Black Arts and Cultural Revolution

Black Arts and Cultural Revolution


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



I left Harlem and went back into SNCC, in Atlanta. I had worked w/SNCC earlier, in 1964, in Mississippi, just before “Freedom Summer.” I had met leader John Lewis, and the great revolutionary strategist & organizer, James Foremen, SNCC’s Secretary General. I had changed my name, thinking of NOI pursuers. I joined SNCC’s Atlanta Project.



Books by Askia M. Touré

From the Pyramids to the Projects: Poems of Genocide and Resistance!  / Dawnsong:The Epic Memory of Askia Toure

African Affirmations: Songs for Patriots Biography – Toure, Askia Muhammad Abu Bakr el (1938-)


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Black Arts and Cultural Revolution

A Brief History—1966 to 1980

By Askia M. Touré


People didn’t realize in the Sixties that we were part of an historical Vanguard. What we were attempting was innovating a revolutionary Black art. A bit later, others like Ishmael reed expanded it into what became the Multicultural Movement. We actually saw our Black Arts Movement  as a mass-based Cultural Revolution, confronting U.S. domestic colonialism/apartheid.

BARTS and Liberator Magazine

As per the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School (BARTS), Larry Neal and I were daily in touch with Amiri, who was chair, and his staff, including not only Bro. Steve, the Pattersons, Cornelius Suarez, but Sonia Sanchez, Barbara Hamilton, Barbara Carter, Sis. Kimako, Kelley Marie Berry, Ojijiko, & others.

We participated in discussions with Sun Ra, Andrew Hill & other musicians, Harold Cruse, William White, etc., in stirring, visionary seminars, debates, philosophical exchanges, which we saw as expanding revolutionary consciousness. (Later, certain lesbian-feminists tried to include Audrey Lorde in BARTS, but she, with much integrity, explained that she was not there; she was in graduate school.)

Later, tensions began to rise, due to the thug-Patterson’s & Johnny Moore’s treatment & disrespect for the sistas; and their overall fascist-like behavior. They were very insecure, and didn’t like Amiri‘s speaking with Larry and me about politics and Revolution.

Then came the Breaking-point. Both Larry and I were with Liberator magazine—Larry as Arts Editor, I as staff writer. In February 1966, Liberator magazine came out with a Malcolm X Memorial Issue, which infuriated the Nation of Islam! Additionally, the Harlem Community organized a mass march to the Audubon Ballroom, led by Queen Mother Audley Moore (who had advised Malcolm after he left the NOI). Larry Neal and I participated in the march, I think Amiri was there.

Later, the word on the street was that they might’ve attacked Amiri—certainly those knuckleheads were capable of it—and much worse. They pulled a coup, took over the BART/S, and called for a “truce.” When some of us came, myself, Bro. Charlie, Amiri‘s comrade, and two of Malcolm’s bodyguards, Bro. Uthman (Albert) & John Ferris, who was also a poet. They got us in there, locked the doors and pulled guns on us. Johnny Moore & Charles Patterson announced themselves as “Captain Johnny Moore, and Captain Charles Patterson of the NOI.”

Then announced, “we are going to execute a nigger before your eyes, —yeah, Rolland, m–f–r, we don’t like you—and that nigga, Larry!” John Ferris stood up & challenged them. He had his hand under his hat, which threw them into a panic, because they thought he had a gun. Bro. Charlie had two huge bodyguards w/him, probably armed. So there was a standoff. We were able to back out of the “truce” meeting alive.

I had a Harlem appointment w/two young RAM cadres, bros. Roy and Joe Johnson from L.A. I got word from Akbar (Max Stanford) to get out. I put the young bros. on a plane to L.A. & left Harlem. A bomb was thrown into our apartment next day.

Underground: Southward Into SNCC, Spring, 1966

I left Harlem and went back into SNCC, in Atlanta. I had worked with SNCC earlier, in 1964, in Mississippi, just before “Freedom Summer.” I had met leader John Lewis, and the great revolutionary strategist & organizer, James Forman, SNCC’s Secretary General. I had changed my name, thinking of NOI pursuers. I joined SNCC’s Atlanta Project.

