Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Statement on "Obama Time: Always (Congratulations, Mr. President!)" Quilt by Riche' Richardson
Quilt Title: “Obama Time: Always (Congratulations, Mr. President!),”
2008, painting, mixed media, appliqué
By Riché Deianne Richardson
b. Montgomery, Alabama, 1971
Photography by Keith Stevenson
“Obama Time: Always”
By Riché Deianne Richardson
Like so many others, I watched with great interest as a virtually unknown Barack Obama spoke at the Democratic National Convention in the summer of 2004. For many, it was an exciting and moving speech. Just as Mary McCleod Bethune had embodied the hopes of the generation of my grandmother, Emma Lue Jenkins Richardson, I recognized Obama as the “hope” of mine. I made a donation to his campaign for the U.S. Senate at that point, and became a part of his “Barack Brigade.” He has been the kind of person in whom people can hope and challenges all of us to make the difference in the world that we were born to make.
I have to admit that in spite of being so excited and in spite of my ongoing support for him, there was a part of me that wished he would build up a longer legacy in the Senate before throwing his hat in the ring for the presidential race, reasoning that he should savor his seat in the Senate and not be subjected to the intense media scrutiny that seems to shadow politics. Inwardly, I, like some others, imagined that it might be a bit too soon for him to truly be a success in the presidential race.
In 1987, I was a junior in high school at the historic St. Jude Educational Institute in Montgomery, Alabama, which is best known as the final camping place for Selma-to-Montgomery marchers in 1965. In my American history class, the 200th anniversary of the American Constitutional Convention was the highlight, and Rev. Jesse Jackson was also on the road to his second bid for the presidency. Our teacher showed us segments from Eyes on the Prize, which greatly broadened my understanding of civil rights history and provided more contexts. I remember that at one point, the question “Is America ready for a black president?” came up. This question was-and is-peculiar to me. In Obama, at least, we have our answer at last, and it is a resounding “Yes we are!”
Few of us, even as students, consciously reflected day to day as we walked the grounds of the vast and beautiful St. Jude campus in West Montgomery, that we walked on a landscape that had welcomed the Detroit housewife Viola Liuzzo hours before her tragic loss on the road between Selma and Montgomery. St. Jude Hospital, I should say, was the place where many blacks in Montgomery could receive treatment, comfort and care in the city during the era before segregation ended. Indeed, I have heard many stories about the so-called “Chicken Coop,” a cold annex to St. Margaret’s Hospital where blacks living in the Jim Crow South were frequently treated beforehand. In 1948, my grandmother’s 11-year old nephew Matthew Reese- who had nicknamed her “Aunt LuLu” because of the famous cartoon, a name that nephews and nieces have called her since-was hit in the head accidentally by a girl with a long rod while outside playing. He was treated there in the two days before he died, and before his stepfather, a veteran of World War II, could have him transferred to another place. My family experienced firsthand some of the harsh realities of the world in Montgomery and in the South more broadly that people like Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., helped to change. I also think of the legacy in civil rights of Johnny Rebecca Carr, my great aunt, the leader of the Montgomery Improvement Association who is frequently referred to as having been the best friend of Rosa Parks. In fact, St. Margaret’s is the hospital in Montgomery where I was born in 1971 in the post-civil rights era.
In August 2008, the evening of the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado, Barack Obama accepted the nomination of his party on the 45th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech and gave a powerful, honest and mighty speech of his own before a sea of faces. I cheered, along with the large audience as I watched in a public theater in downtown Ithaca, New York, where I had just moved to begin my new associate professorship at Cornell University in the Africana Studies and Research Center. When I was home alone later that night, I cried, tears from the heart, and for the first time, truly understood what Obama meant and would always mean in my life, whether he became president or not. I responded to the depth of his impact on my life. That night, time for Obama with me lost all its limitations and boundaries. For me it was almost as if he tapped a reserve in my deepest consciousness of epic and mythic proportions. Obama “time” for and with me, for as long as I am on this earth, is “always.” I knew then and there that he was the kind of person whose impact would remain with me all my life, and that he was a man I would want my own children of the future to know about and respect and from whom I want to continue to learn as time goes on. I knew that he was a person whose picture-if I lived a long life and died a senior woman at home-might be in view on my wall, dusty with the passage of time, five minutes before taking my last breath. I don’t know him personally, but Obama is a person, a leader, with whom I want to grow old, and on whom I will keep my eye over the years. I see and value him as I would a friend, and feel the same way about his family.
I believe in and celebrate American democracy all the more because of Obama. I celebrate his naming as “Person of the Year” by magazines such as Time and Ebony. But such awards cannot begin to say it all for what he has become to me. I congratulate him for his election as president, and celebrate that victory with those around the world. Yet, I would have made this quilt whether he had won the presidential election or not. Ultimately, it reflects my view of him as a leader whom I deeply respect and appreciate, regardless of his office, though it gives me great happiness and pride that he has been elected to the highest office in the U.S., my home country.
I kept the first Time cover featuring Obama and framed it, the one that he wished his mother could have seen. He has made me more aware of time as a distinct poetics. As we stand on the cusp of change in America, we are all challenged to live our best lives and make a difference. Many of us know that the road ahead won’t be easy, and may even be rocky at times. We know and understand the fears and frustrations related to issues such as the terrible economy, the housing crisis, joblessness, the concerns about improving public education, poverty, and the continuing effects of ecological and environmental disasters. Yet, my deepest hope and expectation is that in hindsight, we will be able to see how the choice and investment in Obama’s leadership made the difference. This quilt represents my tribute to those great possibilities and hopes for a better and brighter tomorrow in the U.S. and around the world for all humanity.
*Art quilt featured in historic quilt exhibition curated by Roland Freeman to honor the inauguration entitled “Quilts for Obama” at the Historical Society of Washington DC on display until July 26, 2009; exhibition extended -September 26, 2009; also featured among works on the second edition of the commemorative poster.
*Displayed in Paris in January 2009, along with four other works by the artist, at Mairie du 5e in “Un Patchwork de Cultures,” a national exhibition touring France to celebrate shared history with the U.S.
*Quilt was featured at some Inaugural celebrations in Paris in January, 2009
*Artist featured in photo taken in Paris with Obama quilt, which was published on Inauguration Day as the day's photo at Eric Lieu's ParisDailyPhoto.
Visited the U.S. Embassy in Paris as a “Cultural Envoy” in 2009 from January 10-17 for a series of events, which included the honor of a talk, reception and film screening at the Ambassador's Residence.
Profiled in Patricia A. Turner’s Crafted Lives: Stories and Studies of African American Quiltiers