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New Thoughts on the Black Arts Movement

New Thoughts on the Black Arts Movement

Lisa Gail Collins
Margo Natalie Crawford
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 406
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  • Book Info
    New Thoughts on the Black Arts Movement
    Book Description:

    During the 1960s and 1970s, a cadre of poets, playwrights, visual artists, musicians, and other visionaries came together to create a renaissance in African American literature and art. This charged chapter in the history of African American culture-which came to be known as the Black Arts Movement-has remained largely neglected by subsequent generations of critics. New Thoughts on the Black Arts Movement includes essays that reexamine well-known figures such as Amiri Baraka, Larry Neal, Gwendolyn Brooks, Sonia Sanchez, Betye Saar, Jeff Donaldson, and Haki Madhubuti. In addition, the anthology expands the scope of the movement by offering essays that explore the racial and sexual politics of the era, links with other period cultural movements, the arts in prison, the role of Black colleges and universities, gender politics and the rise of feminism, color fetishism, photography, music, and more. An invigorating look at a movement that has long begged for reexamination, this collection lucidly interprets the complex debates that surround this tumultuous era and demonstrates that the celebration of this movement need not be separated from its critique.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4107-5
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: Power to the People!: The Art of Black Power
    (pp. 1-20)
    Lisa Gail Collins and Margo Natalie Crawford

    On July 29, 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued Executive Order 11365 establishing a National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders to investigate the explosion of “racial disorders” in American cities. President Johnson’s mandate for the eleven-member appointed commission was to answer three crucial questions about the recent upsurge in urban violence: “What happened? Why did it happen? And what can be done to prevent it from happening again?”¹ After conducting extensive field research, hearings, surveys, and interviews, the bipartisan commission published its detailed findings in a hefty government document known as “The Kerner Report.” Released on March 1, 1968, the...


    • 1 Black Light on the Wall of Respect: The Chicago Black Arts Movement
      (pp. 23-42)
      Margo Natalie Crawford

      The subtleties and nuances of the Chicago Black Arts Movement emerged in the intersections of poetry and visual art. In his essay, “Toward a Definition: Black Poetry of the Sixties” (1971), Chicago-based poet and publisher Haki Madhubuti recounts that “[b]lack art of the sixties, on the national scene, started with the advent of LeRoi Jones ([Amiri] Baraka) and the black theater” and “[w]e in the Midwest felt the pressures from both the west and the east coasts.”¹ In “Two Schools, New York and Chicago: Contemporary African-American Photography of the 60s and 70s,” a 1986 exhibit of African American photography, curated...

    • 2 Black West, Thoughts on Art in Los Angeles
      (pp. 43-74)
      Kellie Jones

      Generally periodized between 1965 and 1976, the Black Arts Movement has been primarily theorized as literary though like its most recognized forerunner, the Harlem Renaissance, it encompassed visual, music, theater, and all the arts. Among its hallmarks were: social and political engagement; a view that art had the ability to encourage change in the world and in the viewer; separatism—a belief in a self-contained “black aesthetic” walled off from white culture; forms that were populist, that could be easily distributed and understood by audiences (broadsides, pamphlets, one-act plays, concerts, representational painting, posters, etc.).

      The Black Arts Movement championed the...

    • 3 The Black Arts Movement and Historically Black Colleges and Universities
      (pp. 75-91)
      James Smethurst

      Discussions of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s rarely give much consideration to black cultural activity in the South. This lack of interest is not only a feature of our own time. At the height of the movement, southern black artists and intellectuals complained about how difficult it was to attract the attention of their counterparts in the Northeast, the Midwest, and the West, even with the tremendous symbolic significance that the region retained in African American history and culture.¹ Yet despite this past and present scholarly inattention, Black Arts organizations, institutions, and events in the South...

    • 4 A Question of Relevancy: New York Museums and the Black Arts Movement, 1968–1971
      (pp. 92-116)
      Mary Ellen Lennon

      The doors of a large metropolitan museum of art serve as a significant threshold, resonant with expectations. Inside wait carefully preserved masterpieces mounted on canvas and pedestal. These doors both promise and confirm the excellence of the works of art inside. Excellence substantiated further by the vaulted ceilings, marble staircases and uniformed guards charged with regulating voices (not too loud!) and bodies (not too close!). The ornate frames, the managed temperature, the skillful lighting … all these elements herald the importance of what is waiting to be viewed. Such rooms of hushed reverence impose their own expectations on the part...

    • 5 Blackness in Present Future Tense: Broadside Press, Motown Records, and Detroit Techno
      (pp. 117-134)
      Wendy S. Walters

      In early June 1967, at Detroit’s Second Annual Black Arts Convention (dedicated to the memory of Malcolm X), H. Rap Brown spoke what turned out to be prophetic words, “Motown … we are going to burn you down,” in response to a climate of mistreatment of blacks by the predominantly white Detroit Police Department.¹ Just a few weeks later, on July 23, 1967, an undercover police raid on the Blind Pig on Twelfth Street incited a massive rebellion. At least 7,231 people were arrested, 700 injured, and forty-three killed (thirty-three blacks and ten whites) over the next three days of...


