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.
This is a photograph probably taken by a local photographer of Momma T, Momma Jones (my two grandmothers) with me probably the day of my christening at the home of my parents, Faith and Earl Wallace, at 365 Edgecombe Avenue. I was christened by Reverend Adam Clayton Powell Jr. at the Abyssinian Baptist church in 1952.
Momma T (Theodora Grant) was on a visit home (to see me I think) while stationed in Guam with her second husband whom everybody called Sarge, although my sister and I always called him Chiefie. I was Momma T's first grandchild and Momma Jones' second. I don't think anybody has ever had two more beautiful grandmothers. And the two of them guided my early childhood on Edgecombe Avenue, hand-in-hand, although I am realizing now that my mother wasn't always aware of just how much I saw of Momma T. and my father. My father was left handed and so was I. This was not the only thing I inherited from him and the Wallace-Rhino brood.
This is Faith and Earl when they were first going together. They are standing together on the park side of Edgecombe Avenue in 1946. She is 16 and he is 19, having already returned from his brief tour in the Navy.
Earl was never particularly happy at home. He was an only child and his mother had to work hard in the garment district in order to support the household. His father, who had come to the United States from Jamaica in the early 20s, while being an obviously brilliant and learned man, was not of a strong psychological disposition and had little tolerance for the racism that was endemic in American society. Grandpa Bob (as I knew him) had a reputation for being an iconoclast and a musician who only worked as much as he needed to keep body and soul together. Marrying my grandmother Teddy was no doubt a mistake on his part. Having a child with her (my father) was probably even more of an accident.
Momma T (my grandmother) had immediately sent her grandson home to Jamaica to be raised by her mother (or maybe it was grandpa Bob's mother-- never been entirely sure about this). In any case, Grandpa Bob was never able to support his son or his wife. Momma T soon found a replacement whom I called Chiefie. They were ultimately married but Earl did not get along well with him at all.
I am told at one point that Grandpa Bob's sister Sissie had tried to bring Earl to live with her family in Queens but for some reason he was not allowed to do this, probably because of the stubbornness of Momma T's sister, Doris Rhino who never had children of her own and never married. It was she who had the bright idea to bring Earl from Jamaica to live with his mother. She hoped that having him in the U.S. would help to reunite Momma T. and Grandpa Bob, which of course it did nothing of the kind.
In any case, in his misery Earl had enlisted in the navy at 16, lying about his age in order to get in. He had taken their aptitude tests and passed them all with flying colors. The tests said he should do something technically advanced but since he was black, and the military was still quite race crazy, it was not possible for him to actually have the job. It wasn't long before he was AWOL and dishonorably discharged and back on Edgecombe Avenue again. I am not exactly sure how or when he completed high school but he did spend some time attending both the New School and Juilliard so I imagine that a high school diploma wasn't much of a challenge. He probably got it at George Washington High School, which seems to be where all the kids from Edgecombe went then.
This blog has been devoted to interweaving the visual artifacts of my family, in particular the women, narratives and explanations of how they came about. In the process, one aspect of my family experience has been very consciously excluded: that of my father's family. It wasn't because I didn't or don't know my father's family or didn't know my father. It was rather because the rupture that took place between my father and mother's family when their marriage was annulled in 1956 was so profound and so unhealed even these sixty-five years later, that I conceived of the Soul Pictures project as solely a portrait of the transmission of culture via my maternal ancestry.
I thought to myself that I would leave my father's family to another time, a time when my focus on my father's family, their strengths and weaknesses, and the many photographs I have access to of them, would give less offense to the people who really raised me (in particular my stepfather Burdette) and took responsibility for me as a child.
But something very dramatic has happened since then related to this split between the maternal and the paternal sides of my legacy and ancestry. Also, some of the developments around the progression of the Soul Pictures project as a book about the women in my family has moved to the next stage, making it more conceivable to devote some space to my father's family in this blog afterall.
