Ron Milner wrote about Black People, working people,
their lives and conflicts, their passions and loves and tragedies.
Books by Amiri Baraka
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A BAM Roll Call
Goodness Descending or On Hold, Another Man Done Gone
My Man Ron Milner as a Paradigm of Our Losses
By Amiri Baraka
Ron, its so cold, so cold. That our whole young phalanx of resisters insister, militants, insurgents, revolutionaries, the black Intellectuals who rose mid sixties to challenge the entire intellectual, psychological cultural basis of White Supremacy Slave Owning America, is gradually been depleted. With an eerie repetitious militance. Like drums or gunshots from some kind of infinity with the finite mock of sadness.
So the death of a close comrade in the Black Arts sets me into a frame of grief and daunting apprehension. Ron who came up with me, like we say. When The Black Arts Repertory Theatre proclaimed the Black Arts Movement. The mid 60s commitment of the most advanced Black Artists to use their work to raise the consciousness and level of struggle of the Afro -American People. To use that art as a weapon, to make a Malcolm X, Art of National Struggle. To create A Revolutionary Art!
An art that would be Afro-American in form and feeling in the focus of its content, as Black as the Blues, The Sorrow Songs, as Black as Blind Lemon or Bessie Smith, as deep as Billie Holiday , Duke Ellington or John Coltrane, as wonderful as Sarah Vaughan or Louis Armstrong. An Art that would come out of the narrow places of elite regard and hit the street, a mass aimed art, aimed at Black People, to move and empower, and mobilize and help organize Black People.
And almost as soon as world hit the high and low ways, we heard that Woodie King and Ron Milner in Detroit, responded with Black Arts Midwest, and soon we would dig Rons Whose Got His Own, and What The Wine Sellers Buy, as the first shots fired in his expressive and constantly expanding repertory. Because Ron was a consummate professional, and openly confirmed rationalist, he knew what he wanted to do and relied on his mind and heart not mysterious inspiration to supply the kazi to turn it out. Jazz Set, Check Mate.
Plus Ron, unlike some of us, was not want to zip off into the abstract and turgid waygonesphere. He wrote about Black People, working people, their lives and conflicts, their passions and loves and tragedies. He wrote about the real life he had experienced and witnessed, analyzed and summed up. We would talk often about that, what is a play, what is relevant to our people our struggle. How do we create a theatre of The known to make the unknown familiar and useable. And as always, the great Woodie King was likely to be our engine.
Whenever I came to Detroit, naturally Ron and I would hang, I mean hang on out, with day and night long passionate, not conversations, they were too full of everything we knew remembered and desired to be framed as such, they were more like open ended discussions or intimate one on one funny time seminars, or it didnt matter, other folks could be present and wave at the words as they sailed back and forth between us.
We would stay up half the night laughing at each others peculiarities and re-calling whatever we liked or didnt. We cd talk about The Black Quartet, with Ed Bullins and Ben Caldwell , produced in NYC by Woodie, of course, or nuttiness observed at would be Black Arts or Black Drama Festival, or certain Hip or very Unhip Negroes , the state of the United Snakes. Anything. And in the end we would fill each other with a kind of wonderful joviality and compassionate comradeship. Like we dug we were Brothers, Artists, Comrades in the service of the People. What ever that brought or took away from our lives.
Our deepest bond is that we knew we were both down for the whole number, the protracted struggle. And that felt good and we dug each other for that.
Will I miss Ron, Ho! Like somebody stole a few thousand words out of my brain. Like Id miss part of my self and spent the rest of my life half sad, half pissed off about it, every time it came to my mind. Yes, Ill miss him. In fact I aint ready to believe it. Probably never will be. B. WE SHOULD PONDER THE DWINDLING RESOURCES OF OUR CULTURAL REVOLUTION AND RE-IGNITE THAT SPARK THATS LEFT
Some Black Revolutionary Artists of the Black Arts Movement and Environs, y not many knew. The amazing Henry Dumas left too early, some fiend in the subway station murdered him for, they said, jumping a turnstile. That was not believable but it shot through us at the rising height of our rebellious frenzy (68).
Then Larry Neal, straight out of his poem till the butcher cut me down. That was deadly, both, a double deadly slice at our vital production and a reduction of ammunition for the struggles to come. And they are here.