A few words about Mississippi SNCC, 1964: Max Stanford & I had met SNCC leader, John Lewis in Nashville, Tennessee, and received permission to work with SNCC’s Mississippi project in Greenwood. While witnessing a powerful, grassroots movement, Max & I also witnessed a kind of Civil Rights “apartheid,” in that the grassroots Black SNCC workers were risking their lives trying to get the plantation peasants to register to vote, while the young elite white students were sitting in the field offices “coffee-clutching” and calling their friends on the Watts line, in NYC, Philadelphia., Boston, etc. 

They were part of the Northern Student Movement, and were children of wealthy liberal sponsors. I’m not saying that all were guilty of this behavior, but certainly a significant number. I also met SNCC genius Robert Moses Paris and his wife, Dona (later Dr. Marimba Ani). Bob accused me of “teaching propaganda” to the Black youths, because I taught them African and African-American history in the SNCC freedom school. I responded that wasn’t teaching them Euro-centric “history” and white supremacist values also propaganda. He said he didn’t want to go into it.

Later, Max Stanford & I spoke with Black SNCC workers about the need to control their own organization. They agreed, especially the sisters who resented the white women moving on the grassroots bros. They decided to take a vote the next day. That night, the white women moved on the bros. sexually, and compromised them. Needlessly, the Blacks, mainly sisters, were outvoted.

Many white activists were sincerely dedicated to helping to liberate Black people. They later went on to help organize the Anti-War Movement via Vietnam. . . .But they were humble, and realized that eventually, they’d have to organize white working people, in order to change this country.

They are contrasted w/arrogant white women like Saundra “Casey” Hayden who asked Max and I what we were doing down in Miss. “Casey” was from Texas, and acted like Miss. SNCC was her personal plantation. I imagined that her ancestors had fought for the Confederacy, and owned slaves. Certainly, she had that attitude: Miss Ann! Another thing some of the hippy-like white students did was to desecrate the Black Churches by having sex in them overnight, before a mass march.

The Black Community was gracious and hospitable towards them, and that was their response. Also this led to tensions within the Black Community: the rightwing elements found out about this behavior, and was publicizing this in their newspapers—the KKK & white citizens councils. That’s partly my response to Dr. Mary E. King [author of Freedom Song, a book that blames Askia and black nationalists for driving whites out of SNCC; she also charges that black men exploited white liberal women sexually].

Fast Forward to SNCC’s Atlanta Project, Spring, 1966

While underground, driven out of Harlem, I worked with Project Dir. William Ware and his wonderful staff, Zoharah Simmons, Mike Simmons, Dwight Williams, Don Stone, Bob Moore, Sissy Roberts, etc. in urban grassroots organizing. By ’66, the tensions had erupted within the organization, and SNCC was increasingly moving towards “Black Power”/self-determination. Bill Ware, Donald Stone & I sat down in Don’s home and wrote what became historically known as the “SNCC Black Power Position Paper.”

The media credited Kwame Ture with writing it, but he vehemently denied it. He said that what won over many SNCC people was that we were pushing Malcolm’s position of self-defense. We indeed believed in non-violence as a tactic, but not as a philosophy. I remember SNCC’s legendary leader, Ruby Doris Smith, being violently angry about our outlook; but I saw her a year later, ’67, she had grown an Afro and embraced me like a lost brother. Times change, and we often change with them.

San Francisco and the Beginning of Black and Ethnic Studies: 1967-’68

After the Atlanta Project was shut down, I was running a SNCC freedom school in an Atlanta neighborhood. I received a call from Sonia Sanchez asking me and my wife to join her, Amiri Baraka, Dr. Nathan Hare & others in a Black Studies experiment in both the San Francisco Black Community, and later, San Francisco State University. Aisha and I immediately came out to the Bay Area from Atlanta.

What became Africana Studies began not on the bright, shiny campuses, but in the churches & community centers of the Black Community. As in SNCC, Harlem & other places, the African-American. Community birthed these mass experiments in culture/self-determination. Sonia, student leader, former-SNCC activist, Jimmy Garrett, young actor Danny Glover, who had performed with Amiri when he was out in San Francisco, just before I came; the beautiful leaders, professor/poet Sarah Webster Fabio, Marianna Awaddy, and others, including Bro. Bill Bradley/Oba Tshaka, Dingane Joe Goncalves, Barbara Goncalves, Nasser Shabazz, Abdul-Karim & Aubrey LaBrie, Marvin X & others made this phase of Black Studies/Black Arts possible.

