The Black Arts Movement James Ed

The Black Arts Movement James Ed


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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.



Books by James Smethurst


The New Red Negro: The Literary Left and African American Poetry / Radicalism in the South Since Reconstruction


The Black Arts Movement


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The Black Arts MovementLiterary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s

By James Edward Smethurst 


A 2005 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Emerging from a matrix of Old Left, black nationalist, and bohemian ideologies and institutions, African American artists and intellectuals in the 1960s coalesced to form the Black Arts Movement, the cultural wing of the Black Power Movement. In this comprehensive analysis, James Smethurst examines the formation of the Black Arts Movement and demonstrates how it deeply influenced the production and reception of literature and art in the United States through its negotiations of the ideological climate of the Cold War, decolonization, and the civil rights movement.

Taking a regional approach, Smethurst examines local expressions of the nascent Black Arts Movement, a movement distinctive in its geographical reach and diversity, while always keeping the frame of the larger movement in view. The Black Arts Movement, he argues, fundamentally changed American attitudes about the relationship between popular culture and “high” art and dramatically transformed the landscape of public funding for the 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 a truly valuable contribution to the study of American letters. Smethurst gets it right! His thorough research and astute analysis overcome two decades of deliberate critical misrepresentation to help us examine a tumultuous era when visionary leadership and nationwide grassroots participation created a dynamic, paradigm-changing cultural renaissance.—Lorenzo Thomas, University of Houston-Downtown


A momentous and singular contribution to the study of literary ethnic nationalism 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


In this study we see how the arts and politics were one, in the holistic tradition 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 early 1990s. At that time, David Lionel Smith published a visionary essay, “The Black Arts Movement and Its Critics,” bemoaning the “paucity” of scholarship on the efflorescence of African American culture, intellectualism, and politics that spanned the 1960s and 1970s. The essay complains that “the most rudimentary work” remains incomplete, and recent scholarship tends to be “openly hostile” and “deeply partisan.” Consequently, the movement comes across as an “unappealing” and counterproductive confusion of social theory, aesthetics, nationalism, ethnic chauvinism, and sexism, a negative portrayal that oversimplifies the era’s ideological and historical circumstances.

Thus, Smith calls for “careful and balanced scholarship” to set the record straight. Since David Lionel Smith’s clarion call for scholars in 1991, “careful and balanced 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 all researched the ways in which aesthetics, race, gender, sexuality, and class have intersected during the movement.2 Two books published this past year, James Edward Smethurst’s The Black Arts Movement: Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s and Cheryl Clarke’s “After Mecca”: Women Poets and the Black Arts Movement, advance this research by approaching the movement in two different but complementary ways. Smethurst’s The Black Arts Movement is an enormous repository of information . . .—Gene Jarrett American Quarterly 57.4 (2005) 1243-1251

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Chapter 1. Foreground and Underground: The Left, Nationalism, and the Origins of the Black Arts Matrix

Chapter 2. Artists Imagine the Nation, the Nation Imagines Art: The Black Arts Movement and Popular Culture, History, Gender, Performance, and Textuality

Chapter 3. New York Altar City: New York, the Northeast, and the Development of Black Arts Cadres and Ideologies

Chapter 4. Institutions for the People: Chicago, Detroit, and the Black Arts Movement in the Midwest

Chapter 5. Bandung World: The West Coast, the Black Arts Movement, and the Development of Revolutionary Nationalism, Cultural Nationalism, Third Worldism, and Multiculturalism

Chapter 6. Behold the Land: Regionalism, the Black Nation, and the Black Arts Movement in the South


Appendix 1. Birth Dates of Selected Black Arts and Black Power Figures

Appendix 2. Time Line of the Early Black Arts and Black Power Movements





Cover of an early issue of Umbra

Saxophonist Ornette Coleman on the cover of Liberator

Cover of the first issue of Soulbook

Cover of Black Theatre portraying Otis Redding as a Christ

Cover of Black America featuring a watercolor by Muhammad Ahmad

Cover of a 1971 women’s group pamphlet

First page of Marvin X’s ritual drama The Resurrection of the Dead

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In earlier drafts of this introduction, I began by suggesting that African American studies, Chicana/o studies, Asian American studies, and other fields broadly constituting the somewhat nebulous universe of ethnic studies were haunted by the ethnic or racial nationalisms that in their various manifestations flourished in the United States from about 1965 to 1975.

I based this observation on the fact that, even though relatively little scholarly work had been done on the Black Power movement and other political nationalist movements and even less on the Black Arts movement and its Chicana/o, Asian American, and Puerto Rican analogues, the departments, degree-granting committees, research centers, institutes, and so on of the above listed fields owed their inception in large part to the institutional 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 (and publishers, book imprints, academic book series, art galleries, video and film production companies, and theaters) were the direct products of 1960s and 1970s nationalism.

As I began to write, a number of the institutions of ethnic studies, often under the rubric of “Africana studies,” still presented themselves as nationalist or Afrocentric, say, Temple University’s Africana Studies Department, preserving a relatively untroubled sense of connection to earlier nationalist institutions and ideologies.

Others, including my own W. E. B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, displayed a general stance toward the Black Arts and Black Power movements that might be described as critical support.

However, many of the most high-profile institutions and scholars of African American studies and ethnic studies maintained a far more ambivalent, if not hostile, relationship to the Black Power movement, the Black Arts movement, and other forms of political and artistic nationalism of the 1960s and 1970s. For instance, Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates Jr. provocatively derogated the Black Arts movement in the pages of a 1994 Time magazine article, declaring, “erected on the shifting foundation of revolutionary politics, this ‘renaissance’ was the most short-lived of all.”[2]

Typically for such attacks, Gates’s piece was not primarily about the Black Arts movement but instead discussed what the author saw as a contemporary “renaissance” of African American art, with the Black Arts invoked and then dismissed with minimal description as a sort of nonmovement against which the new black creativity could be favorably judged. Such invocations and shorthand dismissals were (and still are) common. Yet this persistent referencing of the Black Power and Black Arts movements evinced an unquiet spirit that haunted even the most ambivalent or hostile present-day African Americanists, who must admit that their place in the academy was largely cleared for them by the activist nationalism of the 1960s and 1970s—however narrow that nationalism might seem to them now (or seemed to them then).