The dramatic thing that happened was the profile of Mom (Faith Ringgold) as part of a group of young people who began their careers as artists as children on Edgecombe Avenue, which recently appeared in the New York Times. Featured as a visual accompaniment to this article, is the multimedia presentation as part of the New York Time's new multimedia offerings at http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/01/22/nyregion/sugarhill.html
My father Earl Wallace, who was a classical and jazz pianist, was one of the young people who grew up on Edgecomb Avenue, at 365 Edgecomb Avenue in fact, and Edgecomb Avenue is where Earl and Faith first met and played together. His parents were from Jamaica, West Indies as were the two other people featured in the article about Faith. Both Roy Eaton and Cecelia Hodges were of West Indian ancestry and, no doubt, knew my father Earl.
Granted Earl didn't survive or become distinguished, as was probably true of many of their generation of both Southern and West Indian ancestry, but the main point I want to make is this: there were two distinctly different black migrations to New York which contributed substantially to the concentration of talent in the Sugar Hill section of Harlem in the thirties, forties and fifties when my Mom was a young woman.
There was a West Indian migration (from most of the islands of the Caribbean, of which my father's parents and extended family were part) and there was a Southern migration, which brought Faith's mother and father to Harlem. Both migrations were massive and both contributed substantially to the fame and cultural vibrancy of the area. Although the relative dimensions would be hard to determine since we rarely acknowledge the fault line between the West Indians and the Southerners.
At least if my family stories are any indication, and my own experience of having served as the only bridge along with my sister between the two families since we were infants, there wasn't a lot of love between the West Indians and the Southerners. Although I need to acknowledge here as well the efforts of my maternal grandmother, Momma Jones, Mme. Willi Posey, and her determination to foster our connections with my father's family. As a result of her efforts, I saw a great deal more of my father and his family than I think my mother has ever been aware of.
It is hard to tell how my family experiences relate to the larger picture for the area in general though but I do know a great deal about the ancestry of my father's family and this area mapped out as Sugar Hill in Harlem is precisely where they were then. Thanks to a meticulous family history (not formally published) including many photographs written by a cousin named Robert Tomlinson (an artist now who lives in France) on my father's side of the family, I have extensive information about the members of this family lineage and where in Harlem they were concentrated.
Of course, I think the story gets a good deal more interesting and instructive to current audiences if it is allowed to go beyond the production of the reputations of the people who became world famous and gets more into the historical and cultural particulars--the nature of their practices.
The list of people pointed out as having emerged to flower, or having lived in Sugar Hill, I find particularly frustrating and am hoping that it will simply be a beginning to which flesh and blood can be added over time. Chronologies and Maps are wonderful audio visual tools when the layers are allowed to build. All in all, I am so happy this happened.
And now I will tell you about my father's family because my father, my Mom and my stepfather were all very good friends on Edgecomb Avenue and the second marriage issued almost seamlessly from the first marriage. Unfortunately, my father died in 1966 when I was 14 and he was an only child but as an adult I have come to know that he had an interesting and accomplished family of origin. He, himself, got swept away by the plague of heroin addiction that settled upon the jazz community in the 40s and 50s and then branched out into a full scale plague by the 60s and 70s.
Women's Magazine - January 18, 2010 at 1:00pm | KPFA 94.1 FM Berkeley: Listener Sponsored Free Speech Radio
This is a deep little gadget and it still works. Anyhow, I pressed a button enabling me to post on my blog an audio file of this women's program from KPFA 94.1 Berkeley broadcast at 1 p.m. on January 18th. I occupy about fifteen minutes of a highly worthy show with Kate Raphael. Aside from a discussion of Haiti with a biographer of Aristide, Raphael interviews me about the history of black feminism, the fallout from Black Macho and The Myth of the Superwoman and the writing I've done since. As I was going on about the global dimensions of feminism, as I have learned from many of my other black feminist colleagues, including Beverly Guy-Sheftall, we ended up with a few minutes on Precious and how it fits, if it fits. All these months (since July really), I've been honing my spiel on Precious and I got it just right right here. Maybe I can make my little speech at the Academy Awards. I guess Monique is sure to win. Are the nominations out yet?
