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

Photo Essay: Halloween at 409 Edgecombe Avenue 1980s




"Time Out" by Faith Ringgold.  All rights reserved.  Copyright Faith Ringgold.  Collection of Michele Wallace

How old is Teddy in this picture?  Perhaps three.  Dad, who was then about 59, took his second granddaughter Teddy to a Halloween party in the lobby of 409 Edgecombe where he had grown up and his Mom was still living.  So my guess is this is either 1988 or 1989.  It has always been one of my favorite pictures of the two of them.  Mother Faith accompanied them and took this picture.  

In fact, I wanted to use this picture on the cover of my most recent book Dark Designs but it was ruled out immediately for reasons that completely escaped me since nothing was ever articulated but over the years I have formed an opinion of what was being seen here that others found objectionable and inappropriate, but that I found highly seductive and irresistible.  Of course, it has everything to do with race, and the perception of what is expected of a person in terms of conforming to expectations of race, especially in terms of skin color. 

Not the least of which has me thinking about these matters lately has been the controversy over Michael Jackson's recent death and the difficulty people seemed to have with accepting him as he was or as he had become.  Also, the ongoing discussion of who and what our President is, mostly generated by the fact that he is of biracial birth and that his father was African and Muslim.  Clearly it makes people crazy.  It's his blessing but it is unsettling for some.  Not me but for some.  Is he or was he or will he ever be a real black man?  If not, what is he?  Answer: he is the President of the United States but that doesn't satisfy some. 

I cannot remember a time when I didn't know Burdette Ringgold.  We called him Daddy long before mother and he were married.  Not sure why but he was a close friend of my real father to begin with.  He was also good friends with my grandmother Momma Jones.  He knew Earl's mother as well, Momma T.  They were all Edgecombe people, as was my mother.  Almost a tribe they were.  He use to take us out a lot to the zoo, Coney Island, the circus (which he adored), walk us to death, babysit with us, help my Mom out, etcetera, which was part of the thing that made us all feel that he would make a good permanent addition to the family.  

But at a certain point, not sure what our age was, Barbara and I began not only to notice that he could be mistaken for white, we also began to ask him point blank in the manner that children will, "Are you white?"  I would imagine that this would have been soon after we had begun to notice that there were different races, which I can recall was not obvious to me from the very beginning.  But I can remember us asking him again and again, determined to get an answer, and he never answered.  

We could see that he was flustered and disturbed by the question but he brushed it off pleasantly and tried to distract us.  We discussed it among ourselves, what to make of it and could come to no satisfactory conclusion except to ask him again.  But he mentioned it to Mom and I don't recall how she got us to stop but I know she told us he was black, or rather Negro or colored as we use to say in those days (this is in the late 50s) and we finally lost interest in the question. 

 Before we get too deep into this, you need to know that both of his parents were racially black.  Obviously of racially mixed descent but all sorts of racial mixtures are by no means unusual in the Afro-American community mainly because we are descendants of slaves and the slavemasters had their choice of the women in the quarters, just generally.  The outcome was slaves who were biracial.  Sometimes the master freed such slaves or adopted them.  But obviously this was unusual as we can see from the variety of shades among Afro-Americans who were around when slavery finally ended in the first half of the 1860s.  

So the thing is this.  While this picture encapsulates my fondest memories of my family, to others the picture is both inconceivable and unacceptable.  It matters if you are black or white and looking white or not looking black enough if you are actually black is not one of the options.  So I am writing this as a present to Teddy who is the little girl in this picture.  This is your birthday present Teddy, something educational, constructive, character building, not pleasure seeking in the childlike sense because you are 24 years old now and I would like it very much if you were to point your nose in the direction of growing up.  If you were to really work at it.  Part of it is to understand your unusual legacy, having a grandmother who could take such a picture and a grandfather whose greatest joy was to take you to such a party.  In this picture you are having a time out because you had been having a little too much fun with those balloons.  I guess we should call this picture, Time Out.  

I love it.  We keep it in a silver frame that mother received as an award from Ms. Magazine in 1983 long before you were born.  


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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