American People Series #4: The Civil Rights Triangle, 1963
Oil on canvas
Lent by Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Maryland
Faith Ringgold spent summer 1963 on Martha’s Vineyard, staying with a friend who was a member of the NAACP and involved with the Civil Rights movement that was rapidly transforming the country. Ringgold watched the awkward social interactions between blacks and whites and was inspired to create the American People Series about “the paradox of integration felt by many black Americans.” Ringgold’s figures are not specific individuals, but they reflect the political structure within the movement. A white man is at the apex of this triangle, alluding to the longtime dominant white leadership in the NAACP. Two African American men in suits may refer to the prominent role of NAACP lawyers, as well as preachers in the black church. Two young black men anchor the base, perhaps members of the youth councils who were “foot soldiers” in the movement. Ringgold, an ardent feminist, was acutely aware that women had not found a place in the Civil Rights movement, believing that “the world ignored women of all races.” She engages issues of identity and equality as an artist, writer, performer, social activist, and professor. She is best known today for her figurative story quilts.