- Faith Ringgold (42)
- Photo Essay (35)
- Willi Posey (33)
- Michele Wallace (30)
- Photo Collection (23)
- Change Quilt (14)
- Art by Faith Ringgold (11)
- Chronologies and Documents (11)
- Critical Essay (10)
- Barbara Knight (9)
- the 50s (9)
- Burdette Ringgold (8)
- Faith Wallace-Gadsden (7)
- Florida (7)
- the 70s (7)
- B.B. Posey (6)
- Barbara Wallace (6)
- the 80s (6)
- the 40s (5)
- the 60s (5)
- Anne Porter (4)
- Earl Wallace (4)
- Fashion (4)
- Ida Matilda Posey (4)
- New Lincoln School (4)
- Sonny Rollins (4)
- Black Macho and The Myth of the Superwoman (3)
- Camp Craigmeade (3)
- Susan Shannon (3)
- The French Collection (3)
- Theodora Grant (3)
- 19th century (2)
- Andrew Jones (2)
- Betsy Bingham (2)
- Declaration of Independence (2)
- Helen Meade (2)
- Invisibility Blues (2)
- Judson 3 (2)
- Theodora Wallace-Orr (2)
- Thomas Morrison (2)
- Who's Afraid of Aunt Jemima (2)
- the 30s (2)
- Anyone Can Fly Foundation (1)
- Black Visual Culture (1)
- Cardoza Posey (1)
- Dark Designs and Visual Culture (1)
- For The Women's House (1)
- Gene Nesmith (1)
- Ida Mae Bingham (1)
- Interviews (1)
- Inventories (1)
- Jacksonville (1)
- Judith Wilson (1)
- Kate Raphael (1)
- Letter from a Birmingham Jail (1)
- Lisa Yee (1)
- Memoirs (1)
- Michael Jackson (1)
- Mojo Okediji (1)
- P.S. 186 (1)
- Pablo Picasso (1)
- The Mona Lisa Interview (1)
- University of African Art (1)
- Yvonne Mullings (1)
- ▼ 2010 (13)
- ► August (14)
- ► July (18)
- ► May (11)
- ► July (23)
My Publications--Michele Wallace
- Black Macho and The Myth of the Superwoman, New Edition, Verso Books 1990
- Black Macho and The Myth of the Superwoman, The Dial Press 1979
- Black Popular Culture, New Press 1991
- Dark Designs and Visual Culture, Duke UP 2004
- Invisibility Blues: From Pop to Theory and Back Again, Verso Books 2008
- Invisibility Blues: From Pop To Theory, Verso Books 1999
My Publications--Selected Articles
- "The French Collection: Momma Jones, Mommy Faye and Me," Dancing at the Louvre: Faith Ringgold French Collection and Other Story Quilts. University of California 1995.
- Faith Ringold and The Anyone Can Fly Foundation in Barbara Hoffman, ed., A Visual Artist's Guide to Estate Planning, 2008 Update
- Oscar Micheaux and His Circle, 2001 African-American Filmmaking and Race Cinema of the Silent Era Essay by Michele Wallace on "Within Our Gates and Oscar Micheaux"
- The Mona Lisa Interview with Faith Ringgold by Michele Wallace
- The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum Research Center presents Museums of Tomorrow: An Internet Conference, 10-05-2003
- The Georgia O'Keefe Museum Research Center presents The Modern/Postmodern Dialectic: An Online Symposium, American Art and Culture, 1965-2000
- Passing, Lynching and Jim Crow: A Genealogy of Race and Gender in U.S. Visual Culture, 1895-1929, Dissertation in Cinema Studies, New York University, UMI, May 1999