    • 6 A Black Mass as Black Gothic: Myth and Bioscience in Black Cultural Nationalism
      (pp. 137-153)
      Alondra Nelson

      In “The Black Arts Movement,” the defining and definitive manifesto of the radical current of African American arts and letters that flourished in the 1960s and 1970s, Larry Neal famously described the era’s cultural activism as the “aesthetic and spiritual sister” of black power political insurgency.¹ United in the shared goal of black liberation, the twinned movements differed in emphasis: black power activism centered on the “artofpolitics,” while the performers, poets, playwrights, and novelists of the Black Arts Movement were dedicated to forging the “relationship between artandpolitics.”² Neal declared the task facing the latter group as...

    • 7 Natural Black Beauty and Black Drag
      (pp. 154-172)
      Margo Natalie Crawford

      As some male writers and visual artists in the Black Arts Movement attempted to castrate white power and render it feminine, black women were often objectified as the embodiments of black beauty (“African Queens” and “natural black beauty”). The male gaze of some Black Arts poets and photographers objectified black women even as it engaged in the laudable attempt to remove black women from the dominant visual culture that continues to define quintessential femininity through the sign of the white woman’s body. The body of the black woman was often imagined as the motherland, the receptacle for the black (male-dominated)...

    • 8 Sexual Subversions, Political Inversions: Womenʹs Poetry and the Politics of the Black Arts Movement
      (pp. 173-186)
      Cherise A. Pollard

      Feminized from the moment of its inception as the Black Power Movement’s “spiritual sister,” the Black Arts Movement was in no way feminine.¹ During the 1960s, the Black Power Movement’s emphasis on Black nationalism informed the Black Arts Movement’s political mission. From 1965 to 1976, the Black Arts Movement employed the theories of the black aesthetic to develop popular, yet political art forms such as music, theater, literature, and dance that tapped into America’s black urban communities.² In the realm of literature, most of the theorists of the black aesthetic were men such as LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), Larry Neal,...

    • 9 Transcending the Fixity of Race: The Kamoinge Workshop and the Question of a ʺBlack Aestheticʺ in Photography
      (pp. 187-209)
      Erina Duganne

      The African American photographer and filmmaker James Hinton first applied the term “black aesthetic” to photography in 1969 when he singled out Roy DeCarava as the “the first black man who chose by intent … to devote serious attention to the black aesthetic as it relates to photography and the black experience in America.”¹ In his statement, Hinton isolates DeCarava’s photographs and defines them in relation to one predetermined value, DeCarava’s racial identity.² In a contemporary statement, DeCarava seems to corroborate Hinton’s reading of his photographs. He writes: “You should be able to look at me and see my work....

    • 10 Moneta Sleet, Jr. as Active Participant: The Selma March and the Black Arts Movement
      (pp. 210-226)
      Cherise Smith

      Taken by Moneta Sleet, Jr. on March 25, 1965, the image of Dr. and Mrs. King leading marchers in Montgomery, Alabama, on the cover of the May 1965 volume ofEbonydocuments the completion of the Selma to Montgomery March after two failed attempts.¹ At the front of the procession and the center of the image, Martin Luther King, Jr. is pictured mid-stride and mid-song, flanked by Coretta Scott King to his left and Ralph Bunche, under-secretary to the United Nations, to his right. Looking determined, Rosa Parks, and Ralph and Juanita Abernathy are positioned to the right of Bunche.²...

    • 11 ʺIf Bessie Smith Had Killed Some White Peopleʺ: Racial Legacies, the Blues Revival, and the Black Arts Movement
      (pp. 227-252)
      Adam Gussow

      Jazz, not blues, is generally taken to be the soundtrack of the Black Arts Movement. Young jazz musicians of revolutionary temperament such as Archie Shepp, Sun Ra, and Albert Ayler—proponents of the so-called “New Thing”—played downtown fundraisers and uptown marches for Amiri Baraka’s Black Arts Repertory Theater/School in the heady spring and summer of 1965, joining the newly established BARTS faculty as founding members. Black Arts poets reimagined John Coltrane as a secular saint, modeling their spoken-word performances on his keening, freedom-yearning, glossolalic saxophone style—what literary critic Kimberly Benston has termed “the Coltrane poem.” This elegiac praise-song...


    • 12 A Familiar Strangeness: The Spectre of Whiteness in the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement
      (pp. 255-272)
      Emily Bernard

      “I would like to be white.” This phrase ends the first sentence of Langston Hughes’ formidable 1926 essay, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain.” This statement is not autobiographical. Rather the sentiment is Hughes’ translation of a declaration made by an unnamed poet—Countee Cullen—about his preferred professional identity.¹ Cullen told Hughