, New Jersey 2007

When I first conceived of doing Invisibility Blues in 1990, the intention was to draw together all of the major writing I had done, beginning in my college years in 1969. Such a thing seemed to be particularly important to do after the success of my first book, Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman, and the controversy it had aroused. Of greatest concern to me was the notion that had been circulated that I was not actually a writer, a feminist, or an activist, or even serious about the topics brought up in that book. The point was, though, that I was serious and had not been put up to my deeds by white feminists of any description, as dear friend and colleague Ishmael Reed lovingly suggested in his book Reckless Eyeballing. (I addressed his suggestion in the Village Voice in 1984, and that essay appears here as “Ishmael Reed’s Female Trouble.”) So, with Invisibility Blues, my aim was to establish my feminist bona fides by providing the reader with a context for the writing of Black Macho.

Harold Bloom’s Anxiety of Influence taught me that the person the writer credits least may be the one most heavily borrowed from. My most significant mentor, teacher, co-conspirator and guide had been my own mother, also known as Faith Ringgold. Which brings us to another purpose broached in Invisibility Blues as constructed in 1990: my failure to properly thank my mother. Let’s get it said that in those days feminists were, at the very least, ambivalent about the importance of the maternal role particularly in regard to their own individual mothers. Adrienne Rich’s book Of Woman Born helped me to become more conscious of this double standard in feminist thought, as did the time I spent with Rich when she received an honorary doctorate from the City College of New York in the 90s.

Oil on canvas, 72" x 96," Collection of the Artist

It was just in the normal course of things that if you were black, female, and young, and had managed to wiggle through the door of publishing success, you entered without family or baggage, and were booted out the next door just as unceremoniously when you were no longer young. But what could I have known about such things then? I was 27. At 27, nothing is actually known. Actual knowledge requires information sifted through experience. You sleep on it. You walk on it. You roll it between your thumb and your forefinger and then maybe, just maybe, in 30 years something will occur to you as known. But much more stunning still, at least to me at 56, is how much larger and larger the unknown seems to yawn into the eternal abyss.

Faith's art has shaped all of my life. It is impossible to imagine life without it in the background or sometimes in the foreground. So I include it often in my writings because it truly belongs there. But I also use the work in order to pay tribute to her undeniable gifts and importance as a black feminist artist.

Acrylic on canvas, painted and pieced border, 74.5" x 79.5"
Private Collection

In Invisibility Blues there are three illustrations used of Faith’s paintings. The first is “For the Women’s House” (1972). It is a painting I slept with and daydreamed over during its creation in 1971 when I was all of 19, attending City College as an undergraduate and living with Faith in Harlem. It is a large, perfectly square, painting organized by the principles of BaKuba (of the Congo) design, and greatly influenced by Faith’s growing interest in African art. The mural was made for the Women’s House of Detention on Riker’s Island, and during its creation Faith and I talked endlessly about the concept of a feminist vision designed to enlighten and enhance the lives of women of color in the prisons.

Faith went to see the prisoners several times to talk with them about what they would like to see in a mural; what would give them hope and help them dream of their future. I never went with her on those occasions but we reflected endlessly on their comments, and these reflections resulted in my interview with Faith, which was first published in Women and Art—an underground feminist publication of the early 70s—and appears here as the piece titled “For the Women’s House.”

The celebration of the installation led to the formation of a group called Art Without Walls, which turned out to be another those times in which all three generations collaborated--MJ, Mom, Barbara and me. All of us were in the group and led workshops along with other sundry artists and writers.

Another of my mother’s works, “Who’s Bad Painted Quilt” (1989) fronts the section on popular culture. This section includes my essay on Michael Jackson, which ends with a discussion of Faith’s painting of Jackson. The painting was donated to an auction sponsored by Jackson himself to raise money for Bishop Tutu.

A third image, “The Flag is Bleeding” (1968) fronts the Culture/History section most particularly in relation to an essay called “Reading 1968: The Great American Whitewash.” In this piece, I tried to bring a more diverse perspective to some of the dominant Liberal interpretations of 1968.