Until recently, what longer works we had for the most part were memoirs or biographies of individual participants in the various movements rather than historical analyses of the broader movements themselves. For example, the 1990s saw a number of often lurid biographies and autobiographies of former Black Panthers, such as Elaine Brown’s A Taste of Power (1992), David Hilliard and Lewis Cole’s This Side of Glory (1993), and Hugh Pearson’s The Shadow of the Panther: Huey Newton and the Price of Black Power in America (1994), but no serious academic history of the BPP.[3] These works have been generally aimed at a popular audience for whom Black Power, especially the BPP, remains a fascinating subject.  

This fascination with the BPP and other Black Power and Black Arts activists serves as a reminder that outside academia the Black Power, Black Arts, Chicano, Nuyorican, and Asian American movements never really disappeared enough to be called hauntings.[4] The continuing influence of African American, Chicana/o, and Asian American nationalism can be seen in literature produced since 1975.

On some writers, such as Alice Walker, Cherie Moraga, and Sherley Anne Williams, the influence was in large part negative, as they reacted against what they saw as the sexism and homophobia of 1960s and 1970s nationalisms—though a vision of community descended from the Black Arts and Black Power movements often remained.

Others, notably Amiri Baraka, Frank Chin, and Sonia Sanchez, moved away from nationalism toward a “Third World Marxism,” or some other sort of activist politics at odds with their earlier positions but acknowledged a positive, nationalist legacy while critiquing what they saw as the limitations of the Black Arts and Black Power movements, such as an underestimation of the impact of class on the African American liberation movement. Still other artists, such as Alurista and Toni Morrison (Chloe Wofford), continued to embrace what was essentially a nationalist stance in their work long after 1975.

More recently, editors have assembled anthologies of African American writing, such as Keith Gilyard’s Spirit and Flame (1996), Kevin Powell’s Step into a World (2000), and Tony Medina, Samiya A. Bashir, and Quraysh Ali Lansana’s Role Call (2002), which look back to the key nationalist anthologies, particularly LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) and Larry Neal’s Black Fire (1968), for inspiration.

Finally, the Black Arts movement made a considerable impression on artists and intellectuals too young to remember its events firsthand. Many of the more explicitly political hip-hop artists owe and acknowledge a large debt to the militancy, urgent tone, and multimedia aesthetics of the Black Arts movement and other forms of literary and artistic nationalism. The phenomenal growth of hip-hop-inflected performance poetry and poetry slam events and venues, often run by African Americans, recalls the Black Arts movement in both popularity and geographical dispersion.

As with the theaters, poetry readings, workshops, and study groups of the Black Arts era, it is a rare city or region today that does not boast some regular series of performance poetry or poetry slams. When I lived in Jacksonville, Florida, in the late 1990s, one could attend such events three or four nights a week. At least two of the regular venues were in or very near historically black communities and were substantially run by young African American poets. Many of the black fans and performers in these poetry venues (and not a few white, Asian American, and Latina/o participants) looked back to the Black Arts movement as one of their chief inspirations.

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 Simmons’s four-part Def Poetry Jam spoken-word series hosted by rapper Mos Def that debuted on the HBO television network in 2002.

Yet despite the continuing presence of the Black Power and Black Arts legacies, whether positive or negative, in academia and cultural expression, there was, until comparatively recently, little sustained scholarly attention to either the political or cultural sides of the nationalist movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Even now, academic assessments of the Black Arts and Black Power movements are frequently made in passing and generally seem to assume that we already know all we need to know about these intertwined 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 and what might now be perceived as the extremism of the movements, pointing out, for example, echoes of the Declaration of Independence in the early BPP’s Ten-Point Program and ignoring the plan’s invocation of the Bolshevik slogan of “Land, Peace, and Bread.”

However, it seems to me that there is currently such an upsurge in the recovery, revaluation, and rethinking of the Black Power and Black Arts movements that the haunting metaphor does not entirely serve. Komozi Woodard’s A Nation within a Nation (1999) signaled the beginning of a new scholarly 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 a local community (Newark, New Jersey) and its relation to the broader movement. The year 1999 also saw the publication of Rod Bush’s We Are Not What We Seem, which also engaged Black Power with a new seriousness—if on a more general level than Woodard’s study. This scholarly rethinking of Black Power and its legacy has become even more pronounced more recently.

 The appearance of the autobiography of Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), Ready for Revolution (2003), written with Michael Thelwell, has also dramatically changed the historiographical landscape of Black Power. Scot Brown’s account of the Us organization founded by Maulana Karenga (Ronald Everett), Fighting for US (2003), too, marks a new era in the study of Black Power, with far more attention to the specifics of how the movement worked on the ground in particular places and much more extensive and careful use of primary sources than had been the case before.

And it needs to be noted that important new studies of major Black Power figures, organizations, regional activities, and/or institutions by such scholars as Matthew Countryman, Peniel Joseph, Donna Murch, Stephen Ward, and Fanon Che Wilkins have appeared as dissertations or will appear in 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 overview of Black Power that records and respects the movement’s ideological and regional variations. Still, it is clear that, rather than a haunting presence invoked and then dismissed, Black Power has become a major area of active and open investigation and debate.

Until recently, scholars have devoted even less attention to the Black Arts as a national movement with significant regional variations than to Black Power. A similarly narrow focus on a few individual figures with little consideration of institutions can be particularly seen in many academic investigations of the art and literature of 1960s and 1970s nationalism, especially of what were the dominant literary genres of the Black Arts movement, poetry and drama. Few book-length studies since Stephen Henderson’s Understanding the New Black Poetry (1972) have attempted to assess the characteristics and development of the literary Black Arts movement.[5]

There are a number of valuable memoirs by leading literary figures of the era, such as Amiri Baraka’s The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones (first published in 1984 and reprinted with substantial revisions in 1997) and Somethin’ Proper (1998) by Marvin X (Marvin Jackmon). There are also a handful of often brief studies of various circles like the Umbra Poets Workshop and OBAC, institutions like Broadside Press, or individuals, usually Baraka (e.g., Werner Sollors’s Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones: The Quest for a Populist Modernism [1978], Jerry Watts’s Amiri Baraka: The Politics and Art of a Black Intellectual [2001], and William Harris’s The Poetry and Poetics of Amiri Baraka: The Jazz Aesthetic [1985]).