After awhile, the students rose up, demanding that Black professors teach them, and we were ready!…Like the African-stylists of the old Negro Leagues, we came onto the San Francisco State U. campus accompanied by the Blk masses of San Francisco! When we opened those classes, Ms. Minnie Johnson, Junebug, her son, Bubber, Mosetta, Shaniqua, etc. came right along with us. Though they weren’t getting course credits, they practiced discipline, studied, and participated in discussions.

Dr. Ray Kelch, headed the Humanities Dept., a rightwing Reaganite, with a picture of “Ron,” the governor in cowboy outfit on his front door. When he spoke to me about my main text, I informed him of Dr. Du Bois’ The World and Africa. His response was that Africa had no history that he was aware of; and “Du Bois is not a historian; he’s a negro civil rights leader.” I asked him if he’d heard of the Encyclopedia Africana? He looked at me as though I was insane!

Be that as it may, he pointed that we were out of faculty monitors (white professors had to “monitor” our classes) so my class was a mute point. A young, apparently radical white professor, wearing a field jacket, volunteered to “monitor” my class. Dr. Kelch asked to speak to him alone. The young man came out red as a lobster. We asked him what happened? According to him, Kelch called him a hippy, a fool, a trouble-maker, and a traitor to his race—in that order!. . . That was my intro to San Francisco State.

When Sonia Sanchez, other teachers and I walked about the campuses, a crowd of white professors would follow around—like we were rock stars! In our classes, we noticed tall, blond men and women “sitting in” also. Snitches. When I began to describe Kemet, Nubia and Nile Valley Civilizations, they began to turn red in the face, and soon left our classes permanently.

Sonia reported that the FBI spoke to her neighbors about her teaching The Souls of Black Folks. They said Dr. Du Bois was a communist, and Sonia was a dangerous radical. I not only began to lecture, but to speak at other universities. I also missed New York, so I only taught a semester, and took my family back to New York City. That autumn, 1968, the famous San Francisco State student strike began.

I wasn’t surprised: the blatant arrogance and racism of the white students, and their newspaper, caused Black students, and students of color to rise up. The experiment at San Francisco State was the opening gun on both the Africana and Multi-cultural Studies movements. When the Latino, Asian, Native American, women and gay students saw our example, like all intelligent people, we learn from each other—especially when we’re all oppressed by the same racist, sexist, imperialist forces.

Return to the East Coast: New York/Philly, 1968-1976

In the late spring, 1968, New York seemed to literally “pull me” back to her. I was still in a kind of quiet pain, having been literally “run out” in ’66, after the Malcolm X March. We’d heard that they’d either assaulted, or attempted to assault Amiri; they had shot Larry Neal down in the street. They had threatened my life, and bombed my apartment. Reactionary negroes, Charles Patterson, Johnny Moore, “Farrakhan Muhammad” (not related to Min. Louis Farrakhan).

Life went on. . . My marriage broke up. I remarried, a second time. Bro. Quincy Troupe and I lived across the street from each other. We saw each other on a fairly regular basis. This was on West 105th St. In this period, summer, ’68, we re-established in Harlem. I linked up with Ed Bullins and the New Lafayette Theater, and Una Mulzak, and my RAM comrade, Ernie Allen, who worked at Ms. Mulzak’s Liberation Bookstore. She was an outstanding radical mentor and thinker. She played the role in Harlem, that Baba Julian Richardson played in San Francisco.

In autumn, ’68, on 125th St., Ernie & I participated in the radical Loft movement. We founded the “Black Mind,” where we taught African & African-American History, Black Liberation politics, principles of the Black Arts Cultural Revolution to a group of Harlem high-school age youngsters, and youth activists.