In addition to the reproductions of Faith’s art, there were many other ways that I sought to recognize and acknowledge my Mom’s contribution to my work as a writer. Within the autobiographical section, the first part of the book, each essay mentions Faith and her work generously, or so I imagined in 1990.

Today, my favorite among the autobiographical pieces are “The Dah Principle: To Be Continued,” and the “Baby Faith” essay. “The Dah Principle” was written for the catalogue I edited for Faith’s twenty-year retrospective at the Studio Museum in 1985. The essay was about three series of Faith's paintings, all abstractions: The Emanon Series, The Dah Series and "Baby Faith and Willi" These paintings were all done in tribute to the passing of MJ, my grandmother.

In this photograph, MJ (my grandmother) is in her prime in 1950, 50 years old herself, divorced and with her youngest child over 18. This was at the same time as Aunt Barbara's wedding, in the apartment on Edgecombe Avenue. Part of a series taken by her boyfriend, Mr. Morrison, of her modeling her own fashions, this work, together with a series of projects she did on weddings and cotillions for her friend's daughters and her own daughter's wedding seems to have provided the transition to her emergence as a full-fledged Harlem dressmaker and designer who had clients, supported a coterie of professional models and gave seasonal fashion shows. Mom inherited her professionalism, her capacity for hard work and dedication to her craft from MJ. Living in MJ's world prepared me well for living in my mother's world.

These three generations of my family, my grandmother MJ, my Mom and her sister Aunt Barbara, and my sister and I had formed the nucleus of a closely knit circle of people and children who gravitated around MJ's extraordinary energy, elegance and joie de vivre. For some time, I am not sure beginning when exactly, she had been a dressmaker and someone who greatly admired well-made clothes, having learned to sew from her mother Ida Mae Bingham, her grandmother Betsy Bingham and her great-grandmother Susie Shannon. Apparently, Betsy, who was also a former slave, maintained a profitable dressmaking business out of her home in Jacksonville. Ida Matilda Bingham, who had been a teacher when she met and married Prof. B.B. Posey, also a teacher, continued her sewing once she began to have her children and taught her daughters Bessie, Willi and Edith to sew as well, a skill that would come in handy in the garment factories when the family moved to Harlem and New York.

MJ arrived in New York still a teenager after her father died of appendicitis in 1912 in Palatka, Florida, her birthplace and the location of her early education. Coming to New York to live with her sister who was married to a seaman who was away on long voyages, she attended Wadleigh High School. Born in 1903, she must have graduated by the time she was about 18 or so and married Andrew Jones, my grandfather who drove a sanitation truck. From the outset she and her children were always impeccably turned out in clothing of her own design and making. After WWII, MJ went to work making Eisenhower jackets in the factories downtown and got involved in the formation of a black fashion network of aspiring designers called NAFAAD, the National Association of Fashion and Accessory Designers which began under the auspices of Abyssinian Baptist Church where MJ was a lifelong member. The first fashion shows they held were also at Abyssinian. Her children Andrew, Faith and Barbara, as well as many of her fashion designer friends such as Margaret Floyd and Barbara Mayo modeled in those first shows. Later on they developed into a finely tuned national organization with branches in many major cities, conferences and events taking place at the leading hotels such as the Waldorf Astoria, the Hotel Theresa and the Americana Hotel in New York.

Aunt Barbara, Allan (a boyfriend), Johnny Rainbow (Singer at many of the fashion shows) and Mom (Faith) on the couch at 363 Edgecombe Avenue circa 1956. MJ is just visible in the mirror on the left.

This photograph provides kind of a window on what had become another common pre-fashion show scene. Aunt Barbara who is at the center is rehearsing some kind of dance that she and the models who are fanned out around her will do for the show. The scene is in MJ's living room, a space which I would not have thought would be large enough for a dance rehearsal but rehearse they did, nonetheless. I am right there in the background curled up on the couch, dreaming of being a dancer myself and enjoying every minute of it.