While valuable, the few published book-length considerations of the Black Arts movement and the culture of Black Power that existed until recently, most notably William Van Deburg’s important New Day in Babylon (1992), basically investigated general aspects of these movements synchronically, without much effort to delineate historical and geographical specifics. In short, there seemed to be an assumption that, as with the Black Power movement, 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 Arts writers and artists make it difficult in a broad study like this to pay close attention to the local variations of the movement. But one could say the same about twentieth-century American modernism, which has been the subject of many general or comparative scholarly projects. Even the best study of the formal characteristics of post-World War II African American poetry, Aldon Nielsen’s groundbreaking Black Chant (1997), only tentatively and suggestively points to some possible influences on and origins of the formally and politically radical African American avant-garde of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

For example, he alludes to Russell Atkins’s argument for an African American avant-garde tradition descending from Langston Hughes without elaborating on how that tradition might be drawn and from where it might have come in the 1950s.[6] Similarly, Nielsen makes a claim for a certain kinship between “experimental” poetry by black and white authors, but there is not much concrete 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, and Nuyorican counterparts—or to the development of the Black Arts as a cultural and political movement.

This observation is not intended to diminish Nielsen’s achievement in opening up poets and poetic formations to literary scholarship—not to mention his acumen in the reading of this body of work. As Nielsen himself mentions in the acknowledgments section of Black Chant, he was forced to prune much material due to the exigencies of academic publishing.[7] My critique of Nielsen is only meant to suggest how much more new critical work is needed.

And this work is beginning to be done. As with the study of the Black Power movement, a new scholarship examining Black Arts literature and art has started to flourish in work by such scholars as Melba Joyce Boyd, Kimberly Benston, James Sullivan, James C. Hall, David Lionel Smith, Lorenzo Thomas, Mike Sell, Michael Bibby, Kalamu ya Salaam (Val Ferdinand), Daniel Widener, Cynthia Young, Howard Ramsby, and Bill Mullen. Thomas, along with Nielsen, particularly charted the way for a rethinking of radical black poetry and drama in the 1960s and 1970s.

Of course, Thomas has been doing this sort of thing for years, but his work took on a new prominence with the publication of his collection of essays on modern African American poetry, Extraordinary Measures (2000). Boyd’s study of Dudley Randall, Broadside Press, and the Black Arts movement in Detroit, Wrestling with the Muse (2003), is a model of what an engaged study of the local manifestations of the movement might be.

These scholars need to be congratulated for beginning a vital intellectual conversation, a conversation that has taken on a new urgency with various popular culture and “high” culture representations and interpretations of the legacy of 1960s and 1970s nationalism, such as Mario Van Peebles’s film Panther, Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, Danzy Senna’s popular novel Caucasia, and even the film Forrest Gump. This conversation takes up the questions, to paraphrase Harry Levin, What was the Black Arts movement? What were its sources? What were its regional variations and commonalities? This book also echoes the set of questions that scholars of the New Negro Renaissance have raised since the 1980s: Was the movement a “failure” in something other than the sense that all cultural movements (whether British Pre-Raphaelite, Russian futurist, German expressionist, U.S. abstract expressionist, or Brazilian tropicalian) ultimately “fail” to achieve their most visionary aims—and simply end? Who says so? And why do they say it?

The Black Arts Movement, then, enters an intellectual conversation already in progress—though it is a conversation that was hardly more than a whisper in academia at the end of the twentieth century. It undertakes to map the origins and development of the different strains of the 1960s and 1970s Black Arts movement with special attention to the its regional variations while delineating how the movement gained some sense of national coherence institutionally, aesthetically, and ideologically, even if it never became exactly homogeneous. It is not an attempt to write an exhaustive history of the entire movement—a subject that seems to me beyond the scope of a single book. For reasons having to do with my particular interests and intellectual background as well as with the character of the Black Arts movement itself, there is a special, though not exclusive, emphasis on what was sometimes known as the “New Black Poetry” in this study.

The beginnings of the Black Arts movement are seen against the interrelated rise of the “New American Poetry” (as largely codified by Donald M. Allen’s 1960 anthology of the same name) and postwar, avant-garde theater in the United States (and such groups as the Living Theater, the San Francisco Mime Troupe, and El Teatro Campesino) and the subsequent emergence of the literary activities connected to the Chicano movement, the Nuyorican writers, the circle of Asian American writers associated with the seminal 1975 anthology Aiiieeeee!, and what would become known as the multicultural studies movement. This examination considers the published and unpublished works of the writers in question as well as the institutional contexts in which the works were produced.

I also pay particular attention to the way the nascent Black Arts movement negotiated the ideological climate of the Cold War, decolonization, and the reemergent civil rights movement, particularly the black student movement that began in 1960. As James Hall observes, “while accounts of African-American literary battles of the sixties often appropriately detail attitudes toward cultural nationalism and black power, too often cold war (and prior) ideological orientations are placed to one side.”[8] What Hall calls “prior ideological orientations” and their institutional expressions are crucial in understanding 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 nationalism and 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 a lively and productive debate over the future of African American neighborhoods and the cities in which they were situated. This rich political tradition belies a facile integration/separation or civil rights/Black Power dichotomy in black politics, which are inadequate frameworks for understanding the range of African American responses to the changing face of 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 can be equally applied to black cultural politics. To that end, I trace the continuities as well as the ruptures between the Old Left (and what could be thought of as the old nationalism) and the new black political and cultural radicalisms, much as Maurice Isserman and some other “revisionist” historians of the Left have done for the organized political movements of the 1960s.

I note, for instance, many well-known dramatic gestures by African American artists and intellectuals that symbolically signaled a break with older literary politics and aesthetics, such as the vitriolic debate in the Umbra group in 1963-64 after John F. Kennedy’s assassination over whether to publish a poem by Ray Durem attacking Kennedy; Amiri Baraka’s move to Harlem and the founding of BARTS in 1965 (allegedly catalyzed by Malcolm X’s assassination); and the transformation of the Watts Writers group’s Douglass House into the House of Respect in 1966.

It is important to recall, though, that these dramatic moments not only indicate rejections of older political and cultural radicalisms by black artists and intellectuals but also stand as signposts alerting us to the very existence of organic links to older political and cultural movements that the continuing power of gestures of generational disaffiliation might cause us to miss or underestimate. Take the way in which Langston Hughes served as a bridge between different generations of radical black artists. His generosity in encouraging, promoting, and mentoring younger black writers is well-known. Nonetheless, speaking personally, it was a revelation to me while undertaking this project to discover the crucial role that Hughes played in the emergence of the Black Arts movement in so many cities (New York, Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, New Orleans, and on and on). Instances of Hughes’s contributions to the movement are scattered throughout this study.

