Born and raised in Harlem, New York City her career as an educator, artist, and activist spans more than half a century. In the 1960s as an art teacher in the New York City public schools, she began a series of paintings called American People that portrayed the Civil Rights movement from a female perspective. She also organized and fought for works of African American and women artists to be included into museums and galleries. In the 1980s, she embarked on projects that employed the medium of the “story quilt” rooted in African American communal traditions of quilting and storytelling that have been critical for connecting family stories and lives across many generations. Works such as the 1988 Tar Beach (Part I from the Woman on Bridge Series) in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s permanent collections, make up some of her best known masterpieces from this period.