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  • Writer's pictureLaurie Seban

Faith Ringgold: America the Beautiful


Faith Ringgold (b. 1930) is one of America’s most important African-American female artists, and is still working, even in her nineties!! Ringgold grew up in Harlem during the Great Depression, surrounded by family and artists of the Harlem Renaissance: musicians like Sonny Rollins and Duke Ellington, artists like Jacob Lawrence, Aaron Douglas, Augusta Savage, Romare Bearden and writers like Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, and James Baldwin. Because she had asthma, Ringgold spent a lot of time indoors with her mother, a fashion designer, using fabrics and paint to create her own art.

As an adult, Ringgold worked as a teacher in the New York City schools, and then as an artist during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s, participating in non-violent demonstrations for racial equality and justice. Her American People series shows Americans of all colors, sizes and ages as victims of the violence that occurred at this time. Throughout, her focus remained the struggles and successes of African-Americans: “I got a fabulous education in art—wonderful teachers who taught me everything except anything about African art or African American art. But I traveled and took care of that part myself,” she said.

In the 1980’s, she returned to teaching—and to work with her mother, creating story quilts with various characters that told the story of her childhood, and many others. Tar Beach is a quilt that tells the story of Cassie Lightfoot, African-Native-American girl whose nighttime “beach” is the roof of her apartment building, where she listens to the stories of her family and flies through the sky. The quilt was turned into a children’s book—and Cassie Lightfoot went on to travel through many of Ringgolds’ story quilts—through New York City, to Monet’s garden, Picasso’s studio, and even to visit Van Gogh in a field of sunflowers.

Quilts were a perfect medium for Ringgold—fabric was a part of her own childhood, but it had also been used to tell the stories of countless African peoples, and African-American slaves used leftover scraps of cloth to preserve their history and tell the stories of countless generations.

Ringgold also continued to paint. Flag was created in 1990 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Bill of Rights (in 1991). The red stripes have the words of the First Amendment:

The fifty stars (representing the states) and thirteen stripes (representing the original colonies) are overlaid with events/people from our American history that show the importance of the Bill of Rights:

-Harriet Tubman

-Martin Luther King Jr

-Thurgood Marshall

-Richard Pryor

-organizations like the NAACP and ACLU are recognized, along with threats to our freedoms, like the

-KKK, Nazi party

*** Some of these are highly political: Planned Parenthood, Jesse Helms, Black Panther, PLO, and others outside of our political discussions today, like ACT-Up, John Birch Society. I guess the important thing to note with children is that the First Amendment gives everyone the right to stand up for their beliefs, and asks us to respect those beliefs (as long as they are not doing harm to others).

Ringgold is still teaching! Check out her series of children’s books, including

Tar Beach

If This Bus Could Talk (Rosa Parks)

Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad

My Dream of Martin Luther King

Harlem Renaissance Party

We Came to America….and many more!


Create a watercolor/painted flag.

1. Paint the blue rectangle on the top left quarter.

2. Paint 6 white stripes –one going across bottom of blue rectangle; 2 below and 3 (shorter) stripes above (leaving space at top and bottom for red stripes).

3. Add 4 shorter red stripes across top, 3 red stripes on bottom half.

4. Add white stars—discuss significance of 50, but can add stars to represent family numbers or just a few.

5. While paint is drying, discuss the meanings of red, white, and blue, along with the 13 stripes and 50 stars.

6. What is the First Amendment? Talk about the Constitution and other statements of America

7. Discuss the events in Ringgold’s flag—why would the KKK be there, or Nazi party? Talk about the importance of preserving freedoms in a nation of 300 million—very important today!!! Stress the role of freedom fighters like MLK or Harriet Tubman to change the definition of American freedom and democracy.

8. Discuss what makes America/American freedom significant for students: historical figures, historical events, family events and figures.

9. For older students: using, pencil or marker, create your text on DRY STRIPES--what is the document that represents American values to you? (First Amendment, Preamble, Star-Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful, etc.) Write the words on the red stripes.

10. What makes America beautiful to you? Celebrate your own American history by adding the names of your family members and loved ones on the stars. You can add the values, people and events that are important to you on the white stripes—including first responders, healthcare workers, Black Lives Matter movement and anyone or anything else!

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