Mom and Aunt Barbara, and MJ herself made exquisite models. The life we lived with MJ when I was a little girl always seemed to me highly theatrical in a way that kept me on the edge of my seat in anticipation of what might be said or done next. Waking up the next morning to discover that I had fallen asleep at some point the night before I often experienced as a kind of defeat over the fascination I felt for the people who swarmed around my grandmother, whom I thought of as a minor celebrity until the day she died.

When MJ died in 1981, I had just begun to embark upon my studies for a Ph.D. in American Studies at Yale. To lose what had been the most crucial person in my life besides my mother at that time was profoundly disorienting. Although by then many of her siblings had died and I was becoming an old hand at funerals, it had not ocurred to me that MJ would die so soon. If it had, I like to think that I would have taken a leave-of-absence from Yale and spent as much time with her as I could have. There was a part of me that wanted to do that anyway.

I called her often from New Haven, spoke to her often. Even as the publication of Black Macho had really tested my relationship with my Mom, I had grown that much closer to MJ. Her house had always been my one refuge in my sometimes stormy young life. She had always been profoundly supportive of everything I did from the time I first began to publish in the early 70s. She read my work, bought my books, entertained my friends, attended all of my book parties and events, especially if my mother was unable to come.

When Ebony Magazine decided to do a profile of me, MJ received them and all the rest of the members of the family who were willing to attend at her house. The story never appeared but I still have the photographs they took and I will never forget her unfailing hospitality. She also encouraged me to make peace with my mother as frequently as she could. Indeed, in the extended interview I did with her in 1980, she spoke of the importance of making peace with my mother over my first book.

This photo which shows MJ relaxing with two of her best women friends also at the same time as Aunt Barbara's wedding illustrates another important principal MJ lived by, the importance of friendship. On her right is Lottie Bell, who kept the household in Atlantic City where MJ and her children spent their summers, and who later moved to Washington D.C. where we went on the first summer vacation I can remember when I was about four. Lottie Bell was a great cook and kept a crowd at her place. On the left is another good friend I don't remember. Afterall, I am not even born yet.

When she died and then Aunt Barbara died the very next year, it was not a good thing at all. In fact, it was devastating. I don't believe I will ever get over how different the world has seemed ever since then without them.

The “Baby Faith” essay, which is also included in Invisibility Blues, helps to provide an introduction that followed the exit of MJ and Aunt Barbara, which centered around the birth of my neice (1982) whom we called Baby Faith and who was named after her grandmother. The essay was written for Ms. magazine in 1987 when Baby Faith was 5 and already had a little sister Teddy who was then 2.

In the Pop section, which follows, there is an essay about the reception of the movie The Color Purple in Norman, Oklahoma where I was teaching when it was released (1987), and an essay on the reception of Michael Jackson in his then most recent video, “Bad.”1 The title essay “Invisibility Blues” is a meditation on the intersection of media and multiculturalism in the 80s. Also in this section are essays about Spike Lee’s “She’s Gotta Have It” and “Do The Right Thing.” Both films, along with The Color Purple would help to shape the future of blacks in the film industry in the 90s, and certainly shaped my enduring fascination with film: they ultimately influenced me to pursue a Ph.D. in Cinema Studies at New York University. “Entertainment Tomorrow” is a meditation on the impact of popular culture across a broad range of cultural phenomenon, from Jesse Jackson’s speech at the National Democratic Convention in Atlanta in 1988, to the Broadway production of “Sarafina” with the unforgettable, unstoppable music of South African expatriot musician Hugh Maskela. The final piece, which first appeared in ArtForum, briefly considers Clint Eastwood’s massively crucial “Bird,” and “Mississippi Burning,” yet another not-quite-entirely-successful stab at portraying the Civil Rights Movement on the silver screen.

The Culture and History section begins with “For Colored Girls, the Rainbow is Not Enough,” a profile first published in the Village Voice on Ntozake Shange and her play’s debut at Joe Papp’s Shakespeare Festival Theatre. “Slaves of History” is an essay on Deborah Grey White’s groundbreaking history, Ar’n’t I a Woman: Female Slaves in The Plantation South, and on poet and playwright Sherley Anne Williams’s historical novel about antebellum slavery, Dessa Rose. “Slaves of History” first appeared in the Womens Review of Books (1986).