Some others disappeared, we heard no more from Clevelands, Rudy B. Graham, Norman Jordan vanished somewhere into infinity, Norman ,some sd, obsessed with ritual nudity. Mae Jackson, I heard from a few ticks ago, She must be summoned to re-ignite.
Ray Johnson, L. Goodwin, Ahmed Alhamisi, DL Graham, Jacques Wakefield, Kuwasi Balagon, where, doing what? We need their words. Sam Cornish, is he still in Maryland?
Bob Bennett, Al Haynes in Boston, AB Spellman, Charlie Cobb with Walt Delegall in DC, we need to hear their voice! Where is Bill Mahoney? Joe Goncalves, who was the provocateur of Black Poetry Journal, another heavy thinker he writes from Atlanta. And where the wonderful Welton Smith. He said it They want to be White Women an ugly prophecy hammered down now with White Chicks, yes, played by Negro men.
Can someone summon Lindsay Barrett who left Jamaica for Nigeria, who erupted with a scarlet beauty? Charles Anderson, Richard Thomas, QR Hand, Lethonia Gee, Ron Welburn, (the brilliant analyst of The Music who the demons removed when the shift to passivity they felt had come and so sent all our writers on the music to Sports, and now not a one speaks from those big mags and the theft rises almost unopposed, even Stanley Crouch, the most famous defector, has been mugged.)
James Danner, Barbara Simmons. We have not heard from Lefty Sims, straight off the Harlem prairie, Lebert Bethune (in the islands they say). What about the two missing in action in Chicago, Amus Mor and Carolyn Rodgers, Mors Poem to The Hip Generation – exited our whole generation with its use of The Music and the mytho-biographical narrative of person and place. His reading on Woodie Kings Motown issued poorly distributed Black Spirits remains an awesome example of the artistic and political power generated by the BAM.
Rodgers was reputed to have gone into the Church on the heavy side. She made the Chi Hood a place of living struggle and revelation.
Where are they all? Let them reappear and tell us help us give us a missing strength and power. They are some of the forces of the Black Arts Cultural Revolution.; We are pressed now against the wall of erased truth and newly neoned lies and dishonour. We had already lost a great innovator, Lorraine Hansberry, who flexed the breath we did not even know we had. And she, for all the ink about Raisin, is still no t fully know n for the power that followed. The Drinking Gourd. Whites in Harlem do Genets The Blacks but no one seems willing to do Lorraines power answer Les Blancs. How many years before all of her is known?
And Jimmy Baldwin too, the other explosive paradigm, who helped set the tone, the direction of The Black Arts Cultural Revolution with all of his searching works evaluating sorry America. Blues for Mr Charlie presented the choice, the gun or the bible he said, one of them gonna work! And so he was removed from the pantheon of the Colored, OK to read. No Name In the Street, Evidence makes it all abundantly clear of our protracted struggle as well as the wooden Negroes barb wiring our path!
Margaret Walker the grand dame of Black American poetry also passed a few months ago. That was as debilitating culturally as Langstons exit. Add (really subtract) Gwendolyn Brooks, our first Pulitzer poet or Dudley Randall, long time publisher of the nervy and adventurous Broadside Press or Black World editor, Hoyt Fuller.
And then, so soon too many of those who their baton was intended Stokely, that energy and commitment to organizing plus that love for the people is dead, and Detroits revolutionary theorist, James Boggs, John Henrik Clarke, our towering Historian, likewise to the spirit world. Calvin Hernton, James Stewart, David Llorens. The Great visionary of sound and thought, Sun Ra probably on Saturn reaching us when he can. Hart LeRoi Bibbs to Paris to eternity. My main man, Actor, Activist, Yusef Iman, a vacuum where he pummelled the air. (Remember the LPs Black & Beautiful Nation Time or Black Mass w/ Sun Ra).
To the troubled but lyrical insistence of Harlems Clarence Reed, long dead, still unknown. The lovely irony of Toni Cade Bambara that too removed from us. Big hearted, Big voiced, Lance Jeffers, Jamaicas Mikey Smith, the thrilling Dub: incendiary murdered in Jamaica by Blindaga perverts. Though Linton Kwesi Johnson, Kamau Braithwaite, Oku Onuora, Mutabaruka remain & yet cook!
Ngugi wa Thiongo had to escape from Kenyas government murderers. The still unknown but important Ugandan Okot p Bitek suicided by frustration. We could add Martin Carter and Walter Rodney as part of our United Front as well as the so called Black Beats, Bob Kaufman and Ted Joans with their uncategorized assaults on the Ignorant, the Arrogant and the Greedy.