David Lionel Smith argues with respect to the Black Arts movement that “it must be understood . . . as emanating from various local responses to a general development within American culture of the 1960s.” [10] In this spirit, while always attempting to place these local responses within a larger context, The Black Arts Movement is organized regionally for the most part to look at how connections between different groups of black artists and intellectuals took place on a grassroots level and to get a sense of the significant regional variations of the movement.

My approach resembles Kalamu ya Salaam’s local/national/local model of Black Arts movement development in his (as of this writing) unpublished introduction to the movement, The Magic of Juju. According to Salaam, the movement started out as disparate local initiatives across a wide geographic area, coalescing into a national movement with a sense of a broader coherence that, in turn, inspired more local, grassroots activities.[11]

I would add that there was a continuing, bidirectional interplay between the national and the local in which the national inspired the local, even as the local confirmed and deepened a sense of the national as truly encompassing the nation—both in the geographical sense of covering the United States and in the ideological sense of engaging the entire black nation. BARTS and the work of Amiri Baraka, for instance, may have helped stimulate the development and shape of BLKARTSOUTH in New Orleans, but the growth of radical Black Arts groups and institutions in New Orleans, Houston, Miami, Memphis, Durham, Atlanta, and other cities in the South confirmed to activists in centers more commonly the focus of accounts of the movement (e.g., New York, Newark, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles) that it really was nation time.

Lorenzo Thomas’s path-breaking discussions of African American Left and nationalist subcultures in the emergence of the Black Arts movement in New York City also significantly informs how I come at this dialectic of local and national. Keeping Thomas’s work in mind, it should be recalled that there were already transregional and even international networks in place, particularly those of various Left and nationalist (and Left nationalist) groups and their supporters, before the creation of BARTS in 1965. These networks were media of interchange between proto-Black Arts individuals and organizations in different cities. In other words, the movement was always local and always national.

This impossibility of completely separating the local and the national dictates that this study cannot be entirely regional in organization and that there will be a certain overlap between chapters. Cultural and political styles (and cultural and political activists) circulated widely and constantly in the Black Arts and Black Power movements (and their immediate forerunners). As a result, certain issues and phenomena, such as Black Arts and Black Power conceptions of history, the relationship between the visual and the oral (and between text and performance) in Black Arts literature, and the connection between the Black Arts, Black Power, and other nationalist political and cultural movements, were significantly transregional. The Chicano movement, for example, was not only a phenomenon of the West and the Southwest (and the South, depending on how one categorizes Texas) but also of many midwestern cities where there had long been significant Chicana/o communities.

When Chicago BPP leader Fred Hampton called for “Brown Power for Brown People” (basically meaning Chicana/o and Puerto Rican power), he was not speaking abstractly but was making a statement rooted in local Chicago politics. Similarly, as Michelle Joan Wilkinson notes, “Neorican” or “Chicagorican” writers in the Midwest were an important strain of the larger Black Arts-influenced movement of writers of Puerto Rican descent on the mainland often grouped under the rubric of “Nuyorican.”[12]

As a result, I take up some discussions of transregional phenomena in the more general and thematically organized Chapters 1 and 2. However, other transregional subjects are considered in chapters focusing on the areas with which the subjects were most associated. For example, I take up the connection between the Black Arts and Chicano movements at greatest length in the section of the book devoted to the West Coast.

The first chapter of this study outlines the state of American culture and politics, particularly African American art and literature (and its critical and institutional contexts during the age of the Cold War, civil rights, and decolonization in the 1950s) and the rise of the New American Poetry. In this regard, I look at the ascendancy of the New Critical and New York Intellectual models of poetic excellence that privileged a streamlined and restrictive neomodernist aesthetic. As a corollary to this ascendancy, I detail the character, influence, and eventual isolation or destruction (by external and internal forces) of Popular Front aesthetics and the Popular Front institutions that played a large role in the artistic and intellectual life of the United States in the 1930s and 1940s.

The first chapter also notes the development of distinct, though interconnected schools of New American Poetry (or postmodern poetry, if you will) that received such names as the “Beats,” the “New York school,” the “California Renaissance,” and the “Black Mountain poets,” in which many early Black Arts writers found a temporary home to one degree or another.

The opposition of all these countercultural schools to the New Criticism and their more murky relationship to the New York Intellectuals will be a special concern in the first chapter. The focus of this part of the study is the revival of Popular Front poetics within these various “schools” and the transformation of the cultural politics of the Popular Front by the still potent domestic and international Cold War as well as by the liberationist rhetoric of the civil rights, anticolonialist, and nonaligned movements. This tracing of the legacy of the Popular Front includes the issues of the relationship of popular culture to poetic practice, the interpretation of the heritage of European modernism, especially surrealism, Dadaism, and futurism (both Soviet and Italian), the American Whitmanic tradition, and the figuration of ethnicity, especially among the Beats (e.g., Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Jack Kerouac, and Bob Kaufman).

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 important aspect of this part of my project. However, equally crucial is delineating the influence of established African American writers and intellectuals, notably Langston Hughes, on the New American Poetry.

The second chapter takes up the early development of Black Arts ideology and the impact of this ideology on artistic practice. In its four sections, the chapter deals with the theorization of the relation of Black Arts to popular culture (and by extension, a popular audience) and the impact of this theorization on texts and performance (and textual performance); Black Arts conceptions of history; gender and Black arts practice and ideology; and the interplay between textuality, visuality, orality, and performance in Black Arts works.

As is noted in this chapter, while these issues might have a particular association with a certain region in their early forms (e.g., the conception of a popular avant-garde that issued from circles of black artists and intellectuals in New York and Philadelphia), they cannot be tied ultimately to a particular city or area. As a result, I consider them in a separate chapter rather than trying to subsume them in the following chapters that take up the movement in specific regions.

Chapter 3 looks closely at the embryonic Black Arts movement in New York City and elsewhere in the Northeast and at the early institutions and formations that nurtured it in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I argue that the importance of New York and other East Coast centers, particularly Washington, Boston, and Philadelphia, for the Black Arts movement lies largely in the manner in which the region served as an incubator for Black Power and Black Arts ideologies, poetics, and activists.