There is also a short profile of Wilma Mankiller, then the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation in Talaquah, Okahoma (1987), which was published in Ms. Magazine (1988). “Twenty Years Later” is an essay on my own experience as a teenager living in Harlem at the time of Martin Luther King Jr’s death in 1968. It reflects upon the confusion and the riots which followed, and the amnesia that had descended on places like the University of Oklahoma where I was teaching on the twentieth anniversary of his death. 

“Who Owns Zora Neale Hurston? Critics Carve Up the Legend” is a piece of feminist literary criticism stemming from the rediscovery of the Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston, which was first published in the Voice Literary Supplement (1988). “The Great American Whitewash” was my way of naming the retrospective whitening of the revolutionary world event collectively known as “1968” and an attempt to make a correction restoring the recognition of black participation. This essay was first published in Zeta in 1988. The last chapter in the Culture/History section is an essay about the work of Tim Rollins and Kids of Survival, which I wrote for their catalogue in conjunction with an exhibition at the Dia Center for the Arts.

Tim Rollins was an artist who had helped form Group Material (a radical deconstructive/historical artists’ collective in the 80s and the 90s), and a junior high school teacher in the South Bronx. He started an after school art program and worked with a promising core of Latin kids to make large, mostly public art installations. They were always stunning, the kids brilliant and striking. I had such a great time visiting them.

From the time I was about five years old, which would have been in 1957, my sister Barbara and I modelled in all the fashion shows. Here I am modeling in one of the last of MJ's shows in 1970. I was 18, in college at CCNY and actually painfully shy but really enjoying this dress. Feminism was already very much in my life.

Finally, we arrive at the theoretical section of this manuscript composed of the two long reflective chapters that formed my M.A. thesis in English and Literary Criticism at the City College of New York. In retrospect, I think they are too long and too reflective for the times we are currently living in. The purpose of this writing was to substantiate through critical analysis something I still believe to be a fact: that a certain portion of the population—women of color, mostly— can not be heard, understood, or adequately recognized by dominant mainstream culture. The considerable wisdom and knowledge of this population remains unincorporated, even as it is indispensable to the survival of the smaller and often marginal communities where women of color participate and provide crucial leadership. What I said then about mainstream culture in the U.S., I would now enlarge to a global perspective.

Brilliant Third World feminist intellectual Gayatri Spivak refers to this population as the subaltern. The difference between her analysis and mine (at least since I last checked) is that I would include Spivak and myself in the group whose knowledge is chronically trivialized. As for the notion of a public intellectual, when it comes to the likes of us, it is an oxymoron.
I wish the writing in “Variations on Negation and The Heresy of Black Feminist Creativity” and “Negative Images: Toward a Black Feminist Cultural Criticism” was less dense and circular. But I still haven’t found any better way to express the invisibility that haunts women of color; intellectual, determined-to-be-useful women of color in particular. Despite the fact that many of them are now famous and a few are even rich, it continues to astonish me that nothing much has changed in terms of inequality in America.

And yet the desire to preach this sermon has entirely left me. At 56, perhaps the key is the realization that, yes, my grave will occupy the same six-foot depth as everyone else’s, but I don’t have to spend the rest of my life staring into the pit, waiting to fall. Black feminism doesn’t work well—at least in the United States—as a collective perspective or an organizational tool, but I still believe that it is real, useful, and functional. It only occurred to me recently that a progressive perspective need not recruit thousands of people in order for it to work the way it should. Perhaps it works best when it enhances the individual woman’s depth of understanding, the woman who can’t bear the idea of an unexamined life. It makes me happy to be the way I am, to think the way I think. And it may make you happy too.

1 The subway fight in “Bad” was actually filmed in the subway station on 145th Street and Nicholas Avenue above which I had lived since we moved back to Harlem in 1962.

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Michele Wallace

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Michele Wallace: Talking in Pictures

Michele Wallace: Talking in Pictures
Barbara, MJ, Michele and Mom in the background in sunglasses at a fashion show in the early 60s