Except we shd know that all those works must be brought back, republished, that spirit and those lives of fire and hope re- presented to the world! That is a concrete critical task. These are works that can reignite our Cultural Revolution, in the face of Imperialism murderers, liars, deceivers, white supremacists and wooden Negro apprentices and compradors.
We are still bowed with grief and longing for , one of our closest bad bard comrades in struggle, Gaston Neal, who has still to have his sizzling book appear. Bobb Hamilton. My sister Kimako, who fought the ignorant saboteurs with us at the Black Arts Repertory Theatre School who created The Kuumba Theatre and Kimakos to raise the life spirit and cultural understanding of Harlem. She and Arthur Mitchell had a mid-town Ballet theatre before that, and after the Black Arts she was the first to bring
And just this year, Nina Simone, Benny Carter, Vincent Smith, Tom Feelings, Jeff Cobb, Ray Charles the truth, beauty and power of some who gave full dimension to the grandness of contemporary Afro-American Arts and Culture. Or the rebellious colorists, William White, Bob Thompson, gone long before them. The ingenious Bob Blackburn.
Certainly from the specific pledge of understanding and commitment to black American Political and Cultural Insurrection the Black Arts Movement itself proclaimed. And since then dwell a moment on the Monumental subtraction of our force the Coltrane, Clifford Browns, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Olatunji, Albert Ailey, Thelonius Monk, Albert Ayler, Sarah Vaughan, Marvin Gaye, Miles Davis, Elvin Jones, Eddie Blackwell, Julius Hemphill, Don Cherry, Lester Bowie, Don Pullen, in addition the Huey Newton, Martin Luther Kings, Malcolm X . It should be hurtfully clear how much we are in need of a regrouping a repositioning, a reaffirmation, remobilization of the Afro American Artistic Culture.
So from the specific parameters of the Black Arts Movement, we know that Ed Bullins, Ben Caldwell, Woodie King, Marvin X, Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, David Henderson, Sonia, Ted Wilson, Carol Freeman, Ojijiko, Askia Touré (Rolland Snellings), Willie Kgostisile (in S. Africa), Ed Spriggs (the spark that built the now enemy-occupied Studio Museum of Harlem), Reggie Lockett, Sam Anderson, Clarence Franklin, Jay Wright, Yusef Rahman, Lorenzo Thomas, Joe White, Charlie Fuller, Haki Madhubuti, Sterling Plumpp, Jimmy Garrett, Gylan Kain (In Netherlands), The other “Last Poets,” Felipe Luciano, Daveed Nelson, Umar, Abiodun, I know they alive and well. Nikki Giovanni, Mari Evans, Johari Amini, they around.
Victor Hernandez Cruz (in Puerto Rico?) was in Black Fire, though we have also lost our Latin brothers, Mikey Pinero, the great Pedro Pietri,) But Miguel Algarin, Sandra Esteves, Papaleto, Piri Thomas, “are” on the scene. And Miguels NuYorican Poets Theatre still stands and delivers. Just as John Watusi Branchs African Poetry Theatre in Queens holds fast.
Marvelous Woodie King, still kicks out new drama monthly at the New Federal Theatre in NYC.
Marvin X s Recovery Theatre in Oakland Is still producing. Amina & Amiri Barakas Kimakos Blues People has functioned for the last 15 years in their basement, in Newark. Closed for the last year by the obscene tragedy of our youngest daughter, Shanis, murder. They are planning to reopen it later in 04.
Haki Madhubutis Third World Press is a powerful institution of confrontation with ignorance and ugliness. Baraka has begun publication of the newspaper Unity & Struggle (June 04) and is calling for allies in initiating a journal and publishing entity called RAZOR . Sonia Sanchez and her son, Mungu are filming a series of interviews with BAM activists which is something now critically needed.
All this together suggests though we are now near bottom of the Sisyphus Syndrome, as Dubois termed the up and down motion of the BLM, the Afro-American struggle for Democracy & Self- Determination!, we still have a great many resources Â needing only to be re-mobilized, plus we must begin to re- produce and re-present the important works in the huge treasure chest of the Afro American Artistic and Political culture! And as well re-introduce those revolutionary figures who have contributed to the power, the truth and beauty of Black American Culture. Amiri Baraka , Newark Schools Poet Laureate, The Last Poet Laureate of New Jersey
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Ron Milner (29 May 1938–9 July 2004)
“The more I read in high school [Detroit, Michigan], the more I realized that some tremendous, phenomenal things were happening around me. What happened in a Faulkner novel happened four times a day on Hastings Street. I thought why should these crazy people Faulkner writes about seem more important than my mother or my father or the dude down the street. Only because they had someone to write about them. So I became a writer.”