The strong traditions of African American political and artistic radicalism in the region and the peculiarly close geographical relationship of centers of black population, notably New York and Philadelphia, inspired and informed what Aldon Nielsen has characterized as the black artistic diaspora that settled there, particularly in the Lower East Side of New York. These institutions and formations include the Market Place Gallery readings organized by Raymond Patterson in the late 1950s, the Umbra Poets Workshop (including Calvin Hernton, David Henderson, Ishmael Reed, Lorenzo Thomas, Askia Muhammad Toure [Rolland Snellings], and Tom Dent), and the magazines Umbra, Liberator, Black America, and Freedomways.

Also examined here are the relationships between proto-Black Arts poets and the “New American” poets and their institutions on the Lower East Side, including the “older generation” of New American poets (such as Allen Ginsberg, Frank O’Hara, Charles Olson, Diane di Prima, Ed Dorn, and Amiri Baraka) 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 is that the proto-Black Arts writers and New American poets were often one and the same. The formal and thematic choices of the proto-Black Arts poets and Nuyorican artists are examined through these new institutional contexts and the context of the changing civil rights movement (e.g., the growth of cultural nationalism in organizations such as SNCC) and the emergence of the New Left, particularly the SDS and the PL.

The fourth chapter considers the growth of crucial Black Arts and Chicano movement institutions in the Midwest, particularly the intense interplay between black political and cultural radicals in Chicago and Detroit. This chapter pays special attention to the interactions, whether antagonistic or sympathetic, between older black artists (such as Robert Hayden, Margaret Burroughs, Gwendolyn Brooks, Melvin Tolson, Margaret Walker, and Langston Hughes) and the generally young activists of the emergent Black Arts movement. It also traces the links between still vital Left traditions and the Black Power and Black Arts movements.

A particular focus of this chapter is the relatively successful Midwestern emphasis on creating black cultural institutions, such as OBAC, the AACM, the DuSable Museum, the Concept East Theatre, the eta Creative Arts Foundation, Broadside Press, Third World Press, and Negro Digest/Black World, that significantly, with some modifications, maintained the Black Arts legacy far beyond the collapse of the movement nationally. As part of this impulse toward institution building, the movement in the Midwest was successful in producing a mass audience for poetry (and avant-garde music, visual art, dance, theater, and criticism) that had never been seen before in the United States.

The fifth chapter discusses how the Black Arts movement on the West Coast emerged (and eventually distinguished itself) from strong Left, nationalist, and bohemian traditions in California. It shows how the Bay Area and Los Angeles made large contributions to the development (and the idea) of the Black Arts movement as a broad, transregional phenomenon. It describes the process by which the San Francisco Bay Area provided some of the most important early national institutions of the movement, particularly the Black Arts 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, and art across the United States as writers, theater workers, and visual artists associated with the Watts arts scene gained a national prominence as epitomizing the militant black artist, in much the same manner that Watts itself became the iconic epicenter of a new African American political mood represented as compounded equally of anger and pride following the Watts uprising of 1965. This iconic status that followed from the uprising also generated considerable private and public money for radical black cultural initiatives in Watts, with the same opportunities and pitfalls that became typical of foundation and public financing of the Black Arts movement across the country.

Finally, this chapter discusses the Black Arts movement and its impact on the Chicano movement, Asian American literary nationalism, and the embryonic multicultural movement.

Chapter 6 focuses on the Black Arts movement in the South—where the majority of African Americans still lived in the 1960s and 1970s. The southern Black Arts movement, especially the community-oriented institutions that characterized the movement in Houston, Memphis, Jackson, Miami, and New Orleans, lacked the high media profile that its counterparts in the Northeast, Midwest, and California achieved. Nonetheless, this chapter not only traces the outlines of the movement in the South but also shows that the reports of the activities in the South, particularly in Black World and JBP, did reach an audience outside the region.

Such reports, along with the contributions of southern political and cultural activists to national political and cultural events, such as the 1970 inaugural CAP convention in Atlanta and the 1972 National Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana, provided the Black Power and Black Arts movements a sense of truly encompassing the black nation, a sense that could never be gained otherwise, given the symbolic and demographic meanings of the South for African Americans.

A Note on Definitions

This study is filled with locutions pairing the Black Arts and Black Power movements. It is a relative commonplace to briefly define Black Arts as the cultural wing of the Black Power movement. However, one could just as easily say that Black Power was the political wing of the Black Arts movement. There were, of course, major black political leaders who were also major cultural figures before the 1960s—one thinks particularly of W. E. B. Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson, and Paul Robeson. And there were others remembered primarily as political figures with a youthful background in the arts, such as Bayard Rustin and A. Phillip Randolph. Certainly, all of these figures posited a Left or civil rights culturalism as major parts of their political agendas.

However, the Black Power movement distinguished itself by the sheer number of its leaders (and members) who identified themselves primarily as artists and/or cultural organizers or who had, like Rustin and Randolph, some early professional interest in being artists. It is also difficult to recall earlier moments when radical black political groups made arts organizations primary points of concentration, as RAM did with respect to the Umbra Poets Workshop and BARTS. Finally, while Amiri Baraka’s speech at the first CAP convention in 1970 that ended in a wild performance of his poem “It’s Nation Time” might not be absolutely unique as convention speeches go, I at least cannot 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 Arts circuits were often the same, not just ideologically, but practically. Black organizers/artists might set up Black Power meetings, say, of the ALSC, in different cities while on some sort of performance tour. Conversely, one might be in town for a big meeting or political convention and put on readings, 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 interlocked movements. That is to say, there was no predominant organization or ideology with which or against which various artists and activists defined themselves. While the BPP at times approached such a hegemony in terms of the public image of Black Power (especially in the mass media), in a grassroots organizational sense and in an ideological sense, no group approached the dominance that the CPUSA exercised over black radical art and politics in the 1930s and 1940s—even if that hegemony took the form of a direct opposition, as in the various cases of the then Trotskyist C. L. R. James, the Socialists A. Phillip Randolph and Frank Crosswaith, or the nationalist James Lawson.

