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.

Sunday

New Lincoln Reunion

These are two pictures of me in Starbucks with my feet up briefing my neice Faith (Ph.D. candidate in Microbiology at Tufts University) on the New Lincoln reunion at the old building on 110th Street.  Barbara and I had just stopped there after the little after-party at David Formanek's mother's apartment.





 For those of you who may not recall, David's father was once principal of New Lincoln, and he spoke about his father's time at New Lincoln during the ceremony at what is now a correctional facility.

These are a few of the pictures from that event taken by Barbara F. Wallace, my sister.




Beryl (former teacher), and Carla Goldberg (69)




Debby Offner and Rebecca Eddy, both class of 1969



David Formanek, Class of 1969, wife and two children



Henry Weisman, Michele Wallace, Class of 1969 and Barbara Wallace, Class of 1970



Rebecca Eddy, Class of 1969

Today Barbara and I participated in a reunion of the class of 1968 at New Lincoln, the private progressive school I attended from 1963 through 1969, from 7th through 12th grade.  The building, located on 110th Street between 5th and Lenox Avenue at the gateway to Harlem is now a low-security prison superbly well run by what I assume are mostly African Americans, a small and dedicated staff of corrections officers and kitchen staff who made for us what looked to be a tasty meal (not so much as a spoonful ever cross my lips perhaps because of the excitement so I don't know) and gave us a courteous, even warm welcome.

The emotional, psychological bridge was palpable in the course of the day's events between the present life of the building as a low security correctional facility for what is surely mostly brown and black male inmates of poor or impoverished background and our own relationship to the building some 40 years earlier when the school was a predominantly white, definitively bourgeois institution surrounded by a not yet gentrified black and Puerto Rican community. 

During the speeches of today, I heard more than one former New Lincoln student speak of thier bruises as outsiders in Harlem with pride, and with a sense that New Lincoln white students had thus earned the right to think of themselves as pioneers of integration.  I can agree with that and it certainly seemed as though those in attendance had made it a lifelong commitment on some level or other--lots of social workers and other kinds of mental health and therapeutic professionals it seemed at least to me. Cheerful, fiercely smart and well intentioned people.

Among the predominantly white crowd, or maybe even predominantly Jewish crowd there was a considerable sample of black students, a fairly strong representation of those who had attended the school at the time, or so it seemed to me: David Carter, Linda Ward, Steven Boyd and Roslyn Burks, all as charming as ever.  

These festivities were but one event in an entire weekend planned for the class of 1968.  The program at the prison was moderated by Marc Aronson (who picked me up at my house in Englewood still wiping the sleep from my eyes at 9 a.m.), and organized largely by the Solow twins, Jennie and Peggy.  My sister Barbara handled the powerpoint, which was shown throughout the visit.  There were videotapers and reporters and god knows what all.  Verne Oliver, our sturdy leader, was there and every bit as much a force to be reckoned with as she was 40 years ago.  

But I felt fortunate to be reunited with the small sample of my class who came to the prison (Steve Rustow, Henry Weisman, Debbie Offner, David Formanek), as well as those who turned up later at David's mother's house for our after-party including Carla Goldberg and Rebecca Eddy.  A small group of the 1970 class, whom I know less well, including my sister Barbara joined us along with Jonathan Barnett (who was somebody who I hadn't remembered at all but who had fascinating things to say), Carla's younger brother, and I am not remembering that well who else besides David's wife, his daughter and his son.  The food was good, the conversation even better and the cheese exquisite.   

If I hadn't been so exhausted by the blistering sun, the heat and the whole early morning ordeal aspect of it, I don't know how I might have contained my pleasure about the whole thing.  Especially since this is  the summer I plan to spend really kicking into gear the project of Soul Pictures and its effort to organize the family archives of documents and photographs into something of general interest to the public and for posterity.  I realized in the course of this thing that New Lincoln was in some ways a glaring hole mostly in my sense of my own formation.  Although I have written on a number of occasions about the time spent at New Lincoln, it has been I think now always in an instrumental sense as a background for other issues-- my education, my adolescence, my racial identity.  

I couldn't have known all those many years ago just how unique a New Lincoln education has turned out to be.  I also don't know how the others who gathered have come to the same conclusion, or even if the large number who gathered were of the same mind about this or simply fulfilling a social obligation. 

 I hadn't yet really allowed myself to emotionally revisit the time I spent there.  Having to go through the protocols of entering even a very low security detainment facility were helpful in making the mental pause needed to traverse the boundary between the remotest reaches of my consciously recollected past life and the present.  Handing over my cell phone and my ipod to a zip lock bag labeled with my last name and then being essentially locked in until I was carefully and deliberately ushered out of the building again was something I found deeply moving for more reasons than I can count.  I had forgotten how truly long ago it was that I had roamed those halls and thus begun, in a profoundly material sense, the journey by which I became the person I am today. 

As I said to Debbie Offner, by the point at which I graduated in June of 1969 I was doing "angry," which prevented me from taking in vital information concerning my own personal development and growth at the time, much less that of any of my other mostly white classmates.  There was I thought a Black Revolution either about to begin or having already begun, even though I have never seen myself as a major revolutionist.  It was the collateral affects, the cultural and social aspects of it that were of most interest to me, which also made  me completely uninterested for a time in where my classmates of 1969 might be headed.  

I was so wrapped up in what I was doing and who I might be doing it with that I had not even yet made up my mind that I wanted to go to college.  (I had convinced myself that it was some kind of sell out strategy).  My decision making process during this year was deeply flawed.  I guess I was having one of those walking nervous breakdowns.  I mean I was 17, for god's sake and before that I was 16!

I don't remember participating in any aspect of the decision as to where I would go to college except that I said I wanted to go to Howard (because it was black and it had a student take-over in 1968 that was in the newspaper).  I applied, or perhaps Verne applied for me and I was accepted.  I went there in the fall although only after having spent half the summer in a commune in Mexico and the other half of the summer in the Sisters of the Good Sheppard Residence, a home for wayward girls, on 16th Street across from Beth Israel.  I wrote about all of this in my first book Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman although all these years later, I can' remember very much about it at all.  One day I hope to retrace my steps, which may help me to recollect more. 

Actually I had kind of a marvelous and instructional time in both places is the part I do recall. In Mexico, I decided pretty quickly, under the influence of more marijuana than I had ever smoked before or since, that I wanted to spend the rest of my life there.  It was both ridiculous and indefensible but as it happens I never had to think the whole thing through since I was 17 and had only been able to travel to Mexico in the first place because my Mom had given me special permission along with my passport.  Once she rescinded the permission, I was ordered by the Embassy to return to the U.S.  Which was just as well I guess. I mean there would be lots of American kids who would have a very difficult time getting home from Mexico. I don't know how I would have made out if I had been forced to join them, or maybe it was one of those situations where you know it isn't real because you aren't legally an adult yet.  I know one thing.  When I crossed the marker of my 18th birthday, my whole attitude about taking chances of this kind changed forever.  

But I don't want to not do justice to the manner in which I was absolutely smitten by my impressions of Mexico.  The air, the landscape, the culture, the language, the food, the people--all seemed utter perfection to my untutored eyes.  I guess it was the sweet smell of absolute freedom I was sniffing too.  This idea of spending some portion of my life in another country was nurtured early in me by my Mom who took my sister and I and my grandmother with her to Europe in 1961 and then proceeded to entertain the possibility of moving us all to France and sending Barbara and I to boarding schools in Schwitzerland or some such.  In the end, we didn't do it of course but rather married my stepfather (whom we had known all our lives and who was a close personal friend of my birth father a classical and jazz pianist who died when I was 14) in 1962 and the very next year we left our previous school, Our Savior Lutheran School in the Bronx and came to New Lincoln School.  

Which brings us full circle to many happy, fun filled, intriquing and educational days.  At first I felt totally out of my depth, somehow much younger than the other students amidst the freedom and intellectual stimulation of New Lincoln's classrooms.  The informality of the teacher/student relationship threatened and terrified me horribly, as if somebody had just thrown me into the deep end of the pool and I no longer had any idea how to swim.  I could do what I wanted, come and go from the classroom whenever I wanted and yet there were sometimes endless discussions about what it all meant, if not with my teachers than certainly with my mother once she had been to the school and met with my teachers. 

 I grew to absolutely hate the evenings after those damn teacher/parent conferences in Middle School or High School.  I just couldn't seem to manage to adjust my behavior or my academic performance in school to produce the report to my mother I wanted.  I think that in some ways, as may be the case with kids who act very differently at school than at home, school was some kind of release for me from the very different pressures of our home.  