1962: Milner won John Jay Whitney Fellowship to finish the novel “Life with Father Brown” (unpublished).
1964: Milner joined Woodie King in the Concept East Theater (Detroit) then went to New York to join Harvey Swados’ writing workshop at Columbia. Joined King at the American Place Theatre.
1966: The play Who’s Got His Own introduced him to New York.
“What is primarily at issue in the play is the question of black manhood, the expression of which has historically been thwarted. Milner dramatizes this issue by making his protagonist a highly combative and alienated son, torn by despair over ever being able to respect or love a father he has long since written off as a fierce tyrant at home and a coward at work.. After his mother’s revelations, he is pitted against the hidden forces of family history embedded in that rejected father’s past. The played toured the state colleges in new York State before it returned to New York City for a run at the New Lafayette Theatre in 1967” (Beunyce Rayford Cunningham).
1966-1967: Writer in Residence at Lincoln University (Pennsylvania), where he came to know Langston Hughes encouraging him in black aesthetics.
1969: Milner’s The Warning–A Theme for Linda was staged as part of A Black Quartet, with plays by Milner, Ben Caldwell, Ed Bullins, and Amiri Baraka . Produced by Woodie King at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Chelsea Theatre Center 25 April 1969.
In The Warning Milner takes up again the theme of manhood, but this time through the eyes, memories, and dreams of women, primarily through the character Linda. Instead of rejecting men as her grandmother and her mother, she challenges her platonic friend Donald that they become lovers and he a genuinely strong man to match the strong, determined woman she will become.
The Monsters staged October 1969 at Chicago’s Louis Theatre takes up black manhood and political leadership on a black college campus. The satire involves deprogramming and unmasking an academic dean.
1970s: Emerged as important essayist. “Black Theater — Go Home!” and “Black Magic, Black Art” express the need of the black artist to cultivate a black audience and stress the importance of the jazz musician as a model for a writer.
Co-edited with Woodie King, Jr. Black Drama Anthology (1972). Achieved commercial success with What the Wine Sellers Buy opened at the New Federal Theatre on 17 May 1973. The play depicts the pressures on a seventeen-year-old Detroit youth Steve Carlton, to try the hustler’s life and to start by turning his own sweetheart, Mae, into a prostitute.
“I’ve actually seen a 10-year-old boy sniffling salt — not cocaine; he didn’t have any concept of what cocaine was — but salt, because he wanted to look like Superfly. You see enough cases of this and it suddenly becomes important enough to write about. . . . A similar incident happened to me when I was young. But I think I would have just passed over it, except that I saw the same thing happening to other guys as well — young guys who were clearheaded and intelligent, and able to achieve, suddenly using all their energies to turn over dope. They’d bought a system of values that says anything you do to get a car or money or clothes is all right. . . . The people who pollute the air and water for profit have no right to point fingers at Rico [the pimp]. . . . When he talks about everything for profit, trading everything for money, he’s talking about society” (Ron Milner).
1974: What the Wine Sellers Buy opened 14 February at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center.
Was a commercial success, grossing more than a million dollars in Chicago; more than $60,000 a week in Detroit during its fourteen-week run in Detroit’s Fisher Theatre in 1975.
1976: Season’s Reasons, produced in Milner’s Langston Hughes Theatre. An a capella operatta, dramatizes the state of “future shock” suffered by a young revolutionary who escapes from jail after a long period of incarceration
1980: Jazz Set, produced Mark Taper Forum. Focuses on the members of a jazz sextet revealing their individual stories in a fluid fashion. Handles the artist as character.
1981: Crack Steppin’, produced at Detroit’s Music Hall
Sources: Woodie King, Jr. “Directing Winesellers,” Black World, 25 (April 1976): 20-26; Larry Neal, “The Black Arts Movement,” in The Black American Writer, volume 2, edited by C.W.E. Bigsby (De Land: Everett Edwards, 1969), pp. 187-202.
posted July 2004
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Books by Amiri Baraka
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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updated 13 March 2009