However, while noting the relative decentralization, and occasionally the disunity, of the Black Power and Black Arts movements, the common thread between nearly all the groups was a belief that African Americans were a people, a nation, entitled to (needing, really) self-determination of its own destiny. While notions of what that self-determination might consist (and of what forms it might take) varied, these groups shared the sense that without such power, African Americans as a people and as individuals would remain oppressed and exploited second-class (or non-) citizens in the United States.

While the right to self-determination had often been a mark of both black nationalism and much of the Left (since at least the late 1920s), making the actual seizing and exercise of self-determination the central feature of political and cultural activity differentiated Black Power from any major African American political movement since the heyday of Garveyism. And unlike the Garveyites, a major aspect of most tendencies of the Black Power and Black Arts movements was an emphasis on the need to develop, or expand upon, a distinctly African American or African culture that stood in opposition to white culture or cultures.

Again, some precedents for this emphasis can be found in the cultural work of the Left and of relatively small nationalist groups of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. And the political-cultural formation known as the New Negro Renaissance or the Harlem Renaissance certainly used the arts as an instrument to attempt to dismantle racism and Jim Crow. But never before, I think, was such artistic activity made an absolute political priority and linked to the equally emphatic drive for the development and exercise of black self-determination within a large black political-cultural movement in the United States.

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 from each other. Maulana Karenga’s division of black nationalism into religious nationalists (e.g., the NOI), political nationalists (e.g., the BPP), economic nationalists (e.g., the black cooperative movement), and cultural nationalists (e.g., Us) points out something of the complexity of nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s. Various other taxonomies of nationalism primarily rely on the binary of revolutionary nationalists and cultural nationalists (sometimes with a third category of territorial nationalists) that marked the terminology of the Black Power and Black Arts era.

I both use and question this opposition of revolutionary nationalist/cultural nationalist. Like “cultural nationalist,” “revolutionary nationalist” is an elastic term that includes a range of often conflicting ideological positions. As Karenga points out, virtually every variety of African American nationalism proclaimed the need for some sort of political revolution.[13] I take a major defining characteristic of revolutionary nationalism to be an open engagement with Marxism (and generally Leninism), particularly with respect to political economy, Leninist notions of imperialism, and often Communist formulations of the “national question.”

Of course, black revolutionary nationalists often had a rocky, if not actively hostile, relationship to surviving “Old Left” organizations—though as we shall see, the connections between the Old Left and young black political and cultural radicals of the 1960s and 1970s were in many cases much more live than has often been allowed. It should also be pointed out that though he found Marxism rooted in a deeply problematic Eurocentrism, varieties of Marxism nonetheless marked even the cultural nationalism of Maulana Karenga, particularly in his conceptions of ideology, culture, and hegemony—if only in identifying problems for which he sought a more usable African framework for understanding and solving.

Finally, one of the ironies attending the period is that very often nationalist groups took up positions originally articulated or popularized by the Left but that had been repudiated by their Left originators. Probably the most prominent of these positions is that of the black nation or republic in the South adapted by such nationalist groups as the RNA from the old “Black Belt thesis” of the CPUSA, a position that the Communists formally abandoned in the 1950s.

For my purposes, I define “cultural nationalism” in the context of the 1960s United States relatively broadly as an insider ideological stance (or a grouping of related stances) that casts a specific “minority” group as a nation with a particular, if often disputed, national culture. Generally speaking, the cultural nationalist stance involves a concept of liberation and self-determination, whether in a separate republic, some sort of federated state, or some smaller community unit (say, Harlem, East Los Angeles, or the Central Ward of Newark). It also often entails some notion of the development or recovery of a true “national” culture that is linked to an already existing folk or popular culture.

In the case of African Americans, cultural nationalism also usually posited that the bedrock of black national culture was an African essence that needed to be rejoined, revitalized, or reconstructed, both in the diaspora and in an Africa deformed by colonialism. Of course, this is also an extremely simplistic definition. For one thing, cultural nationalist ideas and organizations deeply touched a wide range of black political and cultural activists from more or less “regular” Democrats to the separatists of the RNA. Even such a reformist Democratic politician as Newark mayor Kenneth Gibson 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 with our problems but us. We have to understand that nobody is going to deal with the realities. And the realities and the basis that we are talking about—those realities—are the basis of nationalism. And so, nationalism is simply the expression of our recognition of the fact that in the final analysis it is Black people who must solve the problems of Black people.[14]

And there were other Black Power and Black Arts leaders, such as Kwame Ture, whose ideology in many respects comprehended both revolutionary nationalism and cultural nationalism.

In short, the ideological divisions between cultural and revolutionary nationalists were often a matter of emphasis, tactical maneuvers in wars of position among nationalist organizations and activists, or attempts by African American nationalist theorists to find a workable, analytical structure by which to delineate and evaluate the Black Power and Black Arts movements. As with their predecessors in the Second, Third, and Fourth Internationals who debated, split, and expelled each other over revisionism, ultraleftism, Trotskyism, Stalinism, and so on, such usages (and the polemics that surrounded them) are worth recalling in order to make distinctions among different groups and tendencies, but with caution. I will make some further observations about intergroup and intragroup variations of cultural nationalism and revolutionary nationalism, and some further caveats 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 the CPUSA and its circle of influence. While such a locution may seem a bit vague, it is an attempt to find an appellation that could cover people whom I know to have been CPUSA members, others whom I believe (but am not absolutely sure) were party members, and still others whom I suspect never joined but strongly supported many of the initiatives of the CPUSA, especially in its work among African Americans. Of course, the uncertainty of organizational affiliation applies to individuals in other Left circles, especially the Left nationalists of such quasi-underground organizations as RAM in the 1960s. However, the peculiar intensity of anti-Communism in the United States and the continuing impact of the Cold War make the CPUSA and its members 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 often emphasized over democracy, was in some ways more diffuse in terms of how it (and its members) worked on the ground during the period covered by this study than it was before or since. In the 1950s and 1960s, the CPUSA was highly factionalized by debates on how to respond to McCarthyism and the Cold War, on what were the implications of Khrushchev’s revelations about Stalin for party policy and organization (not to mention morality), on what was the meaning of independence and revolution in former colonial nations for the world Communist movement, on how to respond to the upsurge of the civil rights movement and a new black nationalism, and so on.