Our comrades, The Last Poets, founded the “East Wind,” and Sis. Barbara Ann Teer, with Larry Neal‘s aid, founded the “National Black Theatre Workshop.” Ed Spriggs was around the corner, on Fifth Ave., with the Studio Museum of Harlem. We reestablished touch with Imamu Amiri Baraka and his people in Newark; and the Spirit-House Movers (Amiri’s group) performed at the “East Wind.”

Our youth leaders, Hannibal and Malik Ahmed and their peers linked up with the N.Y. Black Panther chapter, which was very nationalistic. Zayd Malik Shakur often spoke with us, and attended our programs when he could.

On to Gary and Philadelphia: 1972-1980  

After a good, long struggle in NYC, I decided to move to Philadelphia. I had re-linked up with my old comrades, Muhammad Ahmed (formerly Max Stanford), and had met new ones, Bro. Saladin Muhammad, Sis. Shafeah M’Balia, Bro. Changa Chikuyo of the African Peoples Party (APP), which was organizing in Philly and other cities trying to build new formations in the ’70s on the momentum of the dreams and visions of the ’60s.

I joined the APP, and proudly became the editor of its fighting newspaper, Black Star. We resisted Philadelphia’s fascist mayor, Frank Rizzo, and his killer police dept. The young radio journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal was trying to defend a black utopian group, Move, against the killer cops. We wished to defend the entire Black Community by having it organize itself against attack.

We went with Rep. Dave Richardson, and Sis. Falaka Fattah, along Father Paul Washington of the Church of the Advocate, to form a Philadelphia Black United Front (BUF). Bro. Saladin, Sis. Shafeah and I were grassroots organizers for the BUF. We linked up with the Puerto Rican Socialist Party, and the Latino Community, and progressive whites to drive the Big Bambino, Frank Rizzo from office! We organized mass marches, from North Philly, and West Philly, over 30,000 people to confront the fascist mayor. He was a punk, man, his people rushed him out of City Hall when they heard that the Black masses were marching down there.

In 1976, we organized a national “Anti-Bicentennial March” which was larger than the U.S. government’s march in Philly! We brought Latinos, Native Americans, African-Americans, and young progressive and radical whites together in radical, anti-war, anti-imperialist coalitions. Most critics and political analysts don’t record this, but the 1970s in many ways were much more radical, richer and progressive than the 1960s. We were trying to build the organizations, formations, independent political parties to make the revolutionary visions of Malcolm, the Black Panthers, and the RNA, etc. into political realities.

We had formed mass formations, the National Black United Front, the National Black Independent Political Party, the National Black Human Rights Coalition, the National Black Political Conventions in Gary, Ind. The Gary Conventions brought liberal and radical Black people together in the 1972. This movement involved both Cultural and Revolutionary Black Nationalists, Black Marxists, and Black Democrats. The Black petit-bourgeoisie was tied to the Democratic Party. They sold us out, and tried to pimp the convention, rather than uniting with us in the goal of building an Independent mass Black Political Party. Evidently, they feared Black Nationalism/Radicalism more than U.S. Imperialism and White Supremacy.

Well, after those magnificent attempts at Self-determination, the U.S. Govt., CIA/FBI hit the Black Urban Communities with the Drug Plague—Heroin, then Crack-Cocaine—setting back our Movement, and paving the way for the rise of the Neo-Fascist Reagan/Bush I and Bush II Era of today.

Well, that’s enough for now. I just want our writers/intellectuals to realize that there’s much more complexity to our Freedom Struggle than is usually assumed. And, finally, we must resurrect the role that Black Liberationist Women/Revolutionary-minded Women who love their men, while critical of their weaknesses (and whom the white feminists have literally written out of history!) have played in terms of Struggle.

I’ll end by naming a few: Ruby Doris Smith-Robinson, Sarah Webster Fabio, Marianne Al-Wadi, Carolyn Fowler, Carolyn Rodgers, Johari Amini, Shafeah M’Balia, Fulani Sunni-Ali, Naeema Muhammad, Jeanette Walton, Elaine Stanford, Ahada Stanford, Zoharah Simmons, Afeni Shakur, Assata Shakur, Paula Coar, Black Rose Nelmes, Helene Brathwaite, Barbara Carter, Carol Freeman, Jackie Early, Nikki Grimes, Kamaria Muntu, Shola Akintolayo, Nani Bowe, Barbara Cox, Ashaki Binta, Binta Masoni. . . . May the Creator bless them in their continuing to hold up Half of the Sky!

