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The Black Arts Movement, Another RBG Tutorial Joint


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The Black Arts Movement, Another RBG Tutorial Joint

The Black Arts Movement, Another RBG Tutorial Joint

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  • 1. Historical Overviews of The Black Arts Movement, Kaluma ya SalaamThe Black Arts Movement, Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970sBy James Edward Smethurst
  • 2. Select Videos: 27:58The Black Arts Movement in the Broader Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement: CarolynRodgers TalkThe aim of the symposium was to bring together writers and activists from that era to talk aboutthe influential alignments, cross-currents among ... 28:46The Black Arts Movement in the Broader Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement: SterlingPlumpp TalkThe aim of the symposium was to bring together writers and activists from that era to talk aboutthe influential alignments, cross-currents among ... 47:31The Black Arts Movement in the Broader Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement: Angela JacksonTalk
  • 3. The aim of the symposium was to bring together writers and activists from that era to talk aboutthe influential alignments, cross-currents among ... 21:07The Black Arts Movement in the Broader Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement: Question andAnswer Portion of SymposiumThe aim of the symposium was to bring together writers and activists from that era to talk aboutthe influential alignments, cross-currents among ... 33:04The Black Arts Movement in the Broader Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement: Sala Udin TalkThe aim of the symposium was to bring together writers and activists from that era to talk aboutthe influential alignments, cross-currents among ... 26:06Lunch Poems: Amiri BarakaAmiri Baraka is recognized as the founder of the Black Arts Movement, a literary period thatbegan in Harlem in the 1960s and forever changed ...
  • 4. 41:49A Conversation Between Amiri Baraka and Sala Udinactivist, to discuss his involvement in the Black Arts Movement, his poetry, and where BlackArts are headed today. ... coapgh ... poetry interview ... 41:49A Conversation with Amiri Barakaactivist, to discuss his involvement in the Black Arts Movement, his poetry, and where BlackArts are headed today. ... coapgh ... poetry interview ... 56:38Lunch Poems - Amiri BarakaAmiri Baraka is recognized as the founder of the Black Arts Movement, a literary period thatbegan in Harlem in the 1960s and forever changed ... 1:26:50The Holloway Series in Poetry - Amiri BarakaAmiri Baraka is a well-known political activist, founder of the Black Arts Movement, andwinner of the American Book Award, Amiri Barakas work is ...
  • 5. 37:33An interview with Amiri BarakaX and world revolutionary movements, Baraka is renowned as the founder of the Black ArtsMovement in Harlem in the 1960s that became, though short ... 36:57Amiri Baraka at RIT III, Rochester, NY Amiri Baraka, the noted poet, playwright and co-founder of the Black ArtsMovement of the 1960s, will headline two special ... 30:48Amiri Baraka at RIT II, Rochester, NY Amiri Baraka, the noted poet, playwright and co-founder of the Black ArtsMovement of the 1960s, will headline two special ...
  • 6. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) |1 The Black Arts Movement | Historical Overviews of the Black Arts Movement | African American Poetry--An Overview, by Joanne V. Gabbin | Documents from the Movement | Compiled and Prepared by Cary NelsonThe Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 7. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) |2Historical Overviews of The Black Arts Movement Kaluma ya SalaamBoth inherently and overtly political in content, the Black Arts movement was the onlyAmerican literary movement to advance "social engagement" as a sine qua non of its aesthetic.The movement broke from the immediate past of protest and petition (civil rights) literature anddashed forward toward an alternative that initially seemed unthinkable and unobtainable: BlackPower.In a 1968 essay, "The Black Arts Movement," Larry Neal proclaimed Black Arts the "aestheticand spiritual sister of the Black Power concept." As a political phrase, Black Power had earlierbeen used by Richard Wright to describe the mid-1950s emergence of independent Africannations. The 1960s use of the term originated in 1966 with Student Nonviolent CoordinatingCommittee civil rights workers Stokely Carmichael and Willie Ricks. Quickly adopted in theNorth, Black Power was associated with a militant advocacy of armed self-defense, separationfrom "racist American domination," and pride in and assertion of the goodness and beauty ofBlackness.Although often criticized as sexist, homophobic, and racially exclusive (i.e., reverse racist),Black Arts was much broader than any of its limitations. Ishmael Reed, who is consideredneither a movement apologist nor advocate ("I wasnt invited to participate because I wasconsidered an integrationist"), notes in a 1995 interview,I think what Black Arts did was inspire a whole lot of Black people to write. Moreover, therewould be no multiculturalism movement without Black Arts. Latinos, Asian Americans, andothers all say they began writing as a result of the example of the 1960s. Blacks gave theexample that you dont have to assimilate. You could do your own thing, get into your ownbackground, your own history, your own tradition and your own culture. I think the challenge isfor cultural sovereignty and Black Arts struck a blow for that.History and Context. The Black Arts movement, usually referred to as a "sixties" movement,coalesced in 1965 and broke apart around 1975/1976. In March 1965 following the 21 Februaryassassination of Malcolm X, LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) moved from Manhattans Lower EastSide (he had already moved away from Greenwich Village) uptown to Harlem, an exodusconsidered the symbolic birth of the Black Arts movement. Jones was a highly visible publisher(Yugen and Floating Bear magazines, Totem Press), a celebrated poet (Preface to a Twenty- The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 8. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) |3Volume Suicide Note, 1961, and The Dead Lecturer, 1964), a major music critic (Blues People,1963), and an Obie Award-winning playwright (Dutchman, 1964) who, up until that fateful split,had functioned in an integrated world. Other than James Baldwin, who at that time had beenclosely associated with the civil rights movement, Jones was the most respected and most widelypublished Black writer of his generation.While Joness 1965 move uptown to found the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School (BARTS) isthe formal beginning (it was Jones who came up with the name "Black Arts"), Black Arts, as aliterary movement, had its roots in groups such as the Umbra Workshop. Umbra (1962) was acollective of young Black writers based in Manhattans Lower East Side; major members werewriters Steve Cannon, Tom Dent, Al Haynes, David Henderson, Calvin C. Hernton, Joe Johnson,Norman Pritchard, Lenox Raphael, Ishmael Reed, Lorenzo Thomas, James Thompson, Askia M.Touré (Roland Snellings; also a visual artist), Brenda Walcott, and musician-writer ArchieShepp. Touré, a major shaper of "cultural nationalism," directly influenced Jones. Along withUmbra writer Charles Patterson and Charless brother, William Patterson, Touré joined Jones,Steve Young, and others at BARTS.Umbra, which produced Umbra Magazine, was the first post-civil rights Black literary group tomake an impact as radical in the sense of establishing their own voice distinct from, andsometimes at odds with, the prevailing white literary establishment. The attempt to merge aBlack-oriented activist thrust with a primarily artistic orientation produced a classic split inUmbra between those who wanted to be activists and those who thought of themselves asprimarily writers, though to some extent all members shared both views. Black writers havealways had to face the issue of whether their work was primarily political or aesthetic. Moreover,Umbra itself had evolved out of similar circumstances: In 1960 a Black nationalist literaryorganization, On Guard for Freedom, had been founded on the Lower East Side by Calvin Hicks.Its members included Nannie and Walter Bowe, Harold Cruse (who was then working on Crisisof the Negro Intellectual, 1967), Tom Dent, Rosa Guy, Joe Johnson, LeRoi Jones, and SarahWright, among others. On Guard was active in a famous protest at the United Nations of theAmerican-sponsored Bay of Pigs Cuban invasion and was active in support of the Congoleseliberation leader Patrice Lumumba. From On Guard, Dent, Johnson, and Walcott along withHernton, Henderson, and Touré established Umbra.Another formation of Black writers at that time was the Harlem Writers Guild, led by John O.Killens, which included Maya Angelou, Jean Carey Bond, Rosa Guy, and Sarah Wright amongothers. But the Harlem Writers Guild focused on prose, primarily fiction, which did not have themass appeal of poetry performed in the dynamic vernacular of the time. Poems could be builtaround anthems, chants, and political slogans, and thereby used in organizing work, which wasnot generally the case with novels and short stories. Moreover, the poets could and did publishthemselves, whereas greater resources were needed to publish fiction. That Umbra was primarilypoetry- and performance-oriented established a significant and classic characteristic of themovements aesthetics.When Umbra split up, some members, led by Askia Touré and Al Haynes, moved to Harlem inlate 1964 and formed the nationalist-oriented "Uptown Writers Movement," which includedpoets Yusef Rahman, Keorapetse "Willie" Kgositsile from South Africa, and Larry Neal. The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 9. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) |4Accompanied by young "New Music" musicians, they performed poetry all over Harlem.Members of this group joined LeRoi Jones in founding BARTS.Joness move to Harlem was short-lived. In December 1965 he returned to his home, Newark(N.J.), and left BARTS in serious disarray. BARTS failed but the Black Arts center concept wasirrepressible mainly because the Black Arts movement was so closely aligned with the then-burgeoning Black Power movement.The mid- to late 1960s was a period of intense revolutionary ferment. Beginning in 1964,rebellions in Harlem and Rochester, New York, initiated four years of long hot summers. Watts,Detroit, Newark, Cleveland, and many other cities went up in flames, culminating in nationwideexplosions of resentment and anger following Martin Luther King, Jr.s April 1968 assassination.In his seminal 1965 poem "Black Art," which quickly became the major poetic manifesto of theBlack Arts literary movement, Jones declaimed "we want poems that kill." He was not simplyspeaking metaphorically. During that period armed self-defense and slogans such as "Armyourself or harm yourself established a social climate that promoted confrontation with the whitepower structure, especially the police (e.g., "Off the pigs"). Indeed, Amiri Baraka (Jones changedhis name in 1967) had been arrested and convicted (later overturned on appeal) on a gunpossession charge during the 1967 Newark rebellion. Additionally, armed struggle was widelyviewed as not only a legitimate, but often as the only effective means of liberation. Black Artsdynamism, impact, and effectiveness are a direct result of its partisan nature and advocacy ofartistic and political freedom "by any means necessary." America had never experienced such amilitant artistic movement.Nathan Hare, the author of The Black Anglo-Saxons (1965), was the founder of 1960s BlackStudies. Expelled from Howard University, Hare moved to San Francisco State University wherethe battle to establish a Black Studies department was waged during a five-month strike duringthe 1968-1969 school year. As with the establishment of Black Arts, which included a range offorces, there was broad activity in the Bay Area around Black Studies, including efforts led bypoet and professor Sarah Webster Fabio at Merrit College.The initial thrust of Black Arts ideological development came from the Revolutionary ActionMovement (RAM), a national organization with a strong presence in New York City. Both Touréand Neal were members of RAM. After RAM, the major ideological force shaping the BlackArts movement was the US (as opposed to "them) organization led by Maulana Karenga. Alsoideologically important was Elijah Muhammads Chicago-based Nation of Islam.These three formations provided both style and ideological direction for Black Arts artists,including those who were not members of these or any other political organization. Although theBlack Arts movement is often considered a New York-based movement, two of its three majorforces were located outside New York City.As the movement matured, the two major locations of Black Arts ideological leadership,particularly for literary work, were Californias Bay Area because of the Journal of Black Poetryand the Black Scholar, and the Chicago-Detroit axis because of Negro Digest/Black World and The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 10. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) |5Third World Press in Chicago, and Broadside Press and Naomi Long Madgetts Lotus Press inDetroit. The only major Black Arts literary publications to come out of New York were theshort-lived (six issues between 1969 and 1972) Black Theatre magazine published by the NewLafayette Theatre and Black Dialogue, which had actually started in San Francisco (1964-1968)and relocated to New York (1969-1972).In 1967 LeRoi Jones visited Karenga in Los Angeles and became an advocate of Karengasphilosophy of Kawaida. Kawaida, which produced the "Nguzo Saba" (seven principles),Kwanzaa, and an emphasis on African names, was a multifaceted, categorized activistphilosophy. Jones also met Bobby Seale and Eldridge Cleaver and worked with a number of thefounding members of the Black Panthers. Additionally, Askia Touré was a visiting professor atSan Francisco State and was to become a leading (and longlasting) poet as well as, arguably, themost influential poet-professor in the Black Arts movement. Playwright Ed Bullins and poetMarvin X had established Black Arts West, and Dingane Joe Goncalves had founded the Journalof Black Poetry (1966). This grouping of Ed Bullins, Dingane Joe Goncalves, LeRoi Jones,Sonia Sanchez, Askia M. Touré, and Marvin X became a major nucleus of Black Arts leadership.Theory and Practice. The two hallmarks of Black Arts activity were the development of Blacktheater groups and Black poetry performances and journals, and both had close ties tocommunity organizations and issues. Black theaters served as the focus of poetry, dance, andmusic performances in addition to formal and ritual drama. Black theaters were also venues forcommunity meetings, lectures, study groups, and film screenings. The summer of 1968 issue ofDrama Review, a special on Black theater edited by Ed Bullins, literally became a Black Artstextbook that featured essays and plays by most of the major movers: Larry Neal, Ben Caldwell,LeRoi Jones, Jimmy Garrett, John ONeal, Sonia Sanchez, Marvin X, Ron Milner, Woodie King,Jr., Bill Gunn, Ed Bullins, and Adam David Miller. Black Arts theater proudly emphasized itsactivist roots and orientations in distinct, and often antagonistic, contradiction to traditionaltheaters, both Black and white, which were either commercial or strictly artistic in focus.By 1970 Black Arts theaters and cultural centers were active throughout America. The NewLafayette Theatre (Bob Macbeth, executive director, and Ed Bullins, writer in residence) andBarbara Ann Teers National Black Theatre led the way in New York, Barakas Spirit HouseMovers held forth in Newark and traveled up and down the East Coast. The Organization ofBlack American Culture (OBAC) and Val Grey Wards Kuumba Theatre Company were leadingforces in Chicago, from where emerged a host of writers, artists, and musicians including theOBAC visual artist collective whose "Wall of Respect" inspired the national community-basedpublic murals movement and led to the formation of Afri-Cobra (the African Commune of Bad,Revolutionary Artists). There was David Rambeaus Concept East and Ron Milner and WoodieKing’s Black Arts Midwest, both based in Detroit. Ron Milner became the Black Artsmovements most enduring playwright and Woodie King became its leading theater impresariowhen he moved to New York City. In Los Angeles there was the Ebony Showcase, Inner CityRepertory Company, and the Performing Arts Society of Los Angeles (PALSA) led by VantileWhitfield. In San Francisco was the aforementioned Black Arts West. BLKARTSOUTH (led byTom Dent and Kalamu ya Salaam) was an outgrowth of the Free Southern Theatre in NewOrleans and was instrumental in encouraging Black theater development across the south fromthe Theatre of Afro Arts in Miami, Florida, to Sudan Arts Southwest in Houston, Texas, through The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 11. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) |6an organization called the Southern Black Cultural Alliance. In addition to formal Black theaterrepertory companies in numerous other cities, there were literally hundreds of Black Artscommunity and campus theater groups.A major reason for the widespread dissemination and adoption of Black Arts was thedevelopment of nationally distributed magazines that printed manifestos and critiques in additionto offering publishing opportunities for a proliferation of young writers. Whether establishmentor independent, Black or white, most literary publications rejected Black Arts writers. Themovements first literary expressions in the early 1960s came through two New York-based,nationally distributed magazines, Freedomways and Liberator. Freedomways, "a journal of theFreedom Movement," backed by leftists, was receptive to young Black writers. The moreimportant magazine was Dan Wattss Liberator, which openly aligned itself with both domesticand international revolutionary movements. Many of the early writings of critical Black Artsvoices are found in Liberator. Neither of these were primarily literary journals.The first major Black Arts literary publication was the California-based Black Dialogue (1964),edited by Arthur A. Sheridan, Abdul Karim, Edward Spriggs, Aubrey Labrie, and MarvinJackmon (Marvin X). Black Dialogue was paralleled by Soulbook (1964), edited by MamadouLumumba (Kenn Freeman) and Bobb Hamilton. Oakland-based Soulbook was mainly politicalbut included poetry in a section ironically titled "Reject Notes."Dingane Joe Goncalves became Black Dialogues poetry editor and, as more and more poetrypoured in, he conceived of starting the Journal of Black Poetry. Founded in San Francisco, thefirst issue was a small magazine with mimeographed pages and a lithographed cover. Up throughthe summer of 1975, the Journal published nineteen issues and grew to over one hundred pages.Publishing a broad range of more than five hundred poets, its editorial policy was eclectic.Special issues were given to guest editors who included Ahmed Alhamisi, Don L. Lee (Haki R.Madhubuti), Clarence Major, Larry Neal, Dudley Randall, Ed Spriggs, and Askia Touré. Inaddition to African Americans, African, Caribbean, Asian, and other international revolutionarypoets were presented.Founded in 1969 by Nathan Hare and Robert Chrisman, the Black Scholar, "the first journal ofblack studies and research in this country," was theoretically critical. Major African-disasporanand African theorists were represented in its pages. In a 1995 interview Chrisman attributedmuch of what exists today to the groundwork laid by the Black Arts movement:If we had not had a Black Arts movement in the sixties we certainly wouldnt have had nationalBlack literary figures like Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alice Walker, or Toni Morrison because muchmore so than the Harlem Renaissance, in which Black artists were always on the leash of whitepatrons and publishing houses, the Black Arts movement did it for itself. What you had wasBlack people going out nationally, in mass, saving that we are an independent Black people andthis is what we produce.For the publication of Black Arts creative literature, no magazine was more important than theChicago-based Johnson publication Negro Digest / Black World. Johnson published Americasmost popular Black magazines, Jet and Ebony. Hoyt Fuller, who became the editor in 1961, was The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 12. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) |7a Black intellectual with near-encyclopedic knowledge of Black literature and seeminglyinexhaustible contacts. Because Negro Digest, a monthly, ninety-eight-page journal, was aJohnson publication, it was sold on newsstands nationwide. Originally patterned on Reader’sDigest, Negro Digest changed its name to Black World in 1970, indicative of Fuller’s view thatthe magazine ought to be a voice for Black people everywhere. The name change also reflectedthe widespread rejection of "Negro" and the adoption of "Black" as the designation of choice forpeople of African descent and to indicate identification with both the diaspora and Africa. Thelegitimation of "Black" and "African" is another enduring legacy of the Black Arts movement.Negro Digest / Black World published both a high volume and an impressive range of poetry,fiction, criticism, drama, reviews, reportage, and theoretical articles. A consistent highlight wasFullers perceptive column Perspectives ("Notes on books, writers, artists and the arts") whichinformed readers of new publications, upcoming cultural events and conferences, and alsoprovided succinct coverage of major literary developments. Fuller produced annual poetry,drama, and fiction issues, sponsored literary contests, and gave out literary awards. Fullerpublished a variety of viewpoints but always insisted on editorial excellence and thus madeNegro Digest / Black World a first-rate literary publication. Johnson decided to cease publicationof Black World in April 1976: allegedly in response to a threatened withdrawal of advertisementfrom all of Johnsons publications because of pro-Palestinian/anti-Zionist articles in Black World.The two major Black Arts presses were poet Dudley Randalls Broadside Press in Detroit andHaki Madhubutis Third World Press in Chicago. From a literary standpoint, Broadside Press,which concentrated almost exclusively on poetry, was by far the more important. Founded in1965, Broadside published more than four hundred poets in more than one hundred books orrecordings and was singularly responsible for presenting older Black poets (Gwendolyn Brooks,Sterling A. Brown, and Margaret Walker) to a new audience and introducing emerging poets(Nikki Giovanni, Etheridge Knight, Don L. Lee/Haki Madhubuti, and Sonia Sanchez) whowould go on to become major voices for the movement. In 1976, strapped by economicrestrictions and with a severely overworked and overwhelmed three-person staff, BroadsidePress went into serious decline. Although it functions mainly on its back catalog, BroadsidePress is still alive.While a number of poets (e.g., Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Haki Madhubuti, and SoniaSanchez), playwrights (e.g., Ed Bullins and Ron Milner), and spoken-word artists (e.g., the LastPoets and Gil Scott-Heron, both of whom were extremely popular and influential although oftenoverlooked by literary critics) are indelibly associated with the Black Arts movement, rather thanfocusing on their individual work, one gets a much stronger and much more accurate impressionof the movement by reading seven anthologies focusing on the 1960s and the 1970s.Black Fire (1968), edited by Baraka and Neal, is a massive collection of essays, poetry, fiction,and drama featuring the first wave of Black Arts writers and thinkers. Because of its impressivebreadth, Black Fire stands as a definitive movement anthology.For Malcolm X, Poems on the Life and the Death of Malcolm X (1969), edited by DudleyRandall and Margaret Taylor Goss Burroughs, demonstrates the political thrust of the movement The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 13. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) |8and the specific influence of Malcolm X. There is no comparable anthology in American poetrythat focuses on a political figure as poetic inspiration.The Black Woman (1970), edited by Toni Cade Bambara, is the first major Black feministanthology and features work by Jean Bond, Nikki Giovanni, Abbey Lincoln, Audre Lorde, PauleMarshall, Gwen Patton, Pat Robinson, Alice Walker, Shirley Williams, and others.Edited by Addison Gayle, Jr., The Black Aesthetic (1971) is significant because it both articulatesand contextualizes Black Arts theory. The work of writers such as Alain Locke, W. E. B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, and J. A. Rogers showcases the movements roots in an earlier era intosections on theory, music, fiction, poetry, and drama, Gayles seminal anthology features a broadarray of writers who are regarded as the chief Black Arts theorists-practitioners.Stephen Hendersons Understanding the New Black Poetry (1972) is important not only becauseof the poets included but also because of Hendersons insightful and unparalleled sixty-sevenpage overview. This is the movements most thorough exposition of a Black poetic aesthetic.Insights and lines of thought now taken for granted were first articulated in a critical and formalcontext by Stephen Henderson, who proposed a totally innovative reading of Black poetics.New Black Voices (1972), edited by Abraham Chapman, is significant because its focus isspecifically on the emerging voices in addition to new work by established voices who wereactive in the Black Arts movement. Unlike most anthologies, which overlook the South, NewBlack Voices is geographically representative and includes lively pro and con articles side byside debating aesthetic and political theory.The seventh book, Eugene Redmonds Drumvoices, The Mission of Afro-American Poetry: ACritical History (1976), is a surprisingly thorough survey that has been unjustly neglected.Although some of his opinions are controversial (note that in the movement controversy wasnormal), Redmonds era by era and city by city cataloging of literary collectives as well asindividual writers offers an invaluable service in detailing the movements national scope.The Movements Breakup. The decline of the Black Arts movement began in 1974 when theBlack Power movement was disrupted and co-opted. Black political organizations were hounded,disrupted, and defeated by repressive government measures, such as Cointelpro and IRS probes.Black Studies activist leadership was gutted and replaced by academicians and trainedadministrators who were unreceptive, if not outright opposed, to the movements politicalorientation.Key internal events in the disruption were the split between nationalists and Marxists in theAfrican Liberation Support Committee (May 1974), the Sixth Pan African Congress in Tanzaniawhere race-based struggle was repudiated/denounced by most of the strongest forces in Africa(Aug. 1974), and Baraka’s national organization, the Congress of Afrikan People (CAP),officially changing from a "Pan Afrikan Nationalist" to a "Marxist Leninist" organization (Oct.1974). The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 14. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) |9As the movement reeled from the combination of external and internal disruption,commercialization and capitalist co-option delivered the coup de grace. President RichardNixons strategy of pushing Black capitalism as a response to Black Power epitomizedmainstream co-option. As major film, record, book, and magazine publishers identified the mostsalable artists, the Black Arts movements already fragile independent economic base was totallyundermined.In an overwhelmingly successful effort to capitalize on the upsurge of interest in the feministmovement, establishment presses focused particular attention on the work of Black womenwriters. Although issues of sexism had been widely and hotly debated within movementpublications and organizations, the initiative passed from Black Arts back to the establishment.Emblematic of the establishment overtaking (some would argue "co-opting") Black Arts activityis Ntozake Shanges for colored girls, which in 1976 ended up on Broadway produced by JosephPapp even though it had been workshopped at Woodie Kings New Federal Theatre of the HenryStreet Settlement on the Lower East Side. Black Arts was not able to match the economic andpublicity offers tendered by establishment concerns.Corporate America (both the commercial sector and the academic sector) once again selectedand propagated one or two handpicked Black writers. During the height of Black Arts activity,each community had a coterie of writers and there were publishing outlets for hundreds, but oncethe mainstream regained control, Black artists were tokenized. Although Black Arts activitycontinued into the early 1980s, by 1976, the year of what Gil Scott-Heron called the "Buy-Centennial," the movement was without any sustainable and effective political or economicbases in an economically strapped Black community. An additional complicating factor was theeconomic recession, resulting from the oil crisis, which the Black community experienced as adepression. Simultaneously, philanthropic foundations only funded non-threatening, "artsoriented" groups. Neither the Black Arts nor the Black Power movements ever recovered.The Legacy. In addition to advocating political engagement and independent publishing, theBlack Arts movement was innovative in its use of language. Speech (particularly, but notexclusively, Black English), music, and performance were major elements of Black Artsliterature. Black Arts aesthetics emphasized orality, which includes the ritual use of call andresponse both within the body of the work itself as well as between artist and audience. Thissame orientation is apparent in rap music and 1990s "performance poetry" (e.g., Nuyorican Poetsand poetry slams).While right-wing trends attempt to push Americas cultural clock back to the 1950s, Black Artscontinues to evidence resiliency in the Black community and among other marginalized sectors.When people encounter the Black Arts movement, they are delighted and inspired by the mostaudacious, prolific, and socially engaged literary movement in Americas history.From The Oxford Companion to African American Literature. New York: Oxford UP, 1997.Copyright © 1997 by Oxford UP. The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 15. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 10 Reginald MartinBackground. A central problem in the paradigmatic development of art and literary "history"has always been whose ideas of art and literature will be empowered and, thus, whose ideas willbe used to judge what is "good" or "bad" art. The question of who empowers and validatescertain literary critical trends is beyond the scope of my inquiry here. But such battles arehistorically frequent in the sometimes purposely stagnated progression of art "theory." Theproblems that the progenitors of the Black Arts Movement faced were merely synecdochal of themany traditional and frequent battles in art and literary history fought to decide whose ideas willbe censored and whose ideas will be validated and propagated. In other words, stipulativeskirmishes have always been fought within the larger battleground of general censorship todecide whose ideas will be codified as a part of the taught canon of art history and criticism. Thetrials of museum director Dennis Barrie in Cincinnati in the Mapplethorpe controversy and therap group 2 Live Crew (Luther Campbell, Mark Ross, Christopher Wongwon) in Florida areother similar and related skirmishes. Those whose art triumphs over others art know that thespoils of that war are certificates of deposit and cold hard cash, not whether one songwriterslove-making lyrics are more acceptable than anothers, nor whether nude heterosexual imagesshould preclude nude homosexual images.History and Development. The precursors to what is now called the Black Arts Movement (ca.1962-1971) are many and interwoven. One could reasonably argue that there had been a call fora separate black letters in the American literary mainstream since Frederick Douglasss "Whatthe Negro Wants" (1868). But the literary events that took place in the 1960s, influenced bysocial events from the 1950s and 1960s, overshadowed all work in black letters that had gone onbefore.During this volatile period, LeRoi Jones (later Amiri Baraka) wrote in his essay "The Myth of aNegro Literature’" (1962) that "a Negro literature, to be a legitimate product of the Negroexperience in America, must get at that experience in exactly the terms America has proposed forit in its most ruthless identity," and that the Negro, as an element of American culture, was"completely misunderstood by Americans." In discussing why, in his opinion, there was so littleblack literature of merit, Jones wrote,... in most cases the Negroes who found themselves in a position to pursue some art, especiallythe art of literature, have been members of the Negro middle class, a group that has always goneout of its way to cultivate any mediocrity, as long as that mediocrity was guaranteed to prove toAmerica, and recently to the world at large, that they were not really who they were, ie.,Negroes.Further, Jones wrote that as long as the Negro writer was obsessed with being accepted, middleclass, he would never be able to "tell it like it is," and, thus, would always be a failure, becauseAmerica made room only for white obfuscators, not black ones. It was from such thoughts byJones and the thoughts of many like-minded theoreticians such as Hoyt Fuller, that the BlackArts Movement (BAM) took its origins. The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 16. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 11In 1969, during his black nationalist period, Baraka laid concrete boundaries for a "nationalisticart." Baraka wrote in "nationalism vs. Pimpart":The Art is the National Spirit. That manifestation of it. Black Art must be the Nationalists visiongiven more form and feeling, as a razor to cut away what is not central to National Liberation. Toshow that which is. As a humanistic expression it is itself raised. And these are the poles, out ofwhich we create, to raise, or as raised.In this difficult passage, Baraka was proposing (in typical 1960s rhetoric) specific and limitedboundaries for acceptable art. Though a writer on all aspects of the BAM, Barakas areas ofgreatest interest were the related arts of literatures and literary criticism, and it was, indeed, thedebate on the content of black letters that would fuel the heat of the BAM from 1969 to its lastofficial flickerings in 1974, when Baraka wrote his amazing essay "Why I Changed MyIdeology." After Baraka formally announced that he was a socialist, no longer a black nationalist,his guidelines for "valid" black writing changed, but his new requirements, with slightly differentemphases (liberation of an classes, races, genders) and a slightly different First Cause (MonopolyCapitalism), were as rigid as his prior requirements. And at this time, Baraka was powerfulenough to influence others to codify his vision of acceptable art.Baraka saw certain black writers as disrupting the essential and beautiful Black Arts Movementof the 1960s and early 1970s. Baraka called these writers "capitulationists," and says theirmovement was simultaneous with and counter to the Black Arts Movement. Baraka felt that thesimultaneity was no accident. In his long essay "Afro-American Literature and the ClassStruggle" in Black American Literature Forum (Summer 1980), Baraka, for the first time, madeseveral strong, personal attacks on Ishmael Reed, the fiction writer and poet, and also attackedseveral black female writers whom he felt fit into the capitulationist mold. And, again, Barakareiterated that he believes that the groundbreakers in the Black Arts Movement (among them, thenew black aesthetic literary wing, including Addison Gayle, Houston Baker, and ClarenceMajor) were doing something that was new, needed, useful, and black, and those who did notwant to see such a flourishing of black expression were "appointed" to the scene to damage themovement.Naming Reed and Calvin Hernton as "conservatives," Baraka wrote:Yes, the tide was so strong that even some of the "conservatives" wrote work that took thepeoples side. (The metaphysical slide [sic] of the BAM [Black Arts Movement] even allowedReed to adopt a rebellious tone with his "Black power poem" and "sermonette" in catechism of dneoamerican hoodoo church, 1970, in which he saw the struggle of Blacks against nationaloppression as a struggle between two churches: e.g., "may the best church win. shake hands nowand come/out-conjuring." But even during the heat and heart of the DAM, Reed would call thatvery upsurge and the BAM "a goon squad aesthetic" and say that the revolutionary writers were"fascists" or that the taking up of African culture by Black artists indicated such artists were"tribalists."Much of the labeling of Reed as a conservative and a "house nigger" began with the publicationof The Last Days of Louisiana Red, in which a group of characters Reed labeled as "moochers" The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 17. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 12loiter around Ed Yellings, a small black business owner who is making active efforts to earn aliving and who, through practicing voodoo, finds a cure for cancer. Critics interpreted "themoochers" as being stipulative of some of the BAM group. Supposedly, The Last Days ofLouisiana Red contains autocratic figures who do little more than emphasize Reeds definition ofmoochers, and who continually reenact negative, black stereotypes. Ed Yellings, the industriousblack, is killed by black moocher conspirators. Does this mean blacks will turn against whatReed believes to be the good in their own communities? Ed Yellings is a business and propertyowner. Baraka wrote,Ishmael Reed and Stanley Crouch both make the same kind of rah-rah speeches for the Blackmiddle class. Reed, in fact, says that those of us who uphold Black working people arebackwards ... Focus on the middle class, the property owners and music teachers, not the blackmasses (Ralph) Ellison tells us. This is the Roots crowd giving us a history of the BLM [BlackLiberation Movement] as a rags-to-riches, Horatio Alger tale in brownface, going off into thesunset and straight for Carters cabinet or the National Book Award....Baraka also set up a dichotomy for a "white arts movement" and a "black arts movement," butwhile defining the two--one would assume toward the end of endorsing one or the other--Barakashows only the failings of each and discusses his points of divergence from the "Black AestheticCrowd."In Barakas dichotomy, the "white aesthetic is bourgeois art--like the national interests of theU.S. at this late date when the U.S. is an imperialistic superpower." Immediately following thispassage, Baraka seemed to defend the black aesthetic group over Ellisons negative criticism ofthem. Baraka wrote that Ellison said of the black aesthetic crowd that they "buy the idea of totalcultural separation between blacks and whites, suggesting that weve been left out of themainstream. But when we examine American music and literature in terms of its themes,symbolism, rhythms, tonalities, idioms, and images it is obvious that those rejected Negroeshave been a vital part of the mainstream and were from the beginning." Baraka responded, "Weknow we have been exploited, Mr. Ralph, sir; what wes arguing about is that wes beenexploited! To use us is the term of stay in this joint. . . ." Barakas point is that it makes nodifference if the corrupt personage is black; the issue is still corruption, and it is a double insultto the oppressed when that corrupt person turns out to be black. But it is at that point that Barakaseparated himself from others in the new black aesthetic movement:Where I differ with the bourgeois nationalists who are identified with the "Black Aesthetic" isilluminated by a statement of Addison Gayles: "An aesthetic based upon economic and classdeterminism is one which has minimal value for Black people. For Black writers and critics thestarting point must be the proposition that the history of Black people in America is the historyof the struggle against racism" ("Blueprint for Black Criticism," First World, Jan.-Feb. 1977, p.43). But what is the basis for racism; ie., exploitation because of ones physical characteristics?Does it drop out of the sky? ... Black people suffer from national oppression: We are anoppressed nation, a nation oppressed by U.S. imperialism. Racism is an even more demonicaspect of this national oppression, since the oppressed nationality is identifiable anywhere as thatregardless of class. The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 18. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 13Baraka reminded the reader that his disagreement with the new black aesthetic elite was not tosay that there was no such thing as a black aesthetic, but that his conception of a black aestheticmanifested itself in his definition of it differently than it did for others. For him it was "a nationwithin a nation" that was brought about by the "big bourgeoisie on Wall Street, who after theCivil War completely dominated U.S. politics and economics, controlled the ex-planters, andturned them into their compradors." Further, black aesthetic ideas had to be subsumed under thelarger category of the Black Arts Movement so that its ideas would be in concert with thoseblack ideas from drama, dance, and graphic arts.Baraka claimed that several women writers, among them Michelle Wallace and Ntozake Shange,like Reed, had their own "Hollywood" aesthetic, one of "capitulation" and "garbage." Toward theend of his article, Baraka said that the "main line" of his argument bad been that "class struggleis as much a part of the arts as it is any place else." His pleas and support were reserved for thoseartists who were "struggle oriented," those who were trying to "get even clearer on the meaningof class stand, attitude, audience, and study, and their relationship to our work."And, thus, Barakas argument is epanaleptic, as it turns back for support upon the same core ofarguments of the other black aestheticians with whom he has said he is in disagreement; thosearguments form a complete circle with Barakas stated premise that black literature, black artmust do something materially positive to help black people. Art must be socially functional.The heat and heart really left the BAM after Baraka changed from black nationalist toLeninist/Socialist (1974) and after the death of Hoyt Fuller (1971). Baraka was by far thestrongest voice in the movement, and when he changed his ideas and said that before he had beenabsolutely wrong about his views on black art and that now his Leninist/Marxist vision wasabsolutely correct, many of his adherents lost faith. The basic tenets of the movement includedthe ideas that art by black Americans could never be accepted by white Americans, and separatecriteria needed to be developed by black artists to appraise properly the talent of black artists.Also, all art should be toward a political/humanistic end that would elevate all people--butespecially black people--to a higher consciousness and a better life. In a retrospective on thisartist/censor exchange, W. Lawrence Hogue wrote in "Literary Production: A Silence in Afro-American Critical Practice" from his book Discourse and the Other: The Production of the Afro-American Literary Text (1986) that the writers of the BAM:in using literature to further their political ends ... understand the political function of literature.Their strategy is to promote those Afro-American texts that present an aesthetic theory ofliterature. But that strategy is silent completely on how established literary institutions andapparatuses, throughout American literary history, have affected the production of Afro-American literature. . . . Of course, such a discussion would cause these black aestheticians toconfront openly the ideological nature and function, and therefore the constraints and exclusions,of their own cultural nationalist critical practices.Thus, at least in theoretical discussion, an expansive, stylistically, thematically, and raciallyabsorptive and syncretic "aesthetic" would put itself arguably above what Hogue calls the"nationalistic criteria" of the BAM regimen. In theory, a racially syncretic aesthetic would evenabsorb any facets of the BAM platform it could find useful, transform them, an produce new The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 19. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 14"discursive formations" (Foucault) that helped to explain itself or explain any kind of art text itchose. It is partly the syncretic idea that the proponents of the BAM fought against. For them, theonly way to artistic purity was through separation from the mainstream.Most recently, Baraka has reassessed Leninist/Marxist theory as an applicable filter for African-American literature. He now finds that, while perhaps a Leninist/Marxist grid is not the best wayto assess and form the black arts, he still feels that at the root of any authentic black art endeavormust be the love of black people and the love of self-affirmation.From The Oxford Companion to Women’s Writing in the United States. New York: Oxford UP,1995. Copyright © 1995 by Oxford UP Return to The Black Arts MovementFurious Flower: African American Poetry,An Overview--by Joanne V. GabbinThe timecracks into furious flower. Lifts its faceall unashamed. And sways in wicked grace.-Gwendolyn BrooksAfrican American poetry is the aesthetic chronicle of a race, as Gwendolyn Brooks expresses it,struggling to lift "its face all unashamed" in an alien land. From the earliest attempts of AfricanAmerican poets in the eighteenth century to express lyrically their adjustment to existence in asociety that debated their humanity to their intense exploration of their voice in the waning yearsof a racially charged twentieth century, they have built an aesthetic tradition that affirms them,using a language and literary models adapted to meet their cultural purposes. From the verybeginning these poets had a challenging, often agonizing, set of problems: the selection ofsubject matter, themes, and forms to express their thoughts and feelings; the cultivation of avoice expressive of their racial consciousness; the reception of the desired audience; the supportof a publishing and critical infrastructure; the nature of their relationship with other literarytraditions; and the identification of the anima and purpose of their literary efforts. In essence, The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 20. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 15African American poetry is metaphorically the "furious flower" of Gwendolyn Brooks poem"The Second Sermon on the Warpland" (1968), pointing to two significant intertwiningdevelopments: one radical and the other aesthetic.When Lucy Terry wrote "Bars Flight" (1746), the first poem written by an African in America,she set in motion a poetic tradition characterized by the furious pursuit of liberation in all of itsdimensions as well as the cultivation of a cultural voice authenticated by its own distinctive oralforms and remembered, communal values. Speaking of this first development, StephenHenderson in his seminal work Understanding the New Black Poetry (1972) writes that the ideaof liberation permeated African American literary consciousness from slavery to the tumultuous1960s, when poets reflected widespread disenchantment with white middle-class values andembraced cultural values emanating from Africa and the African diaspora. From JupiterHammon to Kevin Powell the idea of liberation has informed and energized African Americanpoetry. African American poets have been creators and critics of social values as they envisioneda world of justice and equality. Nineteenth-century poets voiced the slaves complaint in theabolitionist struggle and rallied the troops in the cause of emancipation and freedom. AfricanAmerican poets in the twentieth century continued to rail against the status quo and protestedattitudes and institutions that stood to impede the civil rights movement that changed the natureof American society. As these poets reflected African American concerns in the context of alarger American culture, they created a body of poetry that grew out of folk roots; legitimizedpoetry as a performative, participatory activity, and succeeded in creating an aesthetic traditiondefined by communal values, the primacy of musicality and improvisation, and inventive style.Roots in LiberationThe fertile soil of American Wesleyanism and the revolutionary fervor for liberty thatculminated in the American Revolution animated the poetic impulse in Jupiter Hammon andPhillis Wheatley. Hammon, the first African American to publish a poem, "An EveningThought" (1761), longed for salvation from this world and acquiesced to enslavement on earth.Phillis Wheatley, the precocious servant of the Wheatleys of Boston, wrote her earliest verse as amere adolescent in the late 1760s. She chose subjects that reflected her comfortable andprivileged position and her absorption of a New England education which emphasized thereading of the Bible and the classics. Her first volume of poems entitled Poems on VariousSubjects, Religious and Moral (1773) contained occasional poems eulogizing notable figures andcelebrating significant events such as George Washingtons appointment as commander of theContinental Army. Phillis Wheatley, kidnapped at the age of seven, brought to America in aslave ship and sold in 1761, noted as the "Sable Muse" of Boston whose fame spread to England,aware of her own fortunate status in contrast to the lot of impoverished blacks in Bostons ghetto,did not commit any of these subjects to poetry. Her own condemnation of slavery and censure ofso-called "Christian" slaveholders and the joys and sorrows associated with her marriage and thebirth of her children are preserved only in personal letters. Whether out of a sense of Christianhumility or a preference for personal detachment taught by neoclassical conventions, she alludedto her own experience only on rare occasions. More pronounced, however, in her poems, as wellas Hammons, are the issues of religious devotedness, patriotism and liberation which were notgenerally clouded by the unsettling moral issues of slavery and universal equality. The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 21. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 16It would be more than fifty years before George Moses Horton made slavery the major subject ofhis poems. With The Hope of Liberty (1829), Horton staked his personal freedom on the fruits ofhis pen; however, the book failed to raise the money needed to buy his freedom. He would notrealize his goal until 1865 when the Union Army freed him. Horton, who delighted the universitystudents at Chapel Hill with his humorous and witty jingles and parlayed his art into a money-making enterprise, found liberty a less than lucrative subject matter. However, when FrancesEllen Watkins Harper, the popular abolitionist orator and poet, published her Poems onMiscellaneous Subjects (1854), she found its reception enthusiastic. The volume, which includedpoems on the tragic circumstances of slavery, went through twenty editions by 1874.Other nineteenth-century African American poets anticipated Paul Laurence Dunbars questionconcerning "why the caged bird sings." James Monroe Whitfield appears to speak for several ofhis contemporaries when he has the speaker in "The Misanthropist" say, "In vain thou bidst mestrike the lyre,/and sing a song of mirth and glee." For Whitfield, James Madison Bell andAlberry A. Whitman, the thoughts that troubled their mind -- the evils of slavery, the hope offreedom, struggles with oppression and violence -- were frought "with gloom and darkness, woeand pain." These poets continued the tradition of protest begun by Horton. However, JamesCampbell and Daniel Webster Davis made mirth their dominant lyric and wrote dialect poemsthat mimicked the stereotypes of the popular plantation tradition. Other poets like Ann Plato andHenrietta Ray took the route of romantic escapism.With the publication of Oak and Ivy in 1893, Paul Laurence Dunbar inaugurated a new era inAfrican American literary expression, revealing himself as one of the finest lyricists America hadproduced. His second book Majors and Minors (1895) attracted the favorable attention andendorsement of the literary critic William Dean Howells. Howellss now classic introduction ofDunbars third volume of poems, Lyrics of Lowly Life (1896), became the quintessential literarypiece of damning praise that elevated Dunbars dialect poems above his poems written instandard English. It ensured his acceptance and popularity among an audience of white readerswho were warmed by the good cheer of the hearthside and comforted by the aura of pastoralcontentment, hallmarks of Dunbars bucolic verse. His obligatory mimicking of the plantationtradition conventions popularized by Irwin Russell, Joel Chandler Harris, and Thomas NelsonPage resulted in a perpetuation of these conventions. However, there was no denying for manythe immense popularity, freshness, humor, and catchy rhythms of his memorable dialect poems.Nonetheless, Dunbars meteoric rise to fame did not accommodate a thorough and broadappreciation of the other side of his genius displayed in his non-dialect poems. Tragically, theyoung poet lived a scant ten years after the publication of Lyrics of Lowly Life, years that werefilled with regret that the world had ignored his deeper notes "to praise a jingle in a brokentongue."The turn of the century witnessed African American poets adopting popular literary traditionsand with varied and eclectic approaches joining other poets as the "new" American poetry burstupon the scene. Poets such as Vachel Lindsay, Edgar Lee Masters, Carl Sandburg, Amy Lowell,Hilda Doolittle, and Robert Frost ushered in a respect for ordinary speech, freedom of choice insubject matter, concentration on vers libre and imagism, an unembarrassed celebration ofAmerican culture, and irreverent experimentation. African American poets were influenced bythese experiments with local color, regionalism, realism, and naturalism and joined other The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 22. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 17American poets in a mutual rejection of sentimentality, didacticism, romantic escape, and poeticdiction.Several African American women nurtured their poetic talent in this atmosphere of literaryfreedom. Angelina Weld Grimké wrote lush lyrics on nature and love. Using conventional forms,Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson explored a womans heart in ways considered less thanconventional by an audience gradually emerging from Victorianism. Anne Spencer, never ascelebrated as her prodigious talent warranted, achieved precision in her imagery and great depthof emotion. Unlike Spencer, who lived quietly in Lynchburg, Virginia, Georgia Douglas Johnsonwas at the hub of Washingtons literary circle and, with the encouragement of several literaryluminaries, published three volumes of poems. However, as was the circumstance of AfricanAmerican women poets during the first three decades of the twentieth century, her limitedexposure and promotion diminished her critical reception.This was not, however, the case for Benjamin Brawley and William Stanley Braithwaite,nationally known scholars who also wrote poetry. Benjamin Brawley was a minor genteel poetbut a major scholar who wrote several pioneering anthologies including The Negro in Literatureand Art (1918) and Early Negro American Writers (1935), which remains an important study ofwriters who published from 1761 to 1900. William Stanley Braithwaite, like Brawley, wrote agenteel, non-racial poetry, reminiscent of British Romantic poets. In 1913 he initiated his annualedition of the Anthology of Magazine Verse which chronicled the outpouring of American poetryfor several decades.Two poets, however, hinted at the emergence of robust, militant racial poetry and tended seedsthat were political and aesthetic. Fenton Johnson struck a note of despair and pessimism muchlike Edgar Lee Masterss and Carl Sandburgs and prophetically envisioned what black urban lifewould become after its euphoric beginnings. W.E.B. DuBois, whose intellectual contribution toAmerican political and historical thought, sociological and cultural inquiry, journalism andimaginative literature towers over the centurys best minds, wrote little poetry. However, hismost anthologized piece, "A Litany of Atlanta," written in response to the Atlanta riot of 1906 isrepresentative and provides a bridge for the strains of protest prevalent in both the 1800s and the1900s.New Negro RenaissanceBy the 1920s it was clear that an unprecedented flowering of literary expression was in fullbloom. Called alternately the New Negro Renaissance and the Harlem Renaissance, this literarymovement, according to Alain Locke, its major promoter and interpreter, was the firstopportunity for group expression and self-determination. As Locke pointed out in The NewNegro (1925), the old attitudes of self-pity and apology were replaced by a frank acceptance ofthe position of African Americans in American society. A growing racial awareness amongAfrican American writers prompted self-discovery -- discovery of the ancestral past in Africa,discovery of folk and cultural roots reaching back into colonial times, and discovery of a newkind of militancy, self-determination and self-reliance. Langston Hughes in his famous manifesto"The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain" (1926), captures the prevailing sentiment. The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 23. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 18We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selveswithout fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesnt matter.We know we are beautiful. And ugly too. The tom-tom cries and the tom-tom laughs. If coloredpeople are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesnt matter either. We buildour temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, freewithin ourselves.Artistic freedom was the banner under which Jean Toomer created Cane (1923), one of themasterstrokes of the New Negro Renaissance. An unprecedented collection which combinedpoetry and prose with experimental verve, it was also Toomers revelation piece, an unrestrainedrelease of racial celebration. His poems in this volume are alive with the pine-scented landscapeof Georgia and capture the mysterious and illusive beauty of folk spiritualism.Unlike Toomer, Claude McKay, the first and most radical voice to emerge in the 1920s,personified the tensions and contradictions lived by those too conflicted by racial anomalies tocelebrate. With the publication of Harlem Shadow (1922), he became the poet that bestexpressed their rage and anger and newfound militancy. The popular "If We Must Die,""Baptism," "To the White Fiends" expressed emotions chafing to be exposed. According to AlainLocke, McKay "pulled the psychological cloak off the Negro and revealed even to the Negrohimself, those facts disguised till then by his shrewd protective mimicry or pressed down underthe dramatic mask of living up to what was expected of him." Ironically, McKay wasuncomfortable as a spokesman for the black race, for he saw his poems speaking to theindividual soul of all people.In the midst of the New Negro Renaissance the issue of choice of subject matter was debated bythe literary lights of the period: Langston Hughes, W.E.B. DuBois, Claude McKay, JamesWeldon Johnson, Arna Bontemps, Jessie Fauset, among many others. However, Countee Cullen,perhaps more than any of his contemporaries, agonized over the issue (freedom in choice ofsubject matter, delineation of character, decorum and representativeness of portrayal, and thebearing race should have on art). The most learned African American poet to emerge in this era,Countee Cullen demonstrated his enormous talent in his first book entitled Color (1925). At theyoung age of twenty-two, Cullen became the most famous and most quoted African Americanwriter at the time.Cullen became assistant editor of Opportunity in 1926 and inaugurated his "A Dark Tower"columns; shortly thereafter he responded to the NAACP questionnaire feature entitled "TheNegro in Art - How Shall He Be Portrayed - A Symposium," which ran in The Crisis in 1926 and1927. He made it clear that he would not "vote for any infringement of the authors right to tell astory, to delineate a character, or to transcribe an emotion in his own way and in light of the truthas he sees it." However, he was quick to add that African American artists have a duty "to createtypes that are truly representative." Just a year later in what appears to be a critical reversal, hesaid that African American artists should not be bound by their race or restricted to race matterssimply because they are a part of that racial group. Ironically, the poet who was recognized asbest representing the emerging New Negro resented having his poetry judged on the basis ofrace. "If I am going to be a poet at all, I am going to be POET and not NEGRO POET."Langston Hughes was quick and relentless in his attack on Cullens creed in "The Negro Artist The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 24. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 19and the Racial Mountain" (1926). Hughes analysis and Cullens own fierce battle with doubleconsciousness coalesce in the conundrum no better expressed than in Cullens own lines in "YetDo I Marvel" (1925):Yet do I marvel at this curious thing:To make a poet black, and bid him sing!These lines capture the essence of Cullens highest achievement and paradoxically the confluenceof his most troubling dilemmas. It was his blackness that was at once his perceived handicap andhis greatest asset.Cullen was one of several poets who benefited from the numerous publishing opportunities andliterary prizes available to promising writers. Under the editorship of Charles S. Johnson,Opportunity published works by Renaissance writers and offered the Alexander Pushkin Award.The Crisis under the leadership of editor W.E.B. DuBois and literary editor Jessie RedmondFauset was a showplace for literary artists and annually awarded poetry prizes for outstandingentries. For example, Arna Bontemps early success at writing poetry won him recognition andprizes from both Opportunity and Crisis magazines in 1926 and 1927. Bontempss poem "ABlack Man Talks of Reaping," which won the Crisis prize, is representative of the note ofbitterness that is a consistent tone in much Renaissance literature. It is also important to note thatthese magazines were instrumental in encouraging writers like Bontemps and developing anaudience for their work.The development of the African American poetic tradition paralleled the development of anelaborate oral tradition that encompassed every aspect and attitude of black life, offering whatRalph Ellison called "the first drawings of any groups character." Sterling Brown, another criticwho explored fully and consistently the inexhaustible possibilities of the folk tradition, found inits storehouse of songs, tales, sayings and speech the originality, vitality, truthfulness andcomplexity that would be his touchstones in the assessment of literature. The poetry of thenineteenth century with its mimicry of popular stereotypes, sentimentalism and escapism wouldhave been found wanting if held to these standards.However, during the early twentieth century, especially during the period known as the HarlemRenaissance, African American poetry began to flower because of a greater exploration of theblack voice as it consciously recognized and mined the black folklore. African American poets invarying degrees engaged in a kind of literary tropism by turning away from western cosmologyand mythology in preference for expressing their own cosmology and cultural myths. In theirattempt to find a voice expressive of their racial consciousness, they turned to cultural tropesabounding in the universe of folk parlance. Among the African American poets who explored theunique vernacular resources of the blues, spirituals, proverbs, tales, sayings were James WeldonJohnson, Langston Hughes, and Sterling Brown. James Weldon Johnson played a significant roleas anthologist-critic in introducing African American poetry to the American public with TheBook of American Negro Poetry (1922). In his preface, Johnson initiates the debate on thelimitations of dialect by signaling African American writers rejection of conventionalized dialectassociated with the minstrelsy and by calling for a form of expression that would not limit thepoets emotional and intellectual response to black life. In some of his best poetry collected in The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 25. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 20Gods Trombones (1927), he shows his skillful treatment of the black folk sermon and his use ofracially authentic language.Langston Hughes, indisputably the poet laureate of Harlem, was the most experimental andversatile poet of the New Negro Renaissance, launching his career as a poet at the age ofnineteen with what has become his signature poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers." Over the nextforty-six years, Hughes had as his goal to discover the flow and rhythm of black life. Authoringmore than 860 poems, he never tired of exploring the color, vibrancy, and texture of blackculture and "his" beloved people who created it. In his first two volumes of poetry, The WearyBlues (1926) and Fine Clothes to the Jew (1927) such poems as "Lenox Avenue Midnight,"Jazzonia," and "To a Black Dancer in the Little Savoy," recreate the jazzy, blues-tinged,frenzied, exotic world of Harlem nights.Hughes called himself a folk poet, and he had faith in the inexhaustible resources to be mined infolk music and speech. He sought to combine the musical forms of the blues, work songs,ballads, and jazz stylings with poetic expression in such a way as to preserve the originality ofthe former and achieve the complexity of the latter. As Hughes biographer Arnold Rampersadsaid, Hughes fusion of African American music into his poetry was his "key technicalcommitment." Some of his critics will argue that he remained too close to the folk form toachieve much beyond weak imitation and others considered his approach too simple and lackingin intellectual sophistication and rigor. But for Hughes it was enough that he became the voice ofAfrican American dreamers. In tones that ranged from poignantly conciliatory to acerbicallyradical, Hughes continued to point out the great distance between the premise and the promise ofAmerica in his last volumes Montage of a Dream Deferred (1951), Ask Your Mama (1961) andThe Panther and the Lash (1967) published posthumously.Like Langston Hughes, Sterling A. Brown (1901-1989) relished his title of folk poet. As such,Browns most significant achievement is his subtle adaptation of folk forms to the literature.Experimenting with the blues, spirituals, work songs, and ballads, he invented combinations thatat their best retain the ethos of folk forms and intensify the literary quality of the poetry.In his poem "Ma Rainey," one of the finest poems in his first volume of poetry, Southern Road(1932), Brown skillfully brings together the ballad and blues forms and, demonstrating hisinventive genius, creates the blues-ballad which is a portrait of the venerated blues singer and achronicle of her transforming performance. With a remarkable ear for the idiom, cadence, andtones of folk speech, Brown absorbed its vibrant qualities in his poetry. Brown came as close asany poet had before to achieving James Weldon Johnsons ideal of original racial poetry "capableof voicing the deepest and highest emotions and aspirations, and allowing the widest range ofsubjects and the widest scope of treatment."The next three decades, 1930-1960, trace the continuing careers of Langston Hughes andSterling A. Brown and mark the ascendancy of Melvin B. Tolson, Robert Hayden, MargaretWalker and Gwendolyn Brooks. These major voices joined a growing list of poets who broughtAfrican American poetic expression to new heights of competence and maturity. The listincludes Sam Allen (Paul Vesey), Waring Cuney, Frank Marshall Davis, Owen Dodson, RayDurem, Frank Horne, and Richard Wright. These poets cultivate their individual voices by The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 26. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 21synthesizing elements from the western literary tradition and their own vernacular tradition.They explored history as a riveting subject matter for their poetry, and they stretched theboundaries of language to have it hold the depth and complexity that the new poetry requires.These poets, in keeping with the continuing development of the radical/political strain in AfricanAmerican poetry, also pursued a brand of social justice that emphasized integrationalism and asensitivity to international connections and socialistic movements.Melvin B. Tolson demonstrates all of these interests in his poetry. In brilliant strokes of ironyand iconoclasm, he produced Rendezvous with America (1944), Libretto for the Republic ofLiberia (1953), and Harlem Gallery (1965). Tolsonian style is a synthesis of classical imagery,racial symbolism, and extensive historical allusions. In "Psi," one of the sections of HarlemGallery, Tolson describes the "Negro artist" as a "flower of the gods, whose growth is dwarfed atan early stage." Certainly, this was not Tolsons personal complaint; for, in truth, only his criticalresponse was dwarfed, never his considerable gifts as a poet.Equally gifted, Robert Hayden throughout his distinguished career as a poet held to his credo thatpoets "are the keepers of a nations conscience, the partisans of freedom and justice, even whenthey eschew political involvement. By the very act of continuing to function as poets they areaffirming what is human and eternal." Hayden, like Countee Cullen, insisted that poets shouldnot be restricted to racial themes or any subject matter or polemic that would fetter their artisticexpression. His consistent refusal to be limited by subject matter or to be relegated to a doublestandard of criticism ironically found him at odds with the white literary establishment as well asthe 1960s proponents of the Black Aesthetic and often exacted stiff penalties of critical neglectand racial ostracism. Though Hayden never retreated from his position, two of his mostoutstanding poems, "Middle Passage" (1945) and "Frederick Douglass" (1947), show his lifelongcommitment to exploring African American history and folklore. In A Ballad of Remembrance(1962), Hayden brought together revised versions of these poems and some of the best portraitsof historical figures in American literature including "The Ballad of Nat Turner," "RunagateRunagate," and "Homage to the Empress of the Blues." Ironically, because of the excellence ofhis book, Robert Hayden, who had resisted racial categorization in judging his poetry, won TheGrand Prix de la Poesie, a prize reserved to honor the best poet of Negritude in the world.Untroubled by a Hayden-like sensitivity to racial subject matter, Margaret Walker made the fullabsorption of racial material one of her highest goals. In her most famous poem, "For MyPeople" she mirrors the collective soul of black folk. As W.E.B. DuBois had succeeded inannouncing the political, economic and cultural strivings of African Americans in The Souls ofBlack Folk (1903), Walker accomplished a stunning psychological portrait of "her people"during the unsettling years of Depression, and throughout the succeeding decades. As EugeniaCollier writes the poem "melts away time and place and it unifies Black listeners," deriving itspower from "the reservoir of beliefs, values, and archetypal characters yielded by our collectivehistorical experience." With a verbal brilliance owing to an impressive absorption of the myths,rituals, music, and folklore of the African American tradition, Margaret Walker shares hercultural memories and creates new ones in For My People (1942), Prophets for a New Day(1970) and October Journey (1972). The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 27. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 22Another major voice, Gwendolyn Brooks, has produced some of the most outstanding poetrywritten in the twentieth century. With poetry that benefits from great compression, technicalacumen, and emotional complexity, no poet lays better claim to heir of two hundred years of thematuration of African American poetry than Gwendolyn Brooks. In 1950 Brooks won thePulitzer Prize for her volume of poetry Annie Allen, becoming the first African American to winthis award. In 1968 she was named Poet Laureate of Illinois, succeeding the late Carl Sandburg.Author of more than twenty books including A Street in Bronzeville (1945), The Bean Eaters(1960), In the Mecca (1968) and Riot (1969), she is a master at manipulating language until itdistills the pure essence of the life and character that she astutely observes in Chicago and theworld. Brooks joined other poets who were writing in the 1950s -- Owen Dodson, Sam Allen,Ray Durem, Margaret Esse Danner, Margaret Taylor Goss Burroughs -- in responding poeticallyto a nation carrying the anlage of social change in its mounting civil rights movement. The year1955 witnessed the Montgomery Bus Boycott which brought Rosa Parks and Martin LutherKing, Jr. to national prominence; it also witnessed the senseless lynching of Emmett Till, afourteen-year-old black boy accused of whistling at a white woman in Mississippi. The latterevent had a profound effect on Gwendolyn Brooks and is the subject of two of her poems, "ABronzeville Mother Loiters in Mississippi, Meanwhile, a Mississippi Mother Burns Bacon" and"The Last Quatrain of the Ballad of Emmett Till."Furious FlowerTen years later another event, the assassination of Malcolm X, would capture the imagination ofa group of younger poets and be the catalyst for the Black Arts Movement and the furiousflowering of African American poetry that it produced. Malcolms ideas provided the radical,philosophical framework for the movement. According to Larry Neal in Visions of a LiberatedFuture (1989), he "touched all aspects of contemporary black nationalism." Malcolms voicesounded the tough urban street style, and his life became a symbol and inspiration. With hiswords resonating in their consciousness, and his image inspiring a revolutionary world vision,poets such as David Henderson, James A. Emanuel, Robert Hayden and Etheridge Knight paidtribute to him after his death.Three poets inspired by the example of Malcolm X emerged as the moving spirits and visionariesof the Black Arts Movement in the late 1960s: Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), Larry Neal, andAskia Muhammad Touré (Rolland Snellings). Baraka saw the movement as a revolutionary force"to create an art, a literature that would fight for black peoples liberation with as much intensityas Malcolm X our Fire Prophet and the rest of the enraged masses who took to the streets inBirmingham after the four little girls had been murdered by the Klan and FBI, or the ones whowere dancing in the street in Harlem, Watts, Newark, Detroit." Baraka captures in this statementthe revolutionary fervor and commitment that led him, Larry Neal, and Askia Touré to create theBlack Arts Repertory Theatre School in Harlem, that led to the collaboration with Neal inpublishing Black Fire (1968), the seminal anthology of the period; and that guided his constantspiritual striving toward building a black nation in America.Out of this striving came a poetry that was emblazoned with the liberation struggle. Baraka, poet,activist and playwright, gained a strong reputation as a poet among the avant-garde artists ofGreenwich Village during the 1950s and collected his early poetry in Preface to a Twenty- The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 28. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 23Volume Suicide Note (1961). Since that time he has published fourteen books of poetry includingThe Dead Lecturer (1964), Black Magic Poetry (1969), In Our Terribleness (1970), Its NationTime (1970), Spirit Reach (1972), Funk Lore (1996) and Wise Whys Ys: A Griots Tale (1995).His poetry is experimental, explosive, improvisational, and allied to black music, especially jazz.Like Baraka, Larry Neal wrote poetry that had the sound and the pulsing, pumping rhythm ofblack music. His early death at forty-three curtailed a brilliant career as a poet, essayist, teacherand community activist. However, his essays, drama, and poetry have been collected in Visionsof a Liberated Future: Black Arts Movement Writings (1989). "Poppa Stoppa Speaks from HisGrave" and "Dont Say Goodbye to the Porkpie Hat" are excellent examples of the hip, urbane,jazz-digging style that was his signature.The music of John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Theolonious Monk, and other jazz greats alsosuffuses the poetry of Askia M. Touré. To a rich lyricism he adds a cosmic vision that was firstapparent in JuJu: Magic Songs for the Black Nation (with Ben Caldwell, 1970) and Songhai(1973) and continues in From the Pyramids to the Projects (1990). His commitment to raisingthe national consciousness carried over to the 1990s, when his messages challenged thedestructive forces wielding genocide both physical and mental. Reflecting on the Black ArtsMovement, Touré contends that it was "the largest cultural upsurge that our people have had inthis century and that we were organically-linked writers, activists, musicians, playwrights andsuch."Several forces converged to create the outpouring of African American poetry that has takenplace since 1960. The political and social upheavals brought about by the civil rights movementof the 1950s and 1960s ushered in a dramatic change in the legal and social status of AfricanAmericans. With its non-violent strategies of sit-ins, marches, freedom rides, boycotts, voterregistration drives, the movement united two generations of African American poets around thedream of freedom and equality and supplied them with a wealth of cultural heroes includingMartin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Emmett Till, Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers, whobecame the subject matter of their poetry. The assassination of Martin Luther King inspired agroundswell of poems from such poets as Nikki Giovanni, Haki Madhubuti, Sam Allen, QuincyTroupe, and Mari Evans. In the wake of the urban riots and fires that were the peoples responseto Kings martyrdom came the Black Power movement with its bold language of racialconfrontation, cultural separation, and its insistence upon self defense, self reliance, and blackpride. With their iconoclastic attacks on all aspects of white middle class values, it is notsurprising that the poets who shaped the Black Arts movement, the Black Powers cultural wing,rejected unequivocally Western poetic conventions. Their poetic technique emphasized freeverse; typographical stylistics; irreverent, often scatological, diction; and linguisticexperimentation. In addition to Baraka, Neal and Touré, prominent among these poets wereSonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, Haki Madhubuti, Etheridge Knight, A.B. Spellman, Calvin C.Hernton, Mari Evans, David Henderson, June Jordan, Clarence Major, Jayne Cortez, HenryDumas, Carolyn M. Rodgers, and Quincy Troupe.Following Maulana Ron Karengas dictum that black art must be "functional, collective andcommitted," these poets addressed their messages primarily to African Americans and Africanpeople in the diaspora, and in their messages the artist and the political activist become one. The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 29. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 24Poets such as Sam Allen, Margaret Burroughs, and Margaret Danner set out to reclaim the lostAfrican heritage, continuing the "literary Garveyism" that began in the 1920s. The strains of PanAfricanism, nurtured by W.E.B. DuBois appear in the poetry of W. Keorapetse Kgositisile, anexile from South Africa, and the confluence of African and European cultures mesh in the poetryof West Indian poet Derek Walcott, continuing the tradition of the Negritude movement. Notonly were these poets extending their boundaries, but they were also exploring the interior spacesof the African American identity. Henry Dumas, "whose brief life held out the promise ofbrilliant and passionate writing," according to Eugene Redmond in Drumvoices (1976), studdedhis poetry with raw and angry dimensions of the African American psyche. Conrad Kent Rivers,who also died too young, was concerned with his inner world where pain, violence anddestruction only ended with death. In the hands of Lucille Clifton, Lance Jeffers, RaymondPatterson, and Johari Amini, among others, the concept of blackness is sculpted into a compositeof courage, endurance, beauty, and stoicism - positive images for a nation reconstructing itself.And more often than not, these poets created their own journals to disseminate their messages.Hoyt Fuller, the influential editor of Negro Digest and Black World, edited NOMMO, the journalof the OBAC Writers Workshop and, like Gwendolyn Brooks, had a great impact on the youngerpoets as mentor and cultural guide. Tom Dent and Kalamu ya Salaam edited Nkombo, the journalof BLKARTSOUTH, a cultural organization that grew out of the Free Southern Theater in NewOrleans. Burning Spear featured the poetry of the Howard poets such as Lance Jeffers. Thecollection was an outgrowth of the Dasein Literary Society at Howard University. As The Crisisand Opportunity magazines had stimulated artistic and intellectual activity during the New NegroRenaissance, several journals founded during the late 1960s and 1970s increased readership forAfrican American poetry over the next twenty years. Notable among them are the Journal ofBlack Poetry, founded by Joe Goncalves; The Black Scholar, founded by Robert Chrisman;Black Dialogue, founded by Abdul Karim and Edward S. Spriggs; Callaloo, founded in 1974 byCharles H. Rowell, Tom Dent and Jerry Ward; and Obsidian, founded by Alvin Aubert in 1975with Gerald Barrax assuming the editorship in 1985. Many poets were also responsible forestablishing presses that encouraged emerging poets to publish. Haki Madhubutis Third WorldPress in Chicago, Dudley Randalls Broadside Press in Detroit, and Naomi Long Madgetts LotusPress became invaluable outlets for African American poetic expression.The proliferation of the ideas and impact of the Black Arts Movement was due largely to theformation of cultural organizations and Writers Workshops committed to encouraging AfricanAmerican poets and increasing readership among an African American audience. The UmbraWorkshop first gathered in Greenwich Village and Lower East Side of New York in 1941 andlisted among its members David Henderson, Calvin C. Hernton, Tom Dent, Ishmael Reed, AskiaM. Touré, Raymond Patterson, Charles Patterson and Lorenzo Thomas. It produced the firstissue of Umbra in 1963. In Chicago, Haki Madhubuti and Walter Bradford were among thefounding members of the Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC), which broughttogether Carolyn Rodgers, Gwendolyn Brooks, Johari Amini, Sterling Plumpp, Eugene Perkins,Ebon (Leo Thomas Hale), and Angela Jackson, among others. Zealous in carrying out the idealsof black solidarity and empowerment, they read in schools, community centers, bars, parks, onstreet corners. The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 30. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 25Since the 1970s, these contemporary African American poets have developed a form ofcommunal performance art that draws heavily on what Stephen Henderson called black musicand black speech as poetic referents. The poets work evidenced a full absorption of musicalforms such as blues and jazz, call-and-response features, improvising lines, evoking tones,rhythm, structure of folk form, and the entire range of spoken virtuosity seen in the sermon, therap, the dozens, signifying, toasts, and folktales. Poets such as Jayne Cortez, Sonia Sanchez,Haki Madhubuti, Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Askia M. Touré, Victor Hernandez Cruz, SunRa, and Ted Joans discovered how to transform the printed poem into a performance thatunleashes the elegance and power of black speech and music. For example, Jayne Cortezs abilityto evoke the jazz sound of Arnette Colemen, Bessie Smith and John Coltrane in her first volumeof poetry Pisstained Stairs (1969) suggested the power that she would develop as a performancepoet. Sonia Sanchez significantly influenced the cultural landscape by the urgency of hersustained committed voice, often rendered in her deeply spiritual chanting/singing style. EugeneRedmond, Sarah Webster Fabio, Gil Scott-Heron, and Ted Joans are representative of thosepoets who incorporate "rap," blues, jazz, and soul music in their poetry making it move with therhythm of contemporary beats. Nikki Giovanni achieved national popularity as she wedded hervisionary, truth-telling poetry with the sounds of gospel music in her best-selling album "Truth IsOn Its Way" in 1971. Haki Madhubuti, with his explosive, annunciatory kinetic rap style, hasbeen one of the most imitated poets among young artists seeking to develop a performance style.Though much of the poetry was involved with music, orature and performance, for Alvin Aubertthe poem will have to "perform itself on the page." His poems in If Winter Come: CollectedPoems, 1967-1992 (1994), Pinkie Gordon Lanes I Never Scream: New and Selected Poems(1985) and Naomi Long Madgetts Octavia and Other Poems (1988) illustrate a reliance uponquieter, muted strains to enhance their poetry.The cultural movement of the 1960s and 1970s not only changed the way African Americansthought about their political and social status as American citizens, for the poets it also plantedthe seeds for a truly liberated exploration of literary possibilities. Poets such as Lucille Clifton,Audre Lorde, Jay Wright, and Michael S. Harper cultivated their poetic imaginations in line withmore personal and individualized goals. In An Ordinary Woman (1974), Lucille Clifton floodsher private and public identities with light, illuminating family histories and relationships inepigrammatic flashes. Audre Lorde, during the course of a thirty-year career, struggled againstthe poets death of being "choked into silence by icy distinction." In volumes such as Coal (1973)and The Black Unicorn (1978) she resisted categorization and definition by a narrow expectationof her humanity by boldly exploring all of the essences of womanhood. Jay Wrights eclecticismled him to create poetry that is a multicultural mosaic of his interest in history, anthropology,cosmology, religion and social thought as evident in Death as History (1967). As suggested bythe title of Michael S. Harpers second book of poems, History Is Your Own Heartbeat, history isthe heartbeat of his poetry as he chronicles personal and kinship relationships and culturalhistories that link complex emotional and philosophical experiences shared by diverse ethnicgroups.Rita Dove, acknowledging her own debt to the Black Arts Movement, said that if it had not beenfor the movement, America would not be ready to accept a poet who explored a text other thanblackness. Unencumbered by a necessarily political message, Dove in her Pulitzer Prize winningbook Thomas and Beulah (1987) brings wholeness and elegance to the histories of her The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 31. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 26grandparents. Dove, who held the post of Poet Laureate of the United States from 1993 until1995, is representative of a large accomplished group of poets who published their first poemsduring the late 1970s and 1980s: Yusef Komunyakaa, Cornelius Eady, Melvin Dixon, DoloresKendrick, Thylias Moss, Toi Derricotte, Gloria Oden, and Sherley Anne Williams.Elizabeth Alexander is emblematic of the promise and wide range of variegated voices that havesprung forth during the first half of the 1990s. Her first collection, The Venus Hottentot (1990),reveals poems that explore the interior lives of historical figures, exposing emotions andexperiences that strikingly illuminate public concerns. In a poem called "The Dark Room: AnInvocation" she hails talented young poets who make up The Dark Room Collective: ThomasSayers Ellis, Sharan Strange, Kevin Young, Carl Phillips and Natasha Trethewey, to name a few.In highly individual styles, they shape metaphors and images in a fisted reading of contemporarylife. Other young poets, such as Ras Baraka, Kevin Powell, Jabari Asim and Esther Iverem, placethemselves in the tradition of struggle that they see as artistic, political, spiritual, andpsychological; they seek to revisit the ideals of the Black Arts Movement in the language of ahip-hop nation.In the closing decade of the twentieth century, African American poetry is again experiencing anexpansive, renewing phrase that some have termed the "Third Renaissance." This sense ofrenewal was dramatically evident at the Furious Flower Conference in 1994, when the largestgathering of poets and critics in more than two decades, met at James Madison University inVirginia to read, discuss, and celebrate African American poetry. The conference, dedicated toGwendolyn Brooks, brought together three generations of poets. In doing so it symbolized thecontinuity in the African American poetic expression and signaled the dimensions of its futuredevelopment. Seasoned poets who began writing in the 1960s are continuing to write with skilland power. Sonia Sanchezs Wounded in the House of a Friend (1995) and Gerald BarraxsLeaning Against the Sun (1992) are prime examples. Derek Walcotts Nobel Prize for Literaturein 1992, Rita Doves appointment as Poet Laureate of the United States, and Gwendolyn Brooksnaming by the National Endowment for the Humanities as the Jefferson Lecturer for 1994represent the unprecedented achievement of African American poets as recipients of the nationshighest honors. This newest renaissance is also marked by the emergence of a group of youngpoets who have been published in such anthologies as In the Tradition: An Anthology of YoungBlack Writers (1992), edited by Kevin Powell and Ras Baraka and On the Verge: EmergingPoets and Artists (1993), edited by Thomas Sayers Ellis and Joseph Lease.Just as Gwendolyn Brooks poem "TheSecond Sermon on the Warpland" suggests "furiousflower" as a metaphor for the aesthetic chronicle of African American poetry, it also encouragesthe emerging generation to bloom "in the noise and whip of the whirlwind." After 250 years ofAfrican American poetry, these young poets are "the last of the loud," ferocious in their call forhumanism and beautiful in their response to the magic and music of language.from The Oxford Companion to African American Literature. Ed. William L. Andrews, TrudierHarris and Frances Smith Foster. Copyright © Oxford University Press. The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 32. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 27 Return to The Black Arts MovementDocuments from the Black ArtsMovement "On Black Art" by Ron KarengaBlack Art must be for the people, by the people and from the people. That is to say, it must befunctional, collectiveand committing.Soul is extra-scientific, that is to say, outside of science; therefore we will allow no scientificdisproof of it.All that we do and create is based on tradition and reason, that is to say, foundation andmovement. We began tobuild on a traditional [sic], but it is out of movement that we complete our creation.Art for arts sake is an invalid concept, all art reflects the value system from which it comes.We say inspiration is the real basis of education. In a word, images inspire us, academicassertions bore us.Our art is both form and feeling but more feeling than form.Our creative motif must be revolution; all art that does not discuss or contribute to revolutionarychange is invalid.That is [...] why the "blues" are invalid, they teach resignation, in a word, acceptance of reality--and we have cometo change reality.There is no better subject for Black artists than Black people, and the Black artist who doesntchoose and develop The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 33. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 28his subject will find himself unproductive.All art is collective and reflects the values of the people. Therefore what makes us able toidentify an artists workis not individuality, but personality, which is an expression of the different personal experiencesof the artist withinthe Black framework.Suppose Ray Charles had to sing Beethoven or Bachs Carols, or Miles Davis had to play in thePhilharmonic; itwouldnt go off at all. Thats why we have to have a pattern of development that is suited to ourown needs.The truth is that which needs to be told, and true creation is that which needs to be created andwhat we need tocreate is Black images which speak to and inspire Black people.We need a new language to break the linguistic straight [sic] jacket of our masters, who taught ushis language sohe could understand us, although we could hardly understand ourselves.In terms of history, all we need at this point is heroic images; white people have enough dates foreverybody.All education and creation is invalid unless it can benefit the maximum amount of Blacks.Art is an expression of soul and creativity, sensitivity, and impulse is the basis.Sensitivity, creativity and impulse are abstract to those who dont have them. There is no art inthe world youshould have to go to school to appreciate.Borrowing does not mean you become what others are. What is important here is the choice ofwhat one borrowsand how he shapes it in his own images. Whites are no less white by borrowing from Black andvice versa.There is no such thing as art for arts sake. If thats so, why dont you lock yourself up somewhereand paint orwrite and keep it only to yourself.The white boys classical music is static. He values the form rather than the soul force behind thecreation. That iswhy he still plays tunes written two or three hundred years ago.All art should be the product of a creative need and desire in terms of Black people.In Africa you wont find artists of great name because art is done by all for all. The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 34. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 29There is no premium on art in Africa just as there is no premium on dancing in the ghetto. AllBlacks can dance.In African art, the object was not as important as the soul force behind the creation of the object.All art must be revolutionary and in being revolutionary it must be collective, committing, andfunctional.Whites can imitate or copy soul, but they cant create out of that context.All nationalists believe in creativity as opposed to destruction and a nationalist must create forthe Black nation.Black art initiates, supports and promotes change. It refuses to accept values laid down by deadwhite men. It setsits own values and re-enforces them with hard and/or soft words and sounds.All art consciously or unconsciously represents and promotes the values of its culture.Language and imagery must come from the peopl and be returned to the people in a beautifullanguage whicheverybody can easily understand.Soul is a combination of sensitivity, creativity and impulse. It is feeling and form, body and soul,rhythm andmovement, in a word, the essence of Blackness.Muddy Waters and those in the same school are very deep, and so when bourgeois Negroes saythat MuddyWaters is too deep for them, they are saying, in a word, that Muddy Waters is more down toearth.Reprinted from Black Theater 3, pp. 9-10.Online Source: "The Revolutionary Theatre" by Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones)This essay was originally commissioned by the New York Times in December 1964, but wasrefused, with the statement that the editors could not understand it. The Village Voice alsorefused to run this essay. It was first published in Black Dialogue. --LeRoi JonesThe Revolutionary Theatre should force change, it should be change. (All their faces turned intothe lights and you work on them black nigger magic, and cleanse them at having seen the The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 35. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 30ugliness and if the beautiful see themselves, they will love themselves.) We are preaching virtueagain, but by that to mean NOW, what seems the most contructive uses of the world.The Revolutionary Theatre must EXPOSE! Show up the insides of these humans, look into blackskulls. Because they have been trained to hate. The Revolutionary Theatre must hate them forhating. For presuming with their technology to deny the supremacy of the Spirit. They will alldie because of this.The Revolutionary Theatre must teach them their deaths. It must crack their faces open to themad cries of the poor. It must teach them about silence and the truths lodged there. It must killany God anyone names except common Sense. The Revolutionary Theatre should flush the fagsand murders out of Lincolns face.It should stagger through our universe correcting, insulting, preaching, spitting craziness . . . buta craziness taught to us in our most rational moments. People must be taught to trust truescientists (knowers, diggers, oddballs) and that the holiness of life is the constant possibility ofwidening the consciousness. And they must be incited to strike back against any agency thatattempts to prevent this widening.The Revolutionary Theatre must Accuse and Attack anything that can be accused and attacked. Itmust Accuse and Attack because it is a theatre of Victims. It looks at the sky with the victimseyes, and moves the victims to look at the strength in their minds and their bodies.Clay, in Dutchman, Ray, in The Toilet, Walker in The Slave are all victims. In the Western sensethey could be heroes. But the Revolutionary Theatre, even if it is Western, must be anti-Western.It must show horrible coming attractions of The Crumbling of The West. Even as Artauddesigned The Conquest of Mexico, so we must design The Conquest of White Eye, and show themissionaries and wiggly Liberals dying under blasts of concrete. For sound effects, wild screamsof joy, from all the peoples of the world.The Revolutionary Theatre must take dreams and give them a reality. It must isolate the ritualand historical cycles of reality. But it must be food for all these who need food, and daringpropaganda for the beauty of the Human Mind. But it is a political theatre, a weapon to help inthe slaughter of these dimwitted fat-bellied white guys who somehow believe that the rest of theworld is here for them to slobber on.This should be a theatre of World Spirit. Where the spirit can be shown to be the most competentforce in the world. Force. Spirit. Feeling. The language will be anybodys, but tightened by thepoets backbone. And even the language must show what the facts are in this consciousness epic,whats happening. We will talk about the world, and the preciseness with which we are able tosummon the world, will be our art. Art is method. And art, "like any ashtray or senator" remainsin the world. Wittgenstein said ethics and aesthetics are one. I believe this. So the Broadwaytheatre is a theatre of reaction whose ethics like its aesthetics reflects the spiritual values of thisunholy society, which sends young crackers all over the world blowing off colored peoplesheads. (In some of these flippy southern towns they even shoot up the immigrants Favorite Son,be it Michael Schwerner or J.F. Kennedy.) The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 36. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 31The Revolutionary Theatre is shaped by the world, and moves to reshape the world, using as itsforce the natural force and perpetual vibrations of the mind in the world. We are history anddesire, what we are, and what any experience can make us.It is a social theatre, but all theatre is social theatre. But we will change the drawing rooms intoplaces where real things can be said about a real world, or into smoky rooms where thedestruction of Washington can be plotted. The Revolutionary Theatre must function like anincendiary pencil planted in Curtis Lemays cap. So that when the final curtain goes down brainsare splattered over the seats and the floor, and bleeding nuns must wire SOSs to Belgians withgold teeth.Our theatre will show victims so that their brothers in the audience will be better able tounderstand that they are the brothers of victims, and that they themselves are victims, if they areblood brothers. And what we show must cause the blood to rush, so that pre-revolutionarytemperaments will be bathed in this blood, and it will cause their deepest souls to move, and theyfind themselves tensed and clenched, even ready to die, at what the soul has been taught. We willscream and cry, murder, run through the streets in agony, if it means some soul will be moved,moved to actual life understanding of what the world is, and what it ought to be. We arepreaching virtue and feeling, and a natural sense of the self in the world. All men live in theworld, and the world ought to be a place for them to live.What is called the imagination (from image, magi, magic, magician, etc.) is a practical vectorfrom the soul. It stores all data, and can be called on to solve all our "problems." The imaginationis the projection of ourselves past our sense of ourselves as "things." Imagination (image) is allpossibility, because from the image, the initial circumscribed energy, and use (idea) is possible.And so begins that images use in the world. Possibility is what moves us.The popular white mans theatre like the popular white mans novel shows tired white lives, andthe problems of eating white sugar, or else it herds bigcaboosed blondes onto huge stages inrhinestones and makes believe they are dancing or singing. WHITE BUSINESSMEN OF THEWORLD, DO YOU WANT TO SEE PEOPLE REALLY DANCING AND SINGING??? ALL OFYOU GO UP IN HARLEM AND GET YOURSELF KILLED. THERE WILL BE DANCING ANDSINGING, THEN, FOR REAL! (In The Slave, Walker Vessels, the black revolutionary, wears anarmband, which is the insignia of the attacking army . . . a big redlipped minstrel, grinning likecrazy.)The liberal white mans objection to the theatre of the revolution (if he is "hip" enough) will beon aesthetic grounds. Most white Western artists do not need to be "political," since usually,whether they know it or not, they are in complete sympathy with the most repressive socialforces in the world today. There are more junior birdmen fascists running around the West todaydisguised as Artists than there are disguised as fascists. (But then, that word, Fascist, and with it,Fascism, has been made obsolete by the word America, and Americanism. The American Artistusually turns out to be just a super-Bourgeois, because, finally, all he has to show for his sojournthrough the world is "better taste" than the Bourgeois . . . many times not even that. The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 37. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 32Americans will hate the revolutionary theatre because it will be out to destroy them and whateverthey believe is real. American cops will try to close the theatres where such nakedness of thehuman spirit is paraded. American producers will say the revolutionary plays are filth, usuallybecause they will treat human life as if it was actually happening. American directors will saythat the white guys in the plays are too abstract and cowardly ("dont get me wrong . . . I meanaesthetically . . .") and they will be right.The force we want is of twenty million spooks storming America with furious cries andunstoppable weapons. We want actual explosions and actual brutality; AN EPOCH ISCRUMBLING and we must give it the space and hugeness of its actual demise. TheRevolutionary Theatre, which is now peopled with victims, will soon begin to be peopled withnew kinds of heroes . . . not the weak Hamlets debating whether or not they are ready to die forwhats on their minds, but men and women (and minds) digging out from under a thousand yearsof "high art" and weakfaced dalliance. We must make an art that will function as to call down theactual wrath of world spirit. We are witchdoctors, and assassins, but we will open a place for thetrue scientists to expand our consciousness. This is a theatre of assault. The play that will splitthe heavens for us will be called THE DESTRUCTION OF AMERICA. The heroes will be CrazyHorse, Denmark Vessey, Patrice Lumumba, but not history, not memory, not sad sentimentalgroping for a warmth in our despair; these will be new men, new heroes, and their enemies mostof you who are reading this.from Liberator, July, 1965, pp. 4-6.Online Source: "Black Writing is Socio-Creative Art" by Charles H. Fuller, Jr.What is Black writing? For some time Black writers have been asking themselves this questionin the hope that an answer would awaken a new literary renaissance, one that would free themfrom the yoke of the white literary community--a community that, through its offers of reward,has confused and clandestinely oppressed every Black writer who has tried to deal with theproblem. What is Black writing? Black writing is socio-creative art. It is a manner of self-expression, an artistic form born directly from the collective social situation in which the Afro-American found himself in this nation, and this nation only. It is the only art form in the worlddirectly related to the historical, economic, educational, and social growth and development of apeople and as such maintains a unique position in the literature of the world.The reason for the difficulty and many of the sleepless nights has been that Black writers (whoincidentally have always known what the answer was) tried desperately to explain it in terms ofwhite standards and by so doing to achieve white literary celebration. But art born out ofoppression can not be explained in the terms of the unoppressed, since the condition of theoppressor does not allow him to deal with a form that might conceivably make the oppressed hisequal. in order for him to remain in power, he must discard any creations of the oppressed people The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 38. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 33as valueless even though he has given them the tools to build their creation. Hence it is notsurprising for us to hear expressions like "social protest" hurled as a definition for great Black artand discussions of the subject being attended by Black writers. What has to be done is not theself-defeating discussions and comparisons of Black writers to their white counterparts but anexamination of what we have done for ourselves. If we continue by our discussions to assumethat what we do is any less than equal to what they (whites) have created, we will beperpetuating the dilemma they have set in our path. A dilemma so insidious that its corrosiveeffects have left many Black writers without purpose of the will to search for it. We have beenasked to believe that in order for Blackwriters to become artists, they must forget who and what they are and follow in the footsteps ofwhite men who created work founded on the idea that the highest form of art was self-expression. We are asked at the same time to be and not to be true to ourselves. We are asked toget off the race issue when we are tied to it hand and foot--and simply because we are the issue.If it is true that Black men historically and presently are in protest of a society that has deniedthem entrance into theso-called mainstream by every device conceivable, then it is sheer folly tothink that they would create work that would not reflect this and an act of oppression to assumethat what they create is not art. Socio-creative art is what Black men bring into existence whenthey sit down to write--indeed it corresponds directly, for us, to the meaning of art. Our lives andour art are one in the same struggle, and to continue to accept or debate the white standards ofevaluation, nurtured by racial oppression, is to commit a kind of literary suicide.It seems to me, and I repeat it again, the fundamental issue here is how we evaluate what we do.We could get into a discussion about technical things, about verse structure, about the precise useof the English language, but it would not change the issue. If we are not prepared to cast off thetrappings of the white man and his oppressive brick walls, we will commit a crime againstourselves more heinous than his against us. We will render a whole body of literature worthless,when in truth there is more in Hughes, Wright, Dunbar, and Jones for us than in Hemingway,Joyce, Proust, Mann or the countless other white writers. To what in the so-called classicalliterature of our times can we Black men here and now in this country relate? (For the benefit ofthose who will counter the above statement with "Classical literature expresses universalconcepts, and these need no color to be understood," let me first agree with them but thencontinue by saying that the physical embodiment of universal concepts such as love, hate, power,weakness, etc. [as well as the environmental conditions that suck theseabstractions into life] is the only means by which we may know them. If white men are notexpected to relate these concepts to us because they live in the white community, how can wepossibly relate to their examples, by ignoring our ability to exhibit these qualities, perpetuate ouroppression?) The white world is simply not qualified or prepared to evaluate Black writing, andconsequently the task of setting up standards which will realistically deal with Black writersmust fall to the Black community where it belongs. We must say what has and has not valuewhere our writers are concerned.But some of us are afraid. We are caught up in the money thing or the celebrity game, and we arenot sure aboutthis business of evaluating our own work--"What would Bertrand Russell think? Or Eliot. Andwhat frame ofreference can we use, and what is the role of the Black writer in all of this ... this ... new The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 39. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 34business?"Let me answer each question. As for the first two, I dont give a damn. To the third, however, letme say that unlike any other writer of today, the Black writer has and has always had as a frameof reference the peculiar historical and social nature of his people in white America at hisdisposal. He, since he shares in this, is a part of his frame of reference. Let me explain: everyBlack writer is a product and therefore a part of the Black community; and whether he likes it ornot and in spite of his motives he draws from that community many of the ideas that fill hiswork. It follows that when he addresses his audience, he will be in part expressing the life andneeds of that community and by his skill translating that life into things to be emulated ordiscarded depending on his own point of view and the degree to which white America hasimpressed him. The frame of reference to which he relates is his community, and he and it arewhat they are because of the peculiar nature of his people in this country. What then is his role--this man who must draw from himself and his people the content of his work? His role must beto address only that community from which he comes. Black writers must begin a dialogue withthe Black community.Why? Simply because it is unnatural not to. Let us backtrack a bit to the great white writers.There has not been one of them who has really addressed the Black community, the Orientalcommunity, the Asian community or the South American community. For those of you who willsay that they have addressed the world, let me answer by saying they addressed the world inpower. For us to address this world and expect its support is absurd.When we address our own community, a new set of values created by the community takes over.We become unexpendible parts in an ever-moving cycle. We address our community which inturn takes from us, acts upon our statements; and from this action provides food for our work. Ineffect we simply return to the status situation we occupied before our quest for celebration; webecome the community and vice versa. It will be through the Black writer that the ideas andneeds of the community will find expression and through the community that he will be able todetermine those needs. Surely only that community should be qualified to say how well its Blackwriters expressed or express its needs.But we cannot get away from the manner in which this is to be accomplished since this, inessence, is what everyone is asking when they ask: what is the role of the Black writer? They areasking: How can we do this?We can do it by recognizing that the Black community is not interested in the same kind ofapproach to writing as the white community. The Black community is not made up of writers,dilettantes or large bodies of college-trained professionals. It is made up of people struggling tosurvive, and we must be prepared to deal realistically with what our people do with their leisuretime. Black men do not have time to read huge philosophical tracts or dabble in the merits of so-called classical sculpture; and those that do are greatly outnumbered by their white counterparts.The Black mans leisure time, if he has any, is spent within a relatively small social circle in acommunity where familiarity with each other is the only condition for social prominence. Blackwriters can not go to a man whose relative social position is secured outside of white culture butwith the symbols of white culture. He would laugh at them and rightly so. The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 40. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 35Such a man, no less intelligent than any other, must be reached on a level he can relate to,otherwise Black writers might just as well stay at home. (Those writers who disagree with thismight try reading Shakespeare in their neighborhood taprooms.) And what has just been said inno way means that this level is below that of whites. It is a white racist lie that men must absorbcertain kinds of things before they are "cultured." Culture depends on the history of a people andas such is not comparable to any other culture. But we do not want to get sidetracked. How dowe reach the Black community? We use anything in that community that is easily identifiable--landmarks, ideas, dances--anything. Only when Black writers relate their work to easilyrecognized symbols and ideas can any hope of a realistic dialogue between writer andcommunity occur. Once this dialogue is started, new standards will emerge. Standards whoseemphasis will be placed not on the object with its structural excellence but on its simple capacityto be used by those to whom it is directed. We are already discussing a change in Black writing--that is, the end of art as an object.Absurd? Let us restate the definition of socio-creative art. It is a manner of self-expression andartistic form born directly from the collective social situation in which the Afro-American foundhimself in this country. Probably the most apparent thing about the Black community today is itsconstant state of change, and each change must of necessity produce a change in the writing ofthe Black writer who addresses his community. He must know what is taking place and beflexible enough to give life to new changes. What today has value might tomorrow be discarded,and the Black writer must be prepared to address his community in whatever manner isacceptable to them during each stage of change. What must ultimately result is a new art form--still socio-creative but elastic, an art form written and presented for particular incidents and oncepresented would have no further value except a record of the communitys historical growth. Nosingle work would take precedence over the people it served, and nothing would be written forits own sake. Only the sum total of a Black writers work would have value. As thedialogue continued, the Black writer might find that the value of writing itself would change andbe forced to relegate his work to a place where it would simply be the tool of the audio andvisual arts.There are many areas which have not been dealt with in this particular explanation, areas thatconcern the necessity for change in the image of the Black man in writing and the specificmethod of presentation that will guarantee a community audience for a Black writer; but theseare merely extensions of what has just been said, subjects that can be dealt with individually afterthe true nature of Black writing is accepted by its writers.It is not that we have been unaware of the true nature of Black writing. We have simply tried toavoid admitting the truth to ourselves. Instead, operating on the totally unfounded premise thatour art had to be explained in terms of the white literary community, we thereby created a falseaura of respectability and scholarship. Whatever the value of Black writing, it must proceed as adirect result of the service it will perform for the Black community, and the sooner we accept ourroles as the community voice, the closer we will be to a solution to the struggle.Originally published in Liberator, April, 1967, pp. 8-10.Online Source: The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 41. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 36 "Black Writing: Release from Object" by Charles H. Fuller, Jr.The question has been asked, "Is the Black writer free to do whatever he chooses creatively?" Towhich I have replied, "Of course not, it is absurd to believe he is." However, in my two previousdiscussions [in Liberator magazine] there is an entire area of analysis, basically historical, whichI blame myself for not clarifying.The history of Western thought begins clearly with the work of Aristotle. As it applies to Art, itsevolution to the present day may be traced in three statements: (a) Art for the sake of instruction,(b) Art for the sake of Art, and finally, (c) Art for the sake of the artist. But how did thisevolution occur? And what is it that prompts Black artists to make absurd statements like, "Wemust be free to do what we feel is significant and not relegate our work to the masses--orsubordinate it to anything else"?Let us go back briefly to the past and pick up the thread of these Black writers confusion. In hisNichomachean Ethics, Aristotle declares that "an object pursued for its own sake possesses ahigher degree of finality than one pursued with an eye to something else ..." and "somethingwhich is always chosen for its own sake, and never for the sake of something else, is withoutqualification a final end." Aristotle considered the final end a good, and in this context believedthat there were many goods. His statements did two things. In Art, they placed the object aboveall else, and opened the door to a world of chaos. Where things may be pursued for their ownsake as goods, all manner of things are pursuable. Note, however, that the statements appearednot in his Poetics but in his Ethics--not with the purpose of defining Art but of defining how menought to live.We are now free to examine the roots out of which the statements were derived, and the twist theevolving West placed on them. If Art in its very beginnings grew out of religious rites carried tothe West from civilizations of Africa and the East, then it is not difficult to understand how aGreek, whose only contact with art was after the fact and came in yearly religious festivals in hiscountry, would assume that the object (sacrifice) which produced the effect (the thing prayed for)would have precedence over those who prayed (the people). It is always thought that the kind ofsacrifice produced the right effect. But is this true? Isnt it rather, the need that produced the rightkind of sacrifice?Art began when men set out to say something to the elements--or those things man looked to forhis continued survival. He took to his gods the needs and aspirations of his people, telling as heoffered his sacrifices what he, and they, had done to deserve them. If writing (or any art form) isan attempt at communication, it first began as a service of the people--a tool, used by them totalk to their gods. As a service, it had of necessity to be responsive to their needs--it would havedone little good to dance for wheat, when corn was needed. We must also ask ourselves if thesacrifice was greater than the need, or simply a manifestation of that need--a tool, a service--something to demonstrate how much was needed and which, once fulfilling the need, was The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 42. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 37abandoned. It would seem that Art, as we know it today, was simply a show of need. But theWest has always glorified things, from relics to books of e e cummings poetry, with the resultthat the reason and meaning of the object became less and less connected to what was originallyintended. Instead of creating objects that mirrored the needs of a society, objects were created tomirror the needs of other objects. Art became an object, and the work and the man who created ittranscended the struggling society from which it sprang. It neither serves this society nor is inmost instances recognizable.Historically, we have reached Art for the sake of the Artist.The Black writer who says, "We are free in Art to do whatever we feel like doing," is implyingthat the object he chooses to create takes precedence over the desire of his people for it.Whatever value is placed on it springs from his estimation, not from any decision of his people.In the context expressed above, does this statement show any awareness of the roots of Art? Thatis, does it mirror the needs and aspirations of a people?We have said previously that Black writing is Socio-creative Art, that it is a manner of self-expression, an artistic form born directly from the collective, social situation in which the Afro-American found and finds himself in this nation. It is directly related to our total evolution as apeople in this country, and as such, first set out to mirror the needs and aspirations of our peopleagainst white injustice. Consider, if you will, its roots in this country and compare them with theroots of Art itself. Does this mean that if it adheres to this close association it is primitive Art?The West has chosen the word primitive. It would seem to me that any society whose firstconcerns was the needs of its people is highly developed.If we can swallow that Black writing in this country did not begin as object, we can understandits present need to reflect the revolution its people are engaged in, and see a fluidity and elasticityin Black writing that can never be hoped for in the West. Black writing must twist and bend withits people, be creative because they are creative, mirror their needs, and become their voice,being judged by those who gave it life. Its longevity will be limited to the nourishment itprovides its people, and its writers should be considered no more than good cooks.We cannot do this, however, if--and I say this with much sadness--Black writers consistentlyrefuse to see themselves as they are and continue to live in a world where their precious poemsand short stories are more valuable than the lives of their people. Black Art must go out to Blackpeople, and they must judge its value--if it does not and they do not, to whom, may I ask, can itgo?It should be fairly obvious to Black writers why songs like "All I Need," "Aint No MountainHigh Enough," etc., succeed in the Black community--why LeRoi Jones, Bill Davis, Larry Nealhave reached the Black community. These people, along with others like Marvin Gaye, JamesBrown and the Temptations, present in their work the needs, aspirations and struggles of Blackpeople in a manner far more accessible, understandable and beneficial than all the unread poetrythe "free" writers produce. We must return to fundamental concerns. Who are we concernedwith, what are our needs, and how do we accomplish them, for all? This will take for most of usan entire re-evaluation of Art and its relationship to the people. The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 43. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 38It is absurd in this time of struggle, when Black people are rebelling and dying throughout thisnation, to ask questions of the sort that opened this article. Of course were not free to do whatwe feel like doing at the exclusion of our people--they must always come first!Originally published in Liberator, September, 1967, pp. 17, 20.Online Source: from "The Black Arts Movement" by Larry NealThe Black Arts Movement is radically opposed to any concept of the artist that alienates himfrom his community. Black Art is the aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept.As such, it envisions an art that speaks directly to the needs and aspirations of Black America. Inorder to perform this task, the Black Arts Movement proposes a radical reordering of the westerncultural aesthetic. It proposes a separate symbolism, mythology, critique, and iconology. TheBlack Arts and the Black Power concept both relate broadly to the Afro-American’s desire forself-determination and nationhood. Both concepts are nationalistic. One is concerned with therelationship between art and politics; the other with the art of politics.Recently, these two movements have begun to merge: the political values inherent in the BlackPower concept are now finding concrete expression in the aesthetics of Afro-Americandramatists, poets, choreographers, musicians, and novelists. A main tenet of Black Power is thenecessity for Black people to define the world in their own terms. The Black artist has made thesame point in the context of aesthetics. The two movements postulate that there are in fact and inspirit two Americas—one black, one white. The Black artist takes this to mean that his primaryduty is to speak to the spiritual and cultural needs of Black people. Therefore, the main thrust ofthis new breed of contemporary writers is to confront the contradictions arising out of the Blackmans experience in the racist West. Currently, these writers are re-evaluating western aesthetics,the traditional role of the writer, and the social function of art. Implicit in this re-evaluation is theneed to develop a "black aesthetic." It is the opinion of many Black writers, I among them, thatthe Western aesthetic has run its course; it is impossible to construct anything meaningful withinits decaying structure. We advocate a cultural revolution in art and ideas. The cultural valuesinherent in western history must either be radicalized or destroyed, and we will probably findthat even radicalization is impossible. In fact, what is needed is a whole new system of ideas.Poet Don L. Lee expresses it:. . . We must destroy Faulkner, dick, jane, and other perpetuators of evil. Its time for DuBois,Nat Turner, and Kwame Nkrumah. As Frantz Fanon points out: destroy the culture and youdestroy the people. This must not happen. Black artists are culture stabilizers; bringing back oldvalues, and introducing new ones. Black Art will talk to the people and with the will of thepeople stop impending "protective custody." The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 44. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 39The Black Arts Movement eschews "protest" literature. It speaks directly to Black people.Implicit in the concept of protest literature, as Brother Knight has made clear, is an appeal towhite morality:Now any Black man who masters the technique of his particular art form, who adheres to thewhite aesthetic, and who directs his work toward a white audience is, in one sense, protesting.And implicit in the act of protest is the belief that a change will be forthcoming once the mastersare aware of the protestors "grievance" (the very word connotes begging, supplications to thegods). Only when that belief has faded and protestings end, will Black art begin.Brother Knight also has some interesting statements about the development of a "Blackaesthetics:Unless the Black artist establishes a "Black aesthetic" he will have no future at all. To accept thewhite aesthetic is to accept and validate a society that will not allow him to live. The Black artistmust create new forms and new values, sing new songs (or purify old ones); and along with otherBlack authorities, be must create a new history, new symbols, myths and legends (and purify oldones by fire). And the Black artist, in creating his own aesthetic, must be accountable for it onlyto the Black people, Further, he must hasten his own dissolution as an individual (in the Westernsense)—painful though the process may be, having been breast-fed the poison of "individualexperience."When we speak of a "Black aesthetic" several things are meant. First, we assume that there isalready in existence the basis for such an aesthetic. Essentially, it consists of an African-American cultural tradition. But this aesthetic is finally, by implication, broader than thattradition. It encompasses most of the useable elements of Third World culture. The motivebehind the Black aesthetic is the destruction of the white thing, the destruction of white ideas,and white ways of looking at the world. The new aesthetic is mostly predicated on an Ethicswhich asks the question: whose vision of the world is finally more meaningful, ours or the whiteoppressors? What is truth? Or more precisely, whose truth shall we express, that of the oppressedor of the oppressors? These are basic questions. Black intellectuals of previous decades failed toask them. Further, national and international affairs demand that we appraise the world in termsof our own interests. It is clear that the question of human survival is at the core of contemporaryexperience. The Black artist must address himself to this reality in the strongest terms possible.In a context of world upheaval, ethics and aesthetics must interact positively and be consistentwith the demands for a more spiritual world. Consequently, the Black Arts Movement is anethical movement. Ethical, that is, from the viewpoint of the oppressed. And much of theoppression confronting the Third World and Black America is directly traceable to the Euro-American cultural sensibility. This sensibility, anti-human in nature, has, until recently,dominated the psyches of most Black artists and intellectuals; it must be destroyed before theBlack creative artist can have a meaningful role in the transformation of society.It is this natural reaction to an alien sensibility that informs the cultural attitudes of the BlackArts and the Black Power movement. It is a profound ethical sense that makes a Black artistquestion a society in which art is one thing and the actions of men another. The Black Arts The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 45. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 40Movement believes that your ethics and your aesthetics are one. That the contradictions betweenethics and aesthetics in western society is symptomatic of a dying culture.The term "Black Arts" is of ancient origin, but it was first used in a positive sense by LeRoiJones:We are unfairAnd unfairWe are black magiciansBlack arts we makein black labs of the heartThe fair are fairand deathly whiteThe day will not save themAnd we own the nightThere is also a section of the poem "Black Dada Nihilismus" that carries the same motif. But afuller amplification of the nature of the new aesthetics appears in the poem "Black Art":Poems are bullshit unless they areteeth or trees or lemons piledon a step. Or black ladies dyingof men leaving nickel heartsbeating them down. Fuck poemsand they are useful, would they shootcome at you, love what you are,breathe like wrestlers, or shudderstrangely after peeing. We want livewords of the hip world, live flesh &coursing blood. Hearts and BrainsSouls splintering fire. We want poemslike fists beating niggers out of jocksor dagger poems in the slimy belliesof the owner-jews . . .Poetry is a concrete function, an action. No more abstractions. Poems are physical entities: fists,daggers, airplane poems, and poems that shoot guns. Poems are transformed from physicalobjects into personal forces:. .. Put it on him poem. Strip him nakedto the world. Another bad poem crackingsteel knuckles in a jewladys mouthPoem scream poison gas on breasts in green berets . . . The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 46. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 41Then the poem affirms the integral relationship between Black Art and Black people:. . .Let Black people understandthat they are the lovers and the sonsof lovers and warriors and sonsof warriors Are poems & poets &all the loveliness here in the worldIt ends with the following lines, a central assertion in both the Black Arts Movement and thephilosophy of Black Power:We want a black poem. And aBlack World.Let the world be a Black PoemAnd let All Black People Speak This PoemSilentlyOr LOUDThe poem comes to stand for the collective conscious and unconscious of Black America—thereal impulse in back of the Black Power movement, which is the will toward self-determinationand nationhood, a radical reordering of the nature and function of both art and the artist. . . .from The Black Aesthetic. Ed. Addison Gayle, Jr. New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1971.Copyright © 1971 by Addison Gayle, Jr. from "Black Cultural Nationalism" by Ron KarengaBlack art, like everything else in the black community, must respond positively to the reality ofrevolution.It must become and remain a part of the revolutionary machinery that moves us to changequickly and creatively. We have always said, and continue to say, that the battle we are wagingnow is the battle for the minds of Black people, and that if we lose this battle, we cannot win theviolent one. It becomes very important then, that art plays the role it should play in Blacksurvival and not bog itself down in the meaningless madness of the Western world wasted. Inorder to avoid this madness, black artists and those who wish to be artists must accept the factthat what is needed is an aesthetic, a black aesthetic, that is a criteria for judging the validityand/or the beauty of a work of art.Pursuing this further, we discover that all art can be judged on two levels—on the social leveland on the artistic level. In terms of the artistic level, we will be brief in talking about this,because the artistic level involves a consideration of form feeling, two things which obviously The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 47. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 42involve more technical consideration and terminology than we have space, time or will todevelop adequately here. Let it be enough to say that the artistic consideration, although anecessary part, is not sufficient. What completes the picture is that social criteria for judging art.And it is this criteria that is the most important criteria. For all art must reflect and support theBlack Revolution, and any art that does not discuss and contribute to the revolution is invalid, nomatter bow many lines and spaces are produced in proportion and symmetry and no matter howmany sounds are boxed in or blown out and called music.All we do and create, then, is based on tradition and reason, that is to say, on foundation andmovement. For we begin to build on traditional foundation, but it is out of movent, that isexperience, that we complete our creation. Tradition teaches us, Leopold Senghor tells us, that allAfrican art has at least three characteristics: that is, it is functional, collective and committing orcommitted. Since this is traditionally valid, it stands to reason that we should attempt to use it asthe foundation for a rational construction to meet our present day needs. And by no merecoincidence we find that the criteria is not only valid, but inspiring. That is why we say that allBlack art, irregardless of any technical requirements, must have three basic characteristics whichmake it revolutionary. In brief, it must be functional, collective and committing. It must befunctional, that is useful, as we cannot accept the false doctrine of "art for arts sake." For, in fact,there is no such thing as "art for arts sake." All art reflects the value system from which itcomes. For if the artist created only for himself and not for others, he would lock himself upsomewhere and paint or write or play just for himself. But he does not do that. On the contrary,he invites us over, even insists that we come to hear him or to see his work; in a word, heexpresses a need for our evaluation and/or appreciation and our evaluation cannot be a favorableone if the work of art is not first functional, that is, useful.So what, then, is the use of art—our art, Black art? Black art must expose the enemy, praise thepeople and support the revolution. It must be like LeRoi Jones poems that are assassins poems,poems that kill and shoot guns and "wrassle cops into alleys taking their weapons, leaving themdead with tongues pulled out and sent to Ireland." It must be functional like the poem of anotherrevolutionary poet from "US," Clyde Halisi, who described the Masters words as "Sun Genies,dancing through the crowd snatching crosses and St. Christophers from around niggers necksand passing the white gapped legs in their minds to Simbas to be disposed of."Or, in terms of painting, we do not need pictures of oranges in a bowl or trees standinginnocently in the midst of a wasteland. If we must paint oranges and trees, let our guerrillas beeating those oranges for strength and using those trees for cover. We need new images, andoranges in a bowl or fat white women smiling lewdly cannot be those images. All material ismute until the artist gives it a message, and that message must be a message of revolution. Thenwe have destroyed "art for arts sake," which is of no use anyhow, and have developed art for allour sake, art for Mose the miner, Sammy the shoeshine boy, T.C. the truck driver and K.P. theunwilling soldier. In conclusion, the real function of art is to make revolution, using its ownmedium.The second characteristic of Black art is that it must be collective. In a word, it must be from thepeople and must be returned to the people in a form more beautiful and colorful than it was inreal life. For that is what art is: everyday life given more form and color. And in relationship to The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 48. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 43that, the Black artist can find no better subject than Black People themselves, and the Black artistwho does not choose or develop this subject will find himself unproductive. For no one is anymore than the context to which he owes his existence, and if an artist owes his existence to theAfroamerican context, then he also owes his art to that context and therefore must be heldaccountable to the people of that context. To say that art must be collective, however, raises fourquestions. Number one, the question of popularization versus elevation; two, personality versusindividuality; three, diversity in unity; and four, freedom to versus freedom from.from The Black Aesthetic. Ed. Addison Gayle, Jr. New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1971.Copyright © 1971 by Addison Gayle, Jr. Return to The Black Arts Movement The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  • 49. The Black Arts Movement Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s By James Edward Smethurst A 2005 Choice Outstanding Academic TitleEmerging from a matrix of Old Left, black nationalist, and bohemianideologies and institutions, African American artists and intellectuals in the1960s coalesced to form the Black Arts Movement, the cultural wing of theBlack Power Movement. In this comprehensive analysis, James Smethurstexamines the formation of the Black Arts Movement and demonstrates howit deeply influenced the production and reception of literature and art in theUnited States through its negotiations of the ideological climate of the ColdWar, decolonization, and the civil rights movement.Taking a regional approach, Smethurst examines local expressions of thenascent Black Arts Movement, a movement distinctive in its geographicalreach and diversity, while always keeping the frame of the larger movementin view. The Black Arts Movement, he argues, fundamentally changedAmerican attitudes about the relationship between popular culture and"high" art and dramatically transformed the landscape of public funding forthe arts.—Publisher, University of North Carolina Press"Mapping important connections and offering a cornucopia of information,The Black Arts Movement: Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s is atruly valuable contribution to the study of American letters. Smethurst getsit right! His thorough research and astute analysis overcome two decades ofdeliberate critical misrepresentation to help us examine a tumultuous erawhen visionary leadership and nationwide grassroots participation created adynamic, paradigm-changing cultural renaissance."—Lorenzo Thomas, University of Houston-Downtown"A momentous and singular contribution to the study of literary ethnicnationalism in particular, and post-World War II cultural history in general.Anyone interested in United States culture and politics in the 1950s, 1960s,and 1970s will be drawn to The Black Arts Movement as a chronicle, survey,and fabulous reference."—Alan Wald, University of Michigan
  • 50. In this study we see how the arts and politics were one, in the holistictradition of African culture and civilization.—Marvin X, "History" in Beyond Religion, Toward Spirituality (2007)Studies of the Black Arts Movement have come a long way since the early1990s. At that time, David Lionel Smith published a visionary essay, "TheBlack Arts Movement and Its Critics," bemoaning the "paucity" of scholarshipon the efflorescence of African American culture, intellectualism, and politicsthat spanned the 1960s and 1970s. The essay complains that "the mostrudimentary work" remains incomplete, and recent scholarship tends to be"openly hostile" and "deeply partisan." Consequently, the movement comesacross as an "unappealing" and counterproductive confusion of social theory,aesthetics, nationalism, ethnic chauvinism, and sexism, a negative portrayalthat oversimplifies the eras ideological and historical circumstances. Thus,Smith calls for "careful and balanced scholarship" to set the record straight.1Since David Lionel Smiths clarion call for scholars in 1991, "careful andbalanced scholarship" has slowly but surely emerged. William L. Van Deburg,Madhu Dubey, Eddie S. Glaude, Adolph Reed Jr., James C. Hall, Jerry Watts,Wahneema Lubiano, Phillip Brian Harper, and Winston Napier have allresearched the ways in which aesthetics, race, gender, sexuality, and classhave intersected during the movement.2 Two books published this pastyear, James Edward Smethursts The Black Arts Movement: LiteraryNationalism in the 1960s and 1970s and Cheryl Clarkes "After Mecca":Women Poets and the Black Arts Movement, advance this research byapproaching the movement in two different but complementary ways.Smethursts The Black Arts Movement is an enormous repository ofinformation . . .—Gene Jarrett American Quarterly 57.4 (2005) 1243-1251IntroductionIn earlier drafts of this introduction, I began by suggesting that AfricanAmerican studies, Chicana/o studies, Asian American studies, and otherfields broadly constituting the somewhat nebulous universe of ethnic studieswere haunted by the ethnic or racial nationalisms that in their variousmanifestations flourished in the United States from about 1965 to 1975.
  • 51. I based this observation on the fact that, even though relatively littlescholarly work had been done on the Black Power movement and otherpolitical nationalist movements and even less on the Black Arts movementand its Chicana/o, Asian American, and Puerto Rican analogues, thedepartments, degree-granting committees, research centers, institutes, andso on of the above listed fields owed their inception in large part to theinstitutional and ideological spaces carved out by the Black Power, Chicano,Asian American, and other nationalist movements.[1]Indeed, many of these departments, programs, and committees (andpublishers, book imprints, academic book series, art galleries, video and filmproduction companies, and theaters) were the direct products of 1960s and1970s nationalism.As I began to write, a number of the institutions of ethnic studies, oftenunder the rubric of "Africana studies," still presented themselves asnationalist or Afrocentric, say, Temple Universitys Africana StudiesDepartment, preserving a relatively untroubled sense of connection to earliernationalist institutions and ideologies.Others, including my own W. E. B. Du Bois Department of Afro-AmericanStudies at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, displayed a generalstance toward the Black Arts and Black Power movements that might bedescribed as critical support.However, many of the most high-profile institutions and scholars of AfricanAmerican studies and ethnic studies maintained a far more ambivalent, if nothostile, relationship to the Black Power movement, the Black Artsmovement, and other forms of political and artistic nationalism of the 1960sand 1970s. For instance, Harvards Henry Louis Gates Jr. provocativelyderogated the Black Arts movement in the pages of a 1994 Time magazinearticle, declaring, "erected on the shifting foundation of revolutionarypolitics, this renaissance was the most short-lived of all."[2]Typically for such attacks, Gatess piece was not primarily about the BlackArts movement but instead discussed what the author saw as acontemporary "renaissance" of African American art, with the Black Artsinvoked and then dismissed with minimal description as a sort ofnonmovement against which the new black creativity could be favorablyjudged. Such invocations and shorthand dismissals were (and still are)common. Yet this persistent referencing of the Black Power and Black Artsmovements evinced an unquiet spirit that haunted even the most ambivalentor hostile present-day African Americanists, who must admit that their placein the academy was largely cleared for them by the activist nationalism of
  • 52. the 1960s and 1970s—however narrow that nationalism might seem to themnow (or seemed to them then).Until recently, what longer works we had for the most part were memoirs orbiographies of individual participants in the various movements rather thanhistorical analyses of the broader movements themselves. For example, the1990s saw a number of often lurid biographies and autobiographies offormer Black Panthers, such as Elaine Browns A Taste of Power (1992),David Hilliard and Lewis Coles This Side of Glory (1993), and HughPearsons The Shadow of the Panther: Huey Newton and the Price of BlackPower in America (1994), but no serious academic history of the BPP.[3]These works have been generally aimed at a popular audience for whomBlack Power, especially the BPP, remains a fascinating subject.This fascination with the BPP and other Black Power and Black Arts activistsserves as a reminder that outside academia the Black Power, Black Arts,Chicano, Nuyorican, and Asian American movements never reallydisappeared enough to be called hauntings.[4] The continuing influence ofAfrican American, Chicana/o, and Asian American nationalism can be seen inliterature produced since 1975.On some writers, such as Alice Walker, Cherie Moraga, and Sherley AnneWilliams, the influence was in large part negative, as they reacted againstwhat they saw as the sexism and homophobia of 1960s and 1970snationalisms—though a vision of community descended from the Black Artsand Black Power movements often remained.Others, notably Amiri Baraka, Frank Chin, and Sonia Sanchez, moved awayfrom nationalism toward a "Third World Marxism," or some other sort ofactivist politics at odds with their earlier positions but acknowledged apositive, nationalist legacy while critiquing what they saw as the limitationsof the Black Arts and Black Power movements, such as an underestimationof the impact of class on the African American liberation movement. Stillother artists, such as Alurista and Toni Morrison (Chloe Wofford), continuedto embrace what was essentially a nationalist stance in their work long after1975.More recently, editors have assembled anthologies of African Americanwriting, such as Keith Gilyards Spirit and Flame (1996), Kevin Powells Stepinto a World (2000), and Tony Medina, Samiya A. Bashir, and Quraysh AliLansanas Role Call (2002), which look back to the key nationalistanthologies, particularly LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) and Larry Neals BlackFire (1968), for inspiration.