Many left the CPUSA during the course of the debates, reducing the party to a fraction of its former membership. For those who might have joined the CPUSA during the 1960s, many were daunted both by the pressures of anti-Communism, including the legacy of Stalinism, and by a sense that many of the top Communist leaders were out of step with the changes in the post-Bandung Conference, post-Stalin world. There was also a widespread feeling that the CPUSA had in many respects retreated from its positions most consonant with the new nationalism. For example, the notion of African Americans as a nation was largely abandoned by the CPUSA during the 1950s—in no small part due to the rise of a mass civil rights movement addressing issues of black citizenship as well as demographic changes that made the idea of a “Black Belt republic” in the South even more problematic than it had been when it was first promoted in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Undoubtedly, there was much discomfort with, and often open opposition to, various sorts of African American nationalism on the part of many in the top leadership of the CPUSA, limiting its public impact on the Black Arts and Black Power movements in important ways. The pronouncements of party general secretary Gus Hall and the Central Committee of the CPUSA had little direct influence on the new nationalist and new radical black cultural and political organizations in the 1960s.

However, many rank-and-file Communists and local leaders had a far more favorable or tolerant attitude about working with, encouraging, and joining in incipient Black Power and Black Arts organizations and activities. Even older national officers and functionaries, especially such black leaders as James Jackson, William Patterson, Claude Lightfoot, and Henry Winston, might denounce “bourgeois nationalism” one day and then work closely with nationalists on some particular campaign—or allow rank-and-file members to work within Black Power or Black Arts organizations without serious interference—the next. In short, the influence of the Communist Left is sometimes hard to define precisely because the actual work of the CPUSA on the ground locally (and even nationally) was often in contradiction to its stated positions.

“Trotskyist” indicates a number of groups (and their supporters) descended from Leon Trotsky’s Fourth International, particularly the SWP and the WP and their offshoots. Here, also, a certain amount of imprecision is inevitable since many of the individuals and organizations to emerge from this Left tradition with the greatest impact on the Black Arts and Black Power movements, including James Boggs, Grace Lee Boggs, C. L. R. James, and the Correspondence and Facing Reality groups, split with the SWP (and Trotsky) over such issues as the nature of the Soviet Union and the need for a vanguard revolutionary party. Thus, calling them “Trotskyist” is problematic.

Similarly, “Maoist” is applied with ambiguity to individuals and organizations that in many cases split from the CPUSA in the late 1950s and early 1960s, seeing the CPUSA as reformist, revisionist, bureaucratic, Eurocentric, and hopelessly tied to a stodgy, overcentralized (if not sinisterly dictatorial), neocapitalist Soviet Union. Instead, they held up China under Mao as an icon of a new, truly revolutionary, antirevisionist, post-Bandung Conference Marxism. The most important of these groups for purposes of this study is the PL—though other Maoist or Third World Marxist formations, such as the LRBW, would be far more significant for the Black Arts and Black Power movements in the long run.

Some scholars question whether the PL was genuinely “Maoist.”[15] Even during the time covered by this study, many of those who might seem to be in 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 Cuba on a trip that was a milestone in Baraka’s political development), preferred to 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 the complexities of the Left. The edges of the circles referenced above are often very blurry, even if at times they seem incredibly rigid. This should not be surprising, since nearly all these groups shared a single political family tree—a tree that branched during intense ideological splits and crises. As a result, there was inevitable ideological and even practical overlap at the same time that there was often vicious rivalry between these groups.

Of course, much the same can be said about the various African American nationalist organizations of the era. And while the leaders of various groups might seem to have considered each other just about the worst people on earth, on a grassroots level, many people would participate in a wide range of radical Left and nationalist groups and activities at the same time. Although it might seem logically inconsistent to, say, simultaneously be a member of a CPUSA youth organization study group, attend SWP forums, go to 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 more ideologically tolerant or eclectic in terms of their personal and political associations than one might expect—especially during the formative days of the Black Arts and Black Power movements.

As a result, I often use such phrases as “CPUSA-influenced” or “associated with the SWP” to indicate that an institution or event was in whole or in part led, initiated, organized, and so on by individuals closely tied to those Left groups, usually with some degree of organizational support, but that the institution or event was not “controlled” by those Left groups. “Communist,” as an adjective or noun, refers to the CPUSA (as opposed to the uncapitalized “communist,” which would comprehend the SWP, the WP, and the PL, all of which saw themselves as “communist” in the Leninist sense). Likewise, “Socialist” refers to the Socialist Party and “socialist” to the general idea of socialism as a political and economic system, an idea to which nearly all the Left groups mentioned in this study subscribed. I prefer to avoid the term “front” (except in the case of “Popular Front”) because of its obvious Cold War connotations.

While I try to indicate the degree to which a particular institution or individual was connected to the Left, precision is not always possible—both because the ideological orientation of institutions (and even of individuals) was often not unified and because the persistence of Cold War attitudes (and individual change of opinion) even today makes some people reluctant to reveal their precise political affiliation back in the 1950s and 1960s. Again, even when that affiliation seems obvious, actual behavior is sometimes quite surprising—at least to the outsider. For example, many, if not all, of the founders of the journal Freedomways were members of or sympathetic to the CPUSA—or at least what remained of the overlapping black political and cultural 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 in the party and editor of the Communist newspaper The Worker in the early 1960s, was married to the managing editor of Freedomways, Esther Cooper Jackson. Nonetheless, the editors of the journal tended to be more open to black nationalism than many of the top leaders of the CPUSA—and had a hostile relationship to the historian Herbert Aptheker, who wielded enormous influence in the top echelons of the party with respect to what would now be thought of as African American studies. In short, as Lenin quoted from Goethe’s 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. Generally speaking, I use the terms “older writers” and “older artists” to designate those artists and intellectuals who were born in the early twentieth century and 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,” and so on refer to those born in the 1930s and 1940s, coming to artistic and intellectual maturity during the Cold War. Of course, even within those broad groupings, there are considerable differences between age cohorts. Someone who was a seven-year-old when the United States entered World War II, as was Amiri Baraka, will have a somewhat different outlook than someone born during the war, as was Haki Madhubuti (Don L. Lee).

Also, it is worth recalling that artists’ career cohorts do not always coincide with their generational peers, in important ways. For example, Dudley Randall’s generational peers were really the Popular Front cohort that included Esther Cooper Jackson, Margaret Burroughs, Margaret Walker, and his close friend Robert Hayden. But though, as Randall himself said, in many ways he remained much influenced by the political and cultural world of the Great Depression, his literary career did not really take off until the 1960s.

