Greensboro's African American Community Newspaper since 1967

Faith Ringgold


Anyone can fly. All you need is somewhere to go that you can’t get to any other way. The next thing you know, you’re flying among the stars.”

Faith Ringgold, Tar Beach

When Faith Ringgold passed away on April 12, she left behind an extraordinary legacy as an artist and activist. She was a painter, mixed media sculptor, printmaker, and performing artist, and well known for her signature story quilts. The story quilts combine painting, quilt making, and storytelling, and extend the legacy of generations of Black women quilters and storytellers, including the ancestors in her own family. Much of that earlier creativity and artistry was never featured in museums or bookstores, but it was part of the heritage they passed down to their children and grandchildren. Ringgold’s story quilts then led directly to her work as a children’s book author and illustrator, where she shared that legacy with new generations.

Ringgold grew up in Harlem surrounded by Black creativity. Her neighbors were musicians, writers, and artists, and her own mother was a dressmaker who became known as the fashion designer Madame Willi Posey. She had severe childhood asthma that led her to be primarily homeschooled for several years, and while home, she had hours of extra time that she spent drawing and creating art. Ringgold later worked as an art teacher in New York City public schools for nearly 20 years, and her deep respect and love for children’s innate creativity never left her.

As an artist Ringgold was always willing to fight for her own creative vision. Even her initial interest in working with fabric had a practical element of creative autonomy: before she began designing on fabric, she said she always needed to rely on her husband or someone else to help her move her own work from one studio space to another. Once she began making art she could roll up and carry herself, it gave her a new measure of freedom—and freedom was a recurring theme throughout her art and life. Her decision to incorporate text in her quilts was also part of a fight for freedom. She wanted to publish an autobiography, but could not find a publisher; and so she chose to bring her stories to audiences herself by writing them directly on her art.

An editor who saw an exhibit poster featuring Ringgold’s “Tar Beach” story quilt reached out to ask whether she might be interested in transforming the art into a children’s book. Tar Beach was published in 1991, and the beautiful story narrated by 8-year-old Cassie Louise Lightfoot, who dreams of complete freedom and realizes she can fly, became a beloved Coretta Scott King Award Winner, Caldecott Honor Book, and New York Times Best Illustrated Book. Ringgold went on to write 20 more books and continued to share Black history, culture, and the timeless message that creativity makes us free with children everywhere.

Ringgold’s work has long been a favorite for scholars in the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools program. In 2003, Ringgold joined Nikki Giovanni, Beverly Lowry, Joyce Carol Oates, Alice Walker, John Edgar Wideman, and 28 other renowned authors in graciously contributing to Dream Me Home Safely: Writers on Growing Up in America, an anthology celebrating the Children’s Defense Fund’s 30th anniversary. Ringgold’s essay, “The Boy Nobody Knew,” centered on Kenneth, a nonverbal young neighbor with multiple sclerosis who had spent his life inside his parents’ quiet apartment until the summer evening a fire alarm forced everyone out of the building and onto the Harlem street. In simple terms, Ringgold described how Kenneth’s joy at being out with everyone else was a turning point, and how from the next day on Kenneth spent his days outside the building in the sun: “People in the neighborhood now knew him and loved him too. Everybody going to work and to school stopped by to see him. Just like that, Kenneth Mullen Jr., was no longer the boy whom nobody knew.” Faith Ringgold’s visions of childhood freedom, and her descriptions of the loving communities all children need, were essential and universal. Her work will always be an inspiration.

Marian Wright Edelman is founder and president emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund. For more information, go to