  • 53. Finally, the Black Arts movement made a considerable impression on artistsand intellectuals too young to remember its events firsthand. Many of themore explicitly political hip-hop artists owe and acknowledge a large debt tothe militancy, urgent tone, and multimedia aesthetics of the Black Artsmovement and other forms of literary and artistic nationalism. Thephenomenal growth of hip-hop-inflected performance poetry and poetryslam events and venues, often run by African Americans, recalls the BlackArts movement in both popularity and geographical dispersion.As with the theaters, poetry readings, workshops, and study groups of theBlack Arts era, it is a rare city or region today that does not boast someregular series of performance poetry or poetry slams. When I lived inJacksonville, Florida, in the late 1990s, one could attend such events threeor four nights a week. At least two of the regular venues were in or verynear historically black communities and were substantially run by youngAfrican American poets. Many of the black fans and performers in thesepoetry venues (and not a few white, Asian American, and Latina/oparticipants) looked back to the Black Arts movement as one of their chiefinspirations.Such a sense of ancestry can be seen also in the lionization of Amiri Baraka,Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, and the Last Poets on Russell Simmonssfour-part Def Poetry Jam spoken-word series hosted by rapper Mos Def thatdebuted on the HBO television network in 2002.Yet despite the continuing presence of the Black Power and Black Artslegacies, whether positive or negative, in academia and cultural expression,there was, until comparatively recently, little sustained scholarly attention toeither the political or cultural sides of the nationalist movements of the1960s and 1970s. Even now, academic assessments of the Black Arts andBlack Power movements are frequently made in passing and generally seemto assume that we already know all we need to know about theseintertwined movements and their misogyny, homophobia, anti-Semitism,and eschewal of practical politics for the pathological symbolic.Less often, other commentators attempt to flatten out the contradictions andwhat might now be perceived as the extremism of the movements, pointingout, for example, echoes of the Declaration of Independence in the earlyBPPs Ten-Point Program and ignoring the plans invocation of the Bolshevikslogan of "Land, Peace, and Bread."However, it seems to me that there is currently such an upsurge in therecovery, revaluation, and rethinking of the Black Power and Black Artsmovements that the haunting metaphor does not entirely serve. Komozi
  • 54. Woodards A Nation within a Nation (1999) signaled the beginning of a newscholarly moment in its efforts to ground its examination of a single figure(Amiri Baraka) within the context of a detailed portrait of Black Power in alocal community (Newark, New Jersey) and its relation to the broadermovement. The year 1999 also saw the publication of Rod Bushs We AreNot What We Seem, which also engaged Black Power with a newseriousness—if on a more general level than Woodards study. This scholarlyrethinking of Black Power and its legacy has become even more pronouncedmore recently. The appearance of the autobiography of Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael),Ready for Revolution (2003), written with Michael Thelwell, has alsodramatically changed the historiographical landscape of Black Power. ScotBrowns account of the Us organization founded by Maulana Karenga (RonaldEverett), Fighting for US (2003), too, marks a new era in the study of BlackPower, with far more attention to the specifics of how the movement workedon the ground in particular places and much more extensive and careful useof primary sources than had been the case before.And it needs to be noted that important new studies of major Black Powerfigures, organizations, regional activities, and/or institutions by suchscholars as Matthew Countryman, Peniel Joseph, Donna Murch, StephenWard, and Fanon Che Wilkins have appeared as dissertations or will appearin the near future (as of this writing) in book form. Much remains to be done(and is being done), particularly with respect to providing a broad overviewof Black Power that records and respects the movements ideological andregional variations. Still, it is clear that, rather than a haunting presenceinvoked and then dismissed, Black Power has become a major area of activeand open investigation and debate.Until recently, scholars have devoted even less attention to the Black Arts asa national movement with significant regional variations than to BlackPower. A similarly narrow focus on a few individual figures with littleconsideration of institutions can be particularly seen in many academicinvestigations of the art and literature of 1960s and 1970s nationalism,especially of what were the dominant literary genres of the Black Artsmovement, poetry and drama. Few book-length studies since StephenHendersons Understanding the New Black Poetry (1972) have attempted toassess the characteristics and development of the literary Black Artsmovement.[5]There are a number of valuable memoirs by leading literary figures of theera, such as Amiri Barakas The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones (firstpublished in 1984 and reprinted with substantial revisions in 1997) and
  • 55. Somethin Proper (1998) by Marvin X (Marvin Jackmon). There are also ahandful of often brief studies of various circles like the Umbra PoetsWorkshop and OBAC, institutions like Broadside Press, or individuals, usuallyBaraka (e.g., Werner Sollorss Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones: The Quest for aPopulist Modernism [1978], Jerry Wattss Amiri Baraka: The Politics and Artof a Black Intellectual [2001], and William Harriss The Poetry and Poetics ofAmiri Baraka: The Jazz Aesthetic [1985]).While valuable, the few published book-length considerations of the BlackArts movement and the culture of Black Power that existed until recently,most notably William Van Deburgs important New Day in Babylon (1992),basically investigated general aspects of these movements synchronically,without much effort to delineate historical and geographical specifics. Inshort, there seemed to be an assumption that, as with the Black Powermovement, the basic shape of the Black Arts movement, its development,and its regional variations were somehow known.It is true that the wide stylistic, thematic, and ideological range of Black Artswriters and artists make it difficult in a broad study like this to pay closeattention to the local variations of the movement. But one could say thesame about twentieth-century American modernism, which has been thesubject of many general or comparative scholarly projects. Even the beststudy of the formal characteristics of post-World War II African Americanpoetry, Aldon Nielsens groundbreaking Black Chant (1997), only tentativelyand suggestively points to some possible influences on and origins of theformally and politically radical African American avant-garde of the 1950s,1960s, and 1970s.For example, he alludes to Russell Atkinss argument for an African Americanavant-garde tradition descending from Langston Hughes without elaboratingon how that tradition might be drawn and from where it might have come inthe 1950s.[6] Similarly, Nielsen makes a claim for a certain kinship between"experimental" poetry by black and white authors, but there is not muchconcrete consideration of the relationship of the work of the black avant-garde of the 1950s through the 1970s to that of their white, Chicana/o, andNuyorican counterparts—or to the development of the Black Arts as acultural and political movement.This observation is not intended to diminish Nielsens achievement inopening up poets and poetic formations to literary scholarship—not tomention his acumen in the reading of this body of work. As Nielsen himselfmentions in the acknowledgments section of Black Chant, he was forced toprune much material due to the exigencies of academic publishing.[7] My
  • 56. critique of Nielsen is only meant to suggest how much more new criticalwork is needed.And this work is beginning to be done. As with the study of the Black Powermovement, a new scholarship examining Black Arts literature and art hasstarted to flourish in work by such scholars as Melba Joyce Boyd, KimberlyBenston, James Sullivan, James C. Hall, David Lionel Smith, LorenzoThomas, Mike Sell, Michael Bibby, Kalamu ya Salaam (Val Ferdinand), DanielWidener, Cynthia Young, Howard Ramsby, and Bill Mullen. Thomas, alongwith Nielsen, particularly charted the way for a rethinking of radical blackpoetry and drama in the 1960s and 1970s.Of course, Thomas has been doing this sort of thing for years, but his worktook on a new prominence with the publication of his collection of essays onmodern African American poetry, Extraordinary Measures (2000). Boydsstudy of Dudley Randall, Broadside Press, and the Black Arts movement inDetroit, Wrestling with the Muse (2003), is a model of what an engagedstudy of the local manifestations of the movement might be.These scholars need to be congratulated for beginning a vital intellectualconversation, a conversation that has taken on a new urgency with variouspopular culture and "high" culture representations and interpretations of thelegacy of 1960s and 1970s nationalism, such as Mario Van Peebless filmPanther, Spike Lees Malcolm X, Danzy Sennas popular novel Caucasia, andeven the film Forrest Gump. This conversation takes up the questions, toparaphrase Harry Levin, What was the Black Arts movement? What were itssources? What were its regional variations and commonalities? This bookalso echoes the set of questions that scholars of the New Negro Renaissancehave raised since the 1980s: Was the movement a "failure" in somethingother than the sense that all cultural movements (whether British Pre-Raphaelite, Russian futurist, German expressionist, U.S. abstractexpressionist, or Brazilian tropicalian) ultimately "fail" to achieve their mostvisionary aims—and simply end? Who says so? And why do they say it?The Black Arts Movement, then, enters an intellectual conversation alreadyin progress—though it is a conversation that was hardly more than a whisperin academia at the end of the twentieth century. It undertakes to map theorigins and development of the different strains of the 1960s and 1970sBlack Arts movement with special attention to the its regional variationswhile delineating how the movement gained some sense of nationalcoherence institutionally, aesthetically, and ideologically, even if it neverbecame exactly homogeneous. It is not an attempt to write an exhaustivehistory of the entire movement—a subject that seems to me beyond thescope of a single book. For reasons having to do with my particular interests
  • 57. and intellectual background as well as with the character of the Black Artsmovement itself, there is a special, though not exclusive, emphasis on whatwas sometimes known as the "New Black Poetry" in this study.The beginnings of the Black Arts movement are seen against the interrelatedrise of the "New American Poetry" (as largely codified by Donald M. Allens1960 anthology of the same name) and postwar, avant-garde theater in theUnited States (and such groups as the Living Theater, the San FranciscoMime Troupe, and El Teatro Campesino) and the subsequent emergence ofthe literary activities connected to the Chicano movement, the Nuyoricanwriters, the circle of Asian American writers associated with the seminal1975 anthology Aiiieeeee!, and what would become known as themulticultural studies movement. This examination considers the publishedand unpublished works of the writers in question as well as the institutionalcontexts in which the works were produced.I also pay particular attention to the way the nascent Black Arts movementnegotiated the ideological climate of the Cold War, decolonization, and thereemergent civil rights movement, particularly the black student movementthat began in 1960. As James Hall observes, "while accounts of African-American literary battles of the sixties often appropriately detail attitudestoward cultural nationalism and black power, too often cold war (and prior)ideological orientations are placed to one side."[8] What Hall calls "priorideological orientations" and their institutional expressions are crucial inunderstanding the political and cultural matrix in which the Black Arts grew.As Robert Self argues:Mid-century black communities embraced multiple political crosscurrents,from ideologies of racial uplift and integrationism to Garveyite nationalismand black capitalism to workplace-based black power (as in the BSCP[Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters]) and, especially in the East Bay,radical laborite socialism and communism. These crosscurrents produced alively and productive debate over the future of African Americanneighborhoods and the cities in which they were situated. This rich politicaltradition belies a facile integration/separation or civil rights/Black Powerdichotomy in black politics, which are inadequate frameworks forunderstanding the range of African American responses to the changing faceof urban life either before or after 1945.[9]While Self might underestimate the disruptive impact of Cold War repression(and Cold War ideological disenchantment) on some of the "crosscurrents"he enumerates, even in the East Bay, his basic point is well taken and canbe equally applied to black cultural politics. To that end, I trace thecontinuities as well as the ruptures between the Old Left (and what could be
  • 58. thought of as the old nationalism) and the new black political and culturalradicalisms, much as Maurice Isserman and some other "revisionist"historians of the Left have done for the organized political movements of the1960s.I note, for instance, many well-known dramatic gestures by AfricanAmerican artists and intellectuals that symbolically signaled a break witholder literary politics and aesthetics, such as the vitriolic debate in theUmbra group in 1963-64 after John F. Kennedys assassination over whetherto publish a poem by Ray Durem attacking Kennedy; Amiri Barakas move toHarlem and the founding of BARTS in 1965 (allegedly catalyzed by MalcolmXs assassination); and the transformation of the Watts Writers groupsDouglass House into the House of Respect in 1966.It is important to recall, though, that these dramatic moments not onlyindicate rejections of older political and cultural radicalisms by black artistsand intellectuals but also stand as signposts alerting us to the very existenceof organic links to older political and cultural movements that the continuingpower of gestures of generational disaffiliation might cause us to miss orunderestimate. Take the way in which Langston Hughes served as a bridgebetween different generations of radical black artists. His generosity inencouraging, promoting, and mentoring younger black writers is well-known.Nonetheless, speaking personally, it was a revelation to me whileundertaking this project to discover the crucial role that Hughes played inthe emergence of the Black Arts movement in so many cities (New York,Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, New Orleans, and on and on). Instances ofHughess contributions to the movement are scattered throughout thisstudy.David Lionel Smith argues with respect to the Black Arts movement that "itmust be understood . . . as emanating from various local responses to ageneral development within American culture of the 1960s." [10] In thisspirit, while always attempting to place these local responses within a largercontext, The Black Arts Movement is organized regionally for the most partto look at how connections between different groups of black artists andintellectuals took place on a grassroots level and to get a sense of thesignificant regional variations of the movement.My approach resembles Kalamu ya Salaams local/national/local model ofBlack Arts movement development in his (as of this writing) unpublishedintroduction to the movement, The Magic of Juju. According to Salaam, themovement started out as disparate local initiatives across a wide geographicarea, coalescing into a national movement with a sense of a broadercoherence that, in turn, inspired more local, grassroots activities.[11]
  • 59. I would add that there was a continuing, bidirectional interplay between thenational and the local in which the national inspired the local, even as thelocal confirmed and deepened a sense of the national as truly encompassingthe nation—both in the geographical sense of covering the United States andin the ideological sense of engaging the entire black nation. BARTS and thework of Amiri Baraka, for instance, may have helped stimulate thedevelopment and shape of BLKARTSOUTH in New Orleans, but the growth ofradical Black Arts groups and institutions in New Orleans, Houston, Miami,Memphis, Durham, Atlanta, and other cities in the South confirmed toactivists in centers more commonly the focus of accounts of the movement(e.g., New York, Newark, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco, Oakland, and LosAngeles) that it really was nation time.Lorenzo Thomass path-breaking discussions of African American Left andnationalist subcultures in the emergence of the Black Arts movement in NewYork City also significantly informs how I come at this dialectic of local andnational. Keeping Thomass work in mind, it should be recalled that therewere already transregional and even international networks in place,particularly those of various Left and nationalist (and Left nationalist) groupsand their supporters, before the creation of BARTS in 1965. These networkswere media of interchange between proto-Black Arts individuals andorganizations in different cities. In other words, the movement was alwayslocal and always national.This impossibility of completely separating the local and the national dictatesthat this study cannot be entirely regional in organization and that there willbe a certain overlap between chapters. Cultural and political styles (andcultural and political activists) circulated widely and constantly in the BlackArts and Black Power movements (and their immediate forerunners). As aresult, certain issues and phenomena, such as Black Arts and Black Powerconceptions of history, the relationship between the visual and the oral (andbetween text and performance) in Black Arts literature, and the connectionbetween the Black Arts, Black Power, and other nationalist political andcultural movements, were significantly transregional. The Chicanomovement, for example, was not only a phenomenon of the West and theSouthwest (and the South, depending on how one categorizes Texas) butalso of many midwestern cities where there had long been significantChicana/o communities.When Chicago BPP leader Fred Hampton called for "Brown Power for BrownPeople" (basically meaning Chicana/o and Puerto Rican power), he was notspeaking abstractly but was making a statement rooted in local Chicagopolitics. Similarly, as Michelle Joan Wilkinson notes, "Neorican" or
  • 60. "Chicagorican" writers in the Midwest were an important strain of the largerBlack Arts-influenced movement of writers of Puerto Rican descent on themainland often grouped under the rubric of "Nuyorican."[12]As a result, I take up some discussions of transregional phenomena in themore general and thematically organized Chapters 1 and 2. However, othertransregional subjects are considered in chapters focusing on the areas withwhich the subjects were most associated. For example, I take up theconnection between the Black Arts and Chicano movements at greatestlength in the section of the book devoted to the West Coast.The first chapter of this study outlines the state of American culture andpolitics, particularly African American art and literature (and its critical andinstitutional contexts during the age of the Cold War, civil rights, anddecolonization in the 1950s) and the rise of the New American Poetry. In thisregard, I look at the ascendancy of the New Critical and New YorkIntellectual models of poetic excellence that privileged a streamlined andrestrictive neomodernist aesthetic. As a corollary to this ascendancy, I detailthe character, influence, and eventual isolation or destruction (by externaland internal forces) of Popular Front aesthetics and the Popular Frontinstitutions that played a large role in the artistic and intellectual life of theUnited States in the 1930s and 1940s.The first chapter also notes the development of distinct, thoughinterconnected schools of New American Poetry (or postmodern poetry, ifyou will) that received such names as the "Beats," the "New York school,"the "California Renaissance," and the "Black Mountain poets," in which manyearly Black Arts writers found a temporary home to one degree or another.The opposition of all these countercultural schools to the New Criticism andtheir more murky relationship to the New York Intellectuals will be a specialconcern in the first chapter. The focus of this part of the study is the revivalof Popular Front poetics within these various "schools" and thetransformation of the cultural politics of the Popular Front by the still potentdomestic and international Cold War as well as by the liberationist rhetoric ofthe civil rights, anticolonialist, and nonaligned movements. This tracing ofthe legacy of the Popular Front includes the issues of the relationship ofpopular culture to poetic practice, the interpretation of the heritage ofEuropean modernism, especially surrealism, Dadaism, and futurism (bothSoviet and Italian), the American Whitmanic tradition, and the figuration ofethnicity, especially among the Beats (e.g., Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso,Jack Kerouac, and Bob Kaufman).
  • 61. Of course, the participation of African American poets and intellectuals,particularly Kaufman, Amiri Baraka, Ted Joans, Russell Atkins, and A. B.Spellman, within (or on the fringes of) these "schools" is an importantaspect of this part of my project. However, equally crucial is delineating theinfluence of established African American writers and intellectuals, notablyLangston Hughes, on the New American Poetry.The second chapter takes up the early development of Black Arts ideologyand the impact of this ideology on artistic practice. In its four sections, thechapter deals with the theorization of the relation of Black Arts to popularculture (and by extension, a popular audience) and the impact of thistheorization on texts and performance (and textual performance); Black Artsconceptions of history; gender and Black arts practice and ideology; and theinterplay between textuality, visuality, orality, and performance in Black Artsworks.As is noted in this chapter, while these issues might have a particularassociation with a certain region in their early forms (e.g., the conception ofa popular avant-garde that issued from circles of black artists andintellectuals in New York and Philadelphia), they cannot be tied ultimately toa particular city or area. As a result, I consider them in a separate chapterrather than trying to subsume them in the following chapters that take upthe movement in specific regions.Chapter 3 looks closely at the embryonic Black Arts movement in New YorkCity and elsewhere in the Northeast and at the early institutions andformations that nurtured it in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I argue thatthe importance of New York and other East Coast centers, particularlyWashington, Boston, and Philadelphia, for the Black Arts movement lieslargely in the manner in which the region served as an incubator for BlackPower and Black Arts ideologies, poetics, and activists.The strong traditions of African American political and artistic radicalism inthe region and the peculiarly close geographical relationship of centers ofblack population, notably New York and Philadelphia, inspired and informedwhat Aldon Nielsen has characterized as the black artistic diaspora thatsettled there, particularly in the Lower East Side of New York. Theseinstitutions and formations include the Market Place Gallery readingsorganized by Raymond Patterson in the late 1950s, the Umbra PoetsWorkshop (including Calvin Hernton, David Henderson, Ishmael Reed,Lorenzo Thomas, Askia Muhammad Toure [Rolland Snellings], and TomDent), and the magazines Umbra, Liberator, Black America, andFreedomways.
