Back in 2001 after the 9/11 crisis I started painting flags. We lived in Maryland. My husband worked outside the DC area. He commuted every day to work. I woke up that morning as usual about 7 AM. I had a bad feeling about the day. We talked about it for about 15 minutes. I explained something felt ominous about the day. He agreed and called in to work saying he would not be in. About an hour or so after that, my son’s friend called and told us to turn on the TV. He stayed home from school that day. We watched as the towers burned and fell. We got a call to pick our kids up from their school. It was a day more ominous than I could imagine.
Many weeks later I saw so many people riding around with flags on their cars in support of America. I thought about my experience and history in America. It was hard for me to feel compelled to fly a flag even though there was a tragic loss of life. It was horrible. I believe in conspiracies so I have my own idea on things. I assisted a sister of one of the people who had died in one of the towers, in making a children’s book to tell her sister’s story. I had sympathy for their loss, but I was not moved to become a patriot.
I saw people with flags drive each other off the road. I saw people with flags on their cars speed and tailgate others as usual. I saw hatred in the eyes of people who had flags on their shops, yet who hated me when I came in to buy something. I still was followed in the store because I was Black. I was still followed daily by cops for just being Black. I saw people with flags claim their right to the American dream and look at me with hateful eyes. So I decided to paint flags.
My first flag I painted was in the shape of America. I placed the slavery layout in the ship inside America. On my second flag I painted Black people standing in front of the flag. I wrote on the flag the whole Willie Lynch letter to tell the story of slavery. I had an energy to paint the flags with 400 years of Black history. That history is left out most of the time in telling the story of its birth. My third flag was a woman in front of the flags with the constitution engraved on her back while she was being whipped. I sold this flag the day I met Rosa Parks at the National Black Women’s Congress in DC. There were anti-war protests going all day in DC that day. I listened to Dick Gregory speak and sum up the truth of Black life in America. My eyes took in the shadows of legendary Black women who walked the halls of that convention center that day. I had more flags to paint.
My fourth flag was of five Black men who were lynched in Sabine, Texas in 1908. It was the hardest lynching photo I had ever looked at. The bodies had been dead for about 5 days before they were taken down. That photo birthed in me more paintings in my lynching series I had started on several years ago. I am still working on those to date.
The more recent flag I have painted is the evolving of hatred we experience as Black people as we march through our experience in America. I have many more paintings to do about flags. It has been 11 years, but I still want to paint Black history on the flags to convey the contradictions. Black people been destroyed by the many complicated, racist policies espoused under the flag. Poor people have been destroyed. As long as there is a struggle, suffering poverty, disparities, and discrimination I will keeping painting flags and Black history. I hope I don’t run out of paint while trying to tell this story. We have already run out of blood to give for the red stripes it symbolizes. My flags have 400 stripes and millions of tears. ……