Source: IshmaelReed

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A Note from Askia

Dear Rudy,

Thank you for your thoughtful, and much-needed, effort to revive our lost revolutionary History! Many of the new/neo-colonial elites have attempted to co-opt this history, or falsely attribute this vast, generational political effort mainly to the white-applauded and funded, Civil Rights Movement. The Black Power-driven Seventies in many ways were much more vital and dynamic than the much-publicized Sixties; because we attempted, courageously, to create and develop the revolutionary and progressive Formations which would consolidate the political and cultural gains of the radically explosive Sixties.

I recently wrote that the Sixties/Seventies African-American activists, female and male, were equal to the Pre & Post-Civil War Abolitionist/Black Nationalist Generation of Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Martin R. Delany, Henry H. Garnett, Ida B. Wells, Mary Church Terrell, W. E. B. Du Bois, W. Monroe Trotter, Booker T. Washington and other freedom-fighters. But, sadly, we allow others to write that history, and wonder why we’ve inherited a confused, directionless people, who now appear to place their fate in the hands of a young, “bi-racial” populist who now lives in the White House with his beautiful, courageous First Lady and children. Unfortunately, we’ve surrendered the historical initiative, and become followers again, when we African-Americans had the Vanguard leadership position of creating a new U.S. society.

Hopefully, courageous, hard-working editors like yourself, Rudy, can help create the conditions for another Black Freedom Upsurge, in this emerging 21st Century. As an African-American Djali (Griot), activist, and writer-editor, it has been my honor to serve the valiant African-American Nation and People, While we didn’t succeed in total liberation for our people, our effort, as a heroic Generation, created a new liberation Paradigm for our historical period. I hope your readers, my sisters/brothers learn key historical lessons from us, and not let the confusion and backwardness of the Present prevent them from coming together and beginning again to walk that Stony Road to African-American Liberation and a new and just Society for all.

My Honor and My Best,

Olubisi Askia Toure 

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Askia Muhammad Touré, right alongside Amiri Baraka , Larry Neal, Sonia Sanchez, Audre Lorde, June Jordan, etc., is considered one of the principal architects of the 1960s Black Arts/Black Aesthetic movements. A member of the legendary Umbra Group and of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Touré has remained an activist poet of conscience throughout his years. His other books include Earth (1968), JuJu: Magic Songs for the Black Nation (with playwright Ben Caldwell / 1970), Songhai! (1972), and From the Pyramids to the Projects (1990), which won an American Book Award. Widely published in Black Scholar, Soulbook, Black Theatre, Black World, and Freedomways, his poems and essays have embodied the ideology of a people seeking to reclaim their images and history. His recent publications include two collections of poetry Mother Earth Responds: Green Poems and Alternative Visions (Whirlwind Press), and African Affirmations: Songs for Patriots (Africa World Press). 

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Nathan Hare—Great post, Rudy, but you left out 1961 to 1966, my maiden years, when some of us were thinking black. Baraka was there all the way— as Leroi Jones until 1967—and just about everybody else. My first article was “The Black Anglo Saxons,” something like March of 1962. Negro Digest was a godsend. Nothing like it now. Of course none of the old publications, white or black—even when they haven’t folded—is what it used to be. Of course people have only to google the other years, from 1961 to its switch to Black World circa 1970. Black World in turn went on to fold, as you know, switching to First World. Editor-Founder Hoyt Fuller soon died of a heart attack at 53. A great loss.

Hoyt was an important person who should not be forgotten. Thanks for posting this notice of his stellar publication. P.S. Negro Digest could even be found on a few white drugstore racks, but it was black for those days. Of course the Black Arts Movement, by that name, escalated art and blackness as such and took it out of the magazine into places like Black Dialogue after Black Power came in 1966.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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posted 22 April 2009



Home  Askia M. Toure Table   Mau Mau Aesthetics   Black Arts and Black Power Figures

Related files: Dingane Joe Goncalves   Journal of Black Poetry Festival

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