Not unlike the Vietnam War, the image transcends race issues to suggest the entire country was immersed in a bloodbath.
In The Flag Is Bleeding, created the same summer, two white people and a black man holding a knife stand arm-in-arm behind Old Glory, which oozes blood from its stripes. The field of stars obscures the black man's face, but you can still see him covering a bleeding wound to his heart as if he's caught in some weird pledge of allegiance to the flag.
"American People, Black Light: Faith Ringgold's Paintings of the 1960s": Through January 1 at the Miami Art Museum, 101 W. Flagler St., Miami; 305-375-3000; miamiartmuseum.org. Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday noon to 5 p.m.
Don't miss Ringgold's collection of posters, including The People's Flag Show (1970), displayed next to her Rikers mural at MAM. She produced it to support a gallerist arrested for exhibiting a sculpture — crafted from shredded bits of the Stars and Stripes — protesting the Vietnam War.
After organizing an exhibit with fellow students supporting the gallerist's cause, Ringgold was consequently convicted for violating the Flag Protection Act of 1968.
At the time, the artist told an interviewer: "It would be impossible for me to picture the American flag just as a flag, as if that is the whole story. I need to communicate my relationship with this flag based on my experience as a black woman in America."
Watching several groups of kids recoil at the sight of these paintings is eye-opening because they have no sense of the era in which Ringgold created the works.
But at MAM, where the paintings are complemented by informative wall text and excerpts from the artist's autobiography, We Flew Over the Bridge: The Memoirs of Faith Ringgold, visitors can become part of her living history rather than learning it from books.