So, like other sorts of political and cultural categories, generational divisions have some use as analytical categories, but only to a point. To help readers sort out these age groups, I have included a selected list of black artists and activists mentioned in this study with their dates of birth in Appendix 1. I have also included a time line (Appendix 2) to help readers navigate the complicated chronology of the Black Arts and Black Power movements.


Check out also, Aldon Lynn Nielson’s Black Chant: Languages of African-American Postmodernism (1997)

posted 1 November 2006

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Visions of a Liberated Future

Black Arts Movement Writings

By Larry Neal

Jazz Dance: The Story of American Vernacular Dance

By Marshall Stearns and Jean Stearns

Buddy Bolden and the Last Days of Storyville

By Danny Barker and Alyn Shipton

Mister Jelly Roll: The Fortunes of Jelly Roll Morton

New Orleans Creole and “Inventor of Jazz”

By Alan Lomax

Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans 

By Louis Armstrong

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Strange Fruit Lynching Report / Anniversary of a Lynching  /   Willie McGhee Lynching  / My Grandfather’s Execution

Dr. Robert Lee Interview / African American Dentist in Ghana

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Bob Marley— Exodus

Bob Marley was a Jamaican singer-songwriter and musician. He was the lead singer, songwriter and guitarist for the ska, rocksteady and reggae bands The Wailers (19641974) and Bob Marley & the Wailers (19741981). Marley remains the most widely known and revered performer of reggae music, and is credited for helping spread both Jamaican music and the Rastafari movement (of which he was a committed member), to a worldwide audience.



Exodus: movement of jah people! oh-oh-oh, yea-eah!Men and people will fight ya down (tell me why!)When ya see jah light. (ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!)Let me tell you if youre not wrong; (then, why? )Everything is all right.So we gonna walk – all right! – through de roads of creation:We the generation (tell me why!)(trod through great tribulation) trod through great tribulation.Exodus, all right! movement of jah people!Oh, yeah! o-oo, yeah! all right!Exodus: movement of jah people! oh, yeah!Yeah-yeah-yeah, well!Uh! open your eyes and look within:Are you satisfied (with the life youre living)? uh!We know where were going, uh!We know where were from.Were leaving babylon,Were going to our father land.2, 3, 4: exodus: movement of jah people! oh, yeah!(movement of jah people!) send us another brother moses!(movement of jah people!) from across the red sea!(movement of jah people!) send us another brother moses!(movement of jah people!) from across the red sea!Movement of jah people!Exodus, all right! oo-oo-ooh! oo-ooh!Movement of jah people! oh, yeah!Exodus!Exodus! all right!Exodus! now, now, now, now!Exodus!Exodus! oh, yea-ea-ea-ea-ea-ea-eah!Exodus!Exodus! all right!Exodus! uh-uh-uh-uh!Move! move! move! move! move! move!Open your eyes and look within:Are you satisfied with the life youre living?We know where were going;We know where were from.Were leaving babylon, yall!Were going to our fathers land.Exodus, all right! movement of jah people!Exodus: movement of jah people!Movement of jah people!Movement of jah people!Movement of jah people!Movement of jah people!Move! move! move! move! move! move! move!Jah come to break downpression,Rule equality,Wipe away transgression,Set the captives free.Exodus, all right, all right!Movement of jah people! oh, yeah!Exodus: movement of jah people! oh, now, now, now, now!Movement of jah people!Movement of jah people!Movement of jah people!Movement of jah people!Movement of jah people!Movement of jah people!Move! move! move! move! move! move! uh-uh-uh-uh!Move(ment of jah people)!Move(ment of jah people)!Move(ment of jah people)!Move(ment of jah people)! movement of jah people!Move(ment of jah people)!Move(ment of jah people)!Movement of jah people!Movement of jah people!Movement of jah people!

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 Relations Between Africans and African Americans: Misconceptions, Myths and Realities

By  Godfrey Mwakikagile

 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: National Academic Press, 2005) 302 pages

Chapter Four: The Attitude of Africans Towards African Americans  / Chapter Six: Misconceptions About Each Other

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books

For July 1st through August 31st 2011  


#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

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#12 – Don’t Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 – Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 – Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King

#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Radicalism in the South (Smethurst)

The Black Arts MovementLiterary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s

By James Edward Smethurst 

Emerging from a matrix of Old Left, black nationalist, and bohemian ideologies and institutions, African American artists and intellectuals in the 1960s coalesced to form the Black Arts Movement, the cultural wing of the Black Power Movement. In this comprehensive analysis, James Smethurst examines the formation of the Black Arts Movement and demonstrates how it deeply influenced the production and reception of literature and art in the United States through its negotiations of the ideological climate of the Cold War, decolonization, and the civil rights movement.

Taking a regional approach, Smethurst examines local expressions of the nascent Black Arts Movement, a movement distinctive in its geographical reach and diversity, while always keeping the frame of the larger movement in view. The Black Arts Movement, he argues, fundamentally changed American attitudes about the relationship between popular culture and “high” art and dramatically transformed the landscape of public funding for the arts.—Publisher, University of North Carolina Press

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Visions of a Liberated Future

Black Arts Movement Writings

By Larry Neal

“What we have been trying to arrive at is some kind of synthesis of the writer’s function as an oppressed individual and a creative artist,” states Neal (1937-1981), a writer, editor, educator and activist prominent in the Black Arts movement of the 1960s and ’70s. Articulate, highly charged essays about the black experience examine the views of his predecessors–musicians and political theorists as well as writers–continually weighing artistic achievement against political efficacy. While the essays do not exclude any readers, Neal’s drama, poetry and fiction are more limited in their form of address, more explicitly directed to the oppressed. The poems are particularly intense in their protest: “How many of them / . . . have been made to /prostitute their blood / to the merchants of war.” Rhythmic and adopting the repetitive structure of music, they capture the “blues in our mothers’ voices / which warned us / blues people bursting out.” Commentaries by Neal’s peers, Amiri Baraka, Stanley Crouch, Charles Fuller and Jayne Cortez, introduce the various sections.—Publishers Weekly

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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

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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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updated 7 October 2010 




Home   Black Arts and Black Power Figures

Related files:  Radicalism in the South   Black Arts Movement (Kalamu)  The Black Arts Movement (Smethurst)  The Black Arts Movement  (Larry Neal)

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