In fact, I think I felt a great deal less pressure at home but at school I felt always on display, even on stage sometimes as a black female, sometimes no matter what.  It may have had something to do with having eczema and being self-conscious about my skin and the fact that I was a late bloomer so far as secondary sexual characteristics.  

I can remember whole periods in which the way I wore my hair was of vital concern,  or the whole thing of when or if I would develop substantial breasts was just horrifying.  By the time I was in ninth grade, I had become so shy that I could hardly open my mouth.  My school work really suffered too.  Some brand of gender conformity that I was still groping with was still uppermost in my mind.  My best friend through the best of this was Debby Offner who shared my interest in dance and performance.  Sometimes we went to dance classes together and often performed in New Lincoln shows together, which could sometimes generate endless rehearsals taking the whole question of a social life off of my hands for months at a time as I recall.  

Two of my classmates who were not there today but who were, nevertheless, important to my development were Stanley Nelson, who was my boyfriend for awhile in 12th grade or maybe it was 11th grade, and Chris Rauchenberg, who was even then turning into the masterful photographer he would subsequently become.  Today I love Chris's work and I look back on him as someone who knew even then what he would be, despite what must have been the pressures of having such a famous artist as a father, and a mother who was an artist as well.  

To see Chris's wonderful work, which helps to confirm my increasingly expansive sense of what qualifies as important in photography, go to www.christopherrauchenberg.com.  

Since I am mentioning Chris's work, I should mention Stanley's work in film (http://www.firelightmedia.org/flash/mainflash2.html), as well, all of which I adore, but most particularly his documentary on Sweet Honey and the Rock: Raise Your Voice and A Place Of Our Own, a personal film he did about the importance of his family's summers in a black community in Oaks Bluff on Martha's Vineyard.  

Okay so I think this is now beginning to qualify as a major exhibition of self-absorption and I have only begun to scratch the surface.  And it is getting late but I was just energized by the whole thing.  

I know that the schools I've attended and how they intervened in my life has been critical to the person I've become.  Also, what I learned today was that we were really really kids when we were 17 and 18 in 1968, 1969 and 1970.  And as such, whatever we did, no matter how bad it may have seemed at the time, it just wasn't really that bad.  There are kids in the place where we were today who never did anything worse than any of us, that aren't any worse than any of us, whose lives are already permanently crippled, caught up in a massive detour around the fruits of their own generation into an institutional framework which may deny them the vote, their freedom and gainful employment for much of the rest of their lives.  

It is just crazy and it is all because we had parents who cared enough to dig deep into their pockets (especially those of us who were on half scholarship) to make sure that things went better than okay for us from the very start, despite whatever else our parents were trying to achieve and trying to deal with because they had lives too.  And so it goes: kids with parents and kids without, or rather kids with parents who can't set much aside for their futures because they are too busy trying to ward off the hawk from the door right now.  

See my blog on the Wire for more on this topic, especially pertaining to the fourth season dealing specifically with how the local junior high schools feed and support the drug market in the neighborhoods in urban Baltimore.  Very compelling stuff.  Important too.

Happily we have located a wonderful document, a B.A. thesis in the Department of Afro-American Studies at Harvard University written by Michaela O'Neill Daniel. 

Entitled RACE AND PROGRESSIVISM AT THE NEW LINCOLN SCHOOL: TEACHING RACE RELATIONS THROUGH EXPERIENCE in 2003. The document includes the fascinating history of the birth and development of New Lincoln while located on 110th Street, from 1945 through 1974 as one of the few progressive schools in which questions of interracial integration in education were deliberately put to the test. I am sure we all suspected but how many of us actually knew. 

The problem was that for much of the history, the goal of administrators and the board was the "color blind" approach, which is more likely to work for white students than black.  Or rather let's say it just doesn't work at all, except to destroy people.

In any case, to read Michaela's clearly written history of the school, explaining both its birth and decline, is deeply moving after all these years. Apparently there was considerable documentation of New Lincoln's racial mission in the press and some photographs from such publications are included here. 

Just a priceless document, which can be found along with pictures and lots of other information at the New Lincoln Website at http://www.newlincoln.org.



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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