  • 62. Also examined here are the relationships between proto-Black Arts poetsand the "New American" poets and their institutions on the Lower East Side,including the "older generation" of New American poets (such as AllenGinsberg, Frank OHara, Charles Olson, Diane di Prima, Ed Dorn, and AmiriBaraka) and the "second generation" (such as Ted Berrigan, Ed Sanders,Bernadette Mayer, and Lorenzo Thomas) as well as "Nuyorican" writers(such as Victor Hernandez Cruz, Miguel Algarín, and Miguel Piñero).One point that should be obvious with the mention of Baraka and Thomas isthat the proto-Black Arts writers and New American poets were often oneand the same. The formal and thematic choices of the proto-Black Arts poetsand Nuyorican artists are examined through these new institutional contextsand the context of the changing civil rights movement (e.g., the growth ofcultural nationalism in organizations such as SNCC) and the emergence ofthe New Left, particularly the SDS and the PL.The fourth chapter considers the growth of crucial Black Arts and Chicanomovement institutions in the Midwest, particularly the intense interplaybetween black political and cultural radicals in Chicago and Detroit. Thischapter pays special attention to the interactions, whether antagonistic orsympathetic, between older black artists (such as Robert Hayden, MargaretBurroughs, Gwendolyn Brooks, Melvin Tolson, Margaret Walker, andLangston Hughes) and the generally young activists of the emergent BlackArts movement. It also traces the links between still vital Left traditions andthe Black Power and Black Arts movements.A particular focus of this chapter is the relatively successful Midwesternemphasis on creating black cultural institutions, such as OBAC, the AACM,the DuSable Museum, the Concept East Theatre, the eta Creative ArtsFoundation, Broadside Press, Third World Press, and Negro Digest/BlackWorld, that significantly, with some modifications, maintained the Black Artslegacy far beyond the collapse of the movement nationally. As part of thisimpulse toward institution building, the movement in the Midwest wassuccessful in producing a mass audience for poetry (and avant-garde music,visual art, dance, theater, and criticism) that had never been seen before inthe United States.The fifth chapter discusses how the Black Arts movement on the West Coastemerged (and eventually distinguished itself) from strong Left, nationalist,and bohemian traditions in California. It shows how the Bay Area and LosAngeles made large contributions to the development (and the idea) of theBlack Arts movement as a broad, transregional phenomenon. It describesthe process by which the San Francisco Bay Area provided some of the most
  • 63. important early national institutions of the movement, particularly the BlackArts and Black Power journals Soulbook, Black Dialogue, and JBP.It also examines how black artists in California, primarily in Los Angeles,early on popularized the idea of a new militant black literature, theater, andart across the United States as writers, theater workers, and visual artistsassociated with the Watts arts scene gained a national prominence asepitomizing the militant black artist, in much the same manner that Wattsitself became the iconic epicenter of a new African American political moodrepresented as compounded equally of anger and pride following the Wattsuprising of 1965. This iconic status that followed from the uprising alsogenerated considerable private and public money for radical black culturalinitiatives in Watts, with the same opportunities and pitfalls that becametypical of foundation and public financing of the Black Arts movement acrossthe country.Finally, this chapter discusses the Black Arts movement and its impact onthe Chicano movement, Asian American literary nationalism, and theembryonic multicultural movement.Chapter 6 focuses on the Black Arts movement in the South—where themajority of African Americans still lived in the 1960s and 1970s. Thesouthern Black Arts movement, especially the community-orientedinstitutions that characterized the movement in Houston, Memphis, Jackson,Miami, and New Orleans, lacked the high media profile that its counterpartsin the Northeast, Midwest, and California achieved. Nonetheless, this chapternot only traces the outlines of the movement in the South but also showsthat the reports of the activities in the South, particularly in Black World andJBP, did reach an audience outside the region.Such reports, along with the contributions of southern political and culturalactivists to national political and cultural events, such as the 1970 inauguralCAP convention in Atlanta and the 1972 National Black Political Conventionin Gary, Indiana, provided the Black Power and Black Arts movements asense of truly encompassing the black nation, a sense that could never begained otherwise, given the symbolic and demographic meanings of theSouth for African Americans.A Note on DefinitionsThis study is filled with locutions pairing the Black Arts and Black Powermovements. It is a relative commonplace to briefly define Black Arts as thecultural wing of the Black Power movement. However, one could just aseasily say that Black Power was the political wing of the Black Arts
  • 64. movement. There were, of course, major black political leaders who werealso major cultural figures before the 1960s—one thinks particularly of W. E.B. Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson, and Paul Robeson. And there wereothers remembered primarily as political figures with a youthful backgroundin the arts, such as Bayard Rustin and A. Phillip Randolph. Certainly, all ofthese figures posited a Left or civil rights culturalism as major parts of theirpolitical agendas.However, the Black Power movement distinguished itself by the sheernumber of its leaders (and members) who identified themselves primarily asartists and/or cultural organizers or who had, like Rustin and Randolph,some early professional interest in being artists. It is also difficult to recallearlier moments when radical black political groups made arts organizationsprimary points of concentration, as RAM did with respect to the Umbra PoetsWorkshop and BARTS. Finally, while Amiri Barakas speech at the first CAPconvention in 1970 that ended in a wild performance of his poem "Its NationTime" might not be absolutely unique as convention speeches go, I at leastcannot think of anything quite like it in earlier political-cultural moments.As will be seen in many places in this study, Black Power and Black Artscircuits were often the same, not just ideologically, but practically. Blackorganizers/artists might set up Black Power meetings, say, of the ALSC, indifferent cities while on some sort of performance tour. Conversely, onemight be in town for a big meeting or political convention and put onreadings, concerts, plays, and so on.One obvious problem that makes both "Black Power" and "the Black Arts"such elastic terms is that there was no real center to the interlockedmovements. That is to say, there was no predominant organization orideology with which or against which various artists and activists definedthemselves. While the BPP at times approached such a hegemony in termsof the public image of Black Power (especially in the mass media), in agrassroots organizational sense and in an ideological sense, no groupapproached the dominance that the CPUSA exercised over black radical artand politics in the 1930s and 1940s—even if that hegemony took the form ofa direct opposition, as in the various cases of the then Trotskyist C. L. R.James, the Socialists A. Phillip Randolph and Frank Crosswaith, or thenationalist James Lawson.However, while noting the relative decentralization, and occasionally thedisunity, of the Black Power and Black Arts movements, the common threadbetween nearly all the groups was a belief that African Americans were apeople, a nation, entitled to (needing, really) self-determination of its owndestiny. While notions of what that self-determination might consist (and of
  • 65. what forms it might take) varied, these groups shared the sense thatwithout such power, African Americans as a people and as individuals wouldremain oppressed and exploited second-class (or non-) citizens in the UnitedStates.While the right to self-determination had often been a mark of both blacknationalism and much of the Left (since at least the late 1920s), making theactual seizing and exercise of self-determination the central feature ofpolitical and cultural activity differentiated Black Power from any majorAfrican American political movement since the heyday of Garveyism. Andunlike the Garveyites, a major aspect of most tendencies of the Black Powerand Black Arts movements was an emphasis on the need to develop, orexpand upon, a distinctly African American or African culture that stood inopposition to white culture or cultures.Again, some precedents for this emphasis can be found in the cultural workof the Left and of relatively small nationalist groups of the 1930s, 1940s,and 1950s. And the political-cultural formation known as the New NegroRenaissance or the Harlem Renaissance certainly used the arts as aninstrument to attempt to dismantle racism and Jim Crow. But never before, Ithink, was such artistic activity made an absolute political priority and linkedto the equally emphatic drive for the development and exercise of black self-determination within a large black political-cultural movement in the UnitedStates.Some preliminary definition and nuancing of such a contested term as"nationalism" is required because it subsumes ideologies, institutions,political practices, and aesthetic stances that are often distinguished fromeach other. Maulana Karengas division of black nationalism into religiousnationalists (e.g., the NOI), political nationalists (e.g., the BPP), economicnationalists (e.g., the black cooperative movement), and cultural nationalists(e.g., Us) points out something of the complexity of nationalism in the 1960sand 1970s. Various other taxonomies of nationalism primarily rely on thebinary of revolutionary nationalists and cultural nationalists (sometimes witha third category of territorial nationalists) that marked the terminology ofthe Black Power and Black Arts era.I both use and question this opposition of revolutionary nationalist/culturalnationalist. Like "cultural nationalist," "revolutionary nationalist" is an elasticterm that includes a range of often conflicting ideological positions. AsKarenga points out, virtually every variety of African American nationalismproclaimed the need for some sort of political revolution.[13] I take a majordefining characteristic of revolutionary nationalism to be an openengagement with Marxism (and generally Leninism), particularly with
  • 66. respect to political economy, Leninist notions of imperialism, and oftenCommunist formulations of the "national question."Of course, black revolutionary nationalists often had a rocky, if not activelyhostile, relationship to surviving "Old Left" organizations—though as we shallsee, the connections between the Old Left and young black political andcultural radicals of the 1960s and 1970s were in many cases much more livethan has often been allowed. It should also be pointed out that though hefound Marxism rooted in a deeply problematic Eurocentrism, varieties ofMarxism nonetheless marked even the cultural nationalism of MaulanaKarenga, particularly in his conceptions of ideology, culture, andhegemony—if only in identifying problems for which he sought a moreusable African framework for understanding and solving.Finally, one of the ironies attending the period is that very often nationalistgroups took up positions originally articulated or popularized by the Left butthat had been repudiated by their Left originators. Probably the mostprominent of these positions is that of the black nation or republic in theSouth adapted by such nationalist groups as the RNA from the old "BlackBelt thesis" of the CPUSA, a position that the Communists formallyabandoned in the 1950s.For my purposes, I define "cultural nationalism" in the context of the 1960sUnited States relatively broadly as an insider ideological stance (or agrouping of related stances) that casts a specific "minority" group as anation with a particular, if often disputed, national culture. Generallyspeaking, the cultural nationalist stance involves a concept of liberation andself-determination, whether in a separate republic, some sort of federatedstate, or some smaller community unit (say, Harlem, East Los Angeles, orthe Central Ward of Newark). It also often entails some notion of thedevelopment or recovery of a true "national" culture that is linked to analready existing folk or popular culture.In the case of African Americans, cultural nationalism also usually positedthat the bedrock of black national culture was an African essence thatneeded to be rejoined, revitalized, or reconstructed, both in the diaspora andin an Africa deformed by colonialism. Of course, this is also an extremelysimplistic definition. For one thing, cultural nationalist ideas andorganizations deeply touched a wide range of black political and culturalactivists from more or less "regular" Democrats to the separatists of theRNA. Even such a reformist Democratic politician as Newark mayor KennethGibson would announce the following at the first CAP convention:You have to understand that nobody is going to take care of you—of you,and people like you. We have to understand that nobody is going to deal
  • 67. with our problems but us. We have to understand that nobody is going todeal with the realities. And the realities and the basis that we are talkingabout—those realities—are the basis of nationalism. And so, nationalism issimply the expression of our recognition of the fact that in the final analysisit is Black people who must solve the problems of Black people.[14]And there were other Black Power and Black Arts leaders, such as KwameTure, whose ideology in many respects comprehended both revolutionarynationalism and cultural nationalism.In short, the ideological divisions between cultural and revolutionarynationalists were often a matter of emphasis, tactical maneuvers in wars ofposition among nationalist organizations and activists, or attempts byAfrican American nationalist theorists to find a workable, analytical structureby which to delineate and evaluate the Black Power and Black Artsmovements. As with their predecessors in the Second, Third, and FourthInternationals who debated, split, and expelled each other over revisionism,ultraleftism, Trotskyism, Stalinism, and so on, such usages (and thepolemics that surrounded them) are worth recalling in order to makedistinctions among different groups and tendencies, but with caution. I willmake some further observations about intergroup and intragroup variationsof cultural nationalism and revolutionary nationalism, and some furthercaveats about the use of the terms themselves, in the course of this study.Also, the rubrics of "Left" or "the Left" are quite elastic. Generally speaking,I use "the Left" to cover a spectrum of Marxist (for the most part)individuals, institutions, and organizations. "Communist Left" denotes theCPUSA and its circle of influence. While such a locution may seem a bitvague, it is an attempt to find an appellation that could cover people whom Iknow to have been CPUSA members, others whom I believe (but am notabsolutely sure) were party members, and still others whom I suspect neverjoined but strongly supported many of the initiatives of the CPUSA,especially in its work among African Americans. Of course, the uncertainty oforganizational affiliation applies to individuals in other Left circles, especiallythe Left nationalists of such quasi-underground organizations as RAM in the1960s. However, the peculiar intensity of anti-Communism in the UnitedStates and the continuing impact of the Cold War make the CPUSA and itsmembers and supporters a special case.It is also worth noting that the CPUSA, never a monolithic organization,despite its rhetoric of "democratic centralism" in which centralism was oftenemphasized over democracy, was in some ways more diffuse in terms ofhow it (and its members) worked on the ground during the period coveredby this study than it was before or since. In the 1950s and 1960s, the
  • 68. CPUSA was highly factionalized by debates on how to respond toMcCarthyism and the Cold War, on what were the implications ofKhrushchevs revelations about Stalin for party policy and organization (notto mention morality), on what was the meaning of independence andrevolution in former colonial nations for the world Communist movement, onhow to respond to the upsurge of the civil rights movement and a new blacknationalism, and so on.Many left the CPUSA during the course of the debates, reducing the party toa fraction of its former membership. For those who might have joined theCPUSA during the 1960s, many were daunted both by the pressures of anti-Communism, including the legacy of Stalinism, and by a sense that many ofthe top Communist leaders were out of step with the changes in the post-Bandung Conference, post-Stalin world. There was also a widespread feelingthat the CPUSA had in many respects retreated from its positions mostconsonant with the new nationalism. For example, the notion of AfricanAmericans as a nation was largely abandoned by the CPUSA during the1950s—in no small part due to the rise of a mass civil rights movementaddressing issues of black citizenship as well as demographic changes thatmade the idea of a "Black Belt republic" in the South even more problematicthan it had been when it was first promoted in the late 1920s and early1930s.Undoubtedly, there was much discomfort with, and often open opposition to,various sorts of African American nationalism on the part of many in the topleadership of the CPUSA, limiting its public impact on the Black Arts andBlack Power movements in important ways. The pronouncements of partygeneral secretary Gus Hall and the Central Committee of the CPUSA hadlittle direct influence on the new nationalist and new radical black culturaland political organizations in the 1960s.However, many rank-and-file Communists and local leaders had a far morefavorable or tolerant attitude about working with, encouraging, and joiningin incipient Black Power and Black Arts organizations and activities. Evenolder national officers and functionaries, especially such black leaders asJames Jackson, William Patterson, Claude Lightfoot, and Henry Winston,might denounce "bourgeois nationalism" one day and then work closely withnationalists on some particular campaign—or allow rank-and-file members towork within Black Power or Black Arts organizations without seriousinterference—the next. In short, the influence of the Communist Left issometimes hard to define precisely because the actual work of the CPUSA onthe ground locally (and even nationally) was often in contradiction to itsstated positions.
  • 69. "Trotskyist" indicates a number of groups (and their supporters) descendedfrom Leon Trotskys Fourth International, particularly the SWP and the WPand their offshoots. Here, also, a certain amount of imprecision is inevitablesince many of the individuals and organizations to emerge from this Lefttradition with the greatest impact on the Black Arts and Black Powermovements, including James Boggs, Grace Lee Boggs, C. L. R. James, andthe Correspondence and Facing Reality groups, split with the SWP (andTrotsky) over such issues as the nature of the Soviet Union and the need fora vanguard revolutionary party. Thus, calling them "Trotskyist" isproblematic.Similarly, "Maoist" is applied with ambiguity to individuals and organizationsthat in many cases split from the CPUSA in the late 1950s and early 1960s,seeing the CPUSA as reformist, revisionist, bureaucratic, Eurocentric, andhopelessly tied to a stodgy, overcentralized (if not sinisterly dictatorial),neocapitalist Soviet Union. Instead, they held up China under Mao as an iconof a new, truly revolutionary, antirevisionist, post-Bandung ConferenceMarxism. The most important of these groups for purposes of this study isthe PL—though other Maoist or Third World Marxist formations, such as theLRBW, would be far more significant for the Black Arts and Black Powermovements in the long run.Some scholars question whether the PL was genuinely "Maoist."[15] Evenduring the time covered by this study, many of those who might seem to bein this general category, such as the radical black journalist Richard Gibson,who was a leader of Fair Play for Cuba (and who took Amiri Baraka to Cubaon a trip that was a milestone in Barakas political development), preferredto consider themselves "antirevisionists" rather than Maoists.[16] So, again,such categories as "Maoist" or "antirevisionist" are reductive or a bit vague,if useful.In sum, such shorthands are convenient but do not begin to do justice to thecomplexities of the Left. The edges of the circles referenced above are oftenvery blurry, even if at times they seem incredibly rigid. This should not besurprising, since nearly all these groups shared a single political familytree—a tree that branched during intense ideological splits and crises. As aresult, there was inevitable ideological and even practical overlap at thesame time that there was often vicious rivalry between these groups.Of course, much the same can be said about the various African Americannationalist organizations of the era. And while the leaders of various groupsmight seem to have considered each other just about the worst people onearth, on a grassroots level, many people would participate in a wide rangeof radical Left and nationalist groups and activities at the same time.
  • 70. Although it might seem logically inconsistent to, say, simultaneously be amember of a CPUSA youth organization study group, attend SWP forums, goto Cuba through a PL tour, and spend a lot of time at the local NOI mosque,such things were common. Again, even leading leftists were far moreideologically tolerant or eclectic in terms of their personal and politicalassociations than one might expect—especially during the formative days ofthe Black Arts and Black Power movements.As a result, I often use such phrases as "CPUSA-influenced" or "associatedwith the SWP" to indicate that an institution or event was in whole or in partled, initiated, organized, and so on by individuals closely tied to those Leftgroups, usually with some degree of organizational support, but that theinstitution or event was not "controlled" by those Left groups. "Communist,"as an adjective or noun, refers to the CPUSA (as opposed to theuncapitalized "communist," which would comprehend the SWP, the WP, andthe PL, all of which saw themselves as "communist" in the Leninist sense).Likewise, "Socialist" refers to the Socialist Party and "socialist" to the generalidea of socialism as a political and economic system, an idea to which nearlyall the Left groups mentioned in this study subscribed. I prefer to avoid theterm "front" (except in the case of "Popular Front") because of its obviousCold War connotations.While I try to indicate the degree to which a particular institution orindividual was connected to the Left, precision is not always possible—bothbecause the ideological orientation of institutions (and even of individuals)was often not unified and because the persistence of Cold War attitudes (andindividual change of opinion) even today makes some people reluctant toreveal their precise political affiliation back in the 1950s and 1960s. Again,even when that affiliation seems obvious, actual behavior is sometimes quitesurprising—at least to the outsider. For example, many, if not all, of thefounders of the journal Freedomways were members of or sympathetic tothe CPUSA—or at least what remained of the overlapping black political andcultural circles of the Popular Front.There was considerable support for the journal in the CPUSA leadership—after all, James Jackson, among the most prominent African Americans inthe party and editor of the Communist newspaper The Worker in the early1960s, was married to the managing editor of Freedomways, Esther CooperJackson. Nonetheless, the editors of the journal tended to be more open toblack nationalism than many of the top leaders of the CPUSA—and had ahostile relationship to the historian Herbert Aptheker, who wielded enormousinfluence in the top echelons of the party with respect to what would now bethought of as African American studies. In short, as Lenin quoted from
  • 71. Goethes Faust in the 1917 Letters on Tactics, "Theory, my friend, is grey,but green is the eternal tree of life."[17]My use of generational categories merits some comment also. Generallyspeaking, I use the terms "older writers" and "older artists" to designatethose artists and intellectuals who were born in the early twentieth centuryand came of age during what I think of as the extended Popular Front era,from the mid-1930s to about 1948. "Younger writers," "younger artists," andso on refer to those born in the 1930s and 1940s, coming to artistic andintellectual maturity during the Cold War. Of course, even within those broadgroupings, there are considerable differences between age cohorts.Someone who was a seven-year-old when the United States entered WorldWar II, as was Amiri Baraka, will have a somewhat different outlook thansomeone born during the war, as was Haki Madhubuti (Don L. Lee).Also, it is worth recalling that artists career cohorts do not always coincidewith their generational peers, in important ways. For example, DudleyRandalls generational peers were really the Popular Front cohort thatincluded Esther Cooper Jackson, Margaret Burroughs, Margaret Walker, andhis close friend Robert Hayden. But though, as Randall himself said, in manyways he remained much influenced by the political and cultural world of theGreat Depression, his literary career did not really take off until the 1960s.So, like other sorts of political and cultural categories, generational divisionshave some use as analytical categories, but only to a point. To help readerssort out these age groups, I have included a selected list of black artists andactivists mentioned in this study with their dates of birth in Appendix 1. Ihave also included a time line (Appendix 2) to help readers navigate thecomplicated chronology of the Black Arts and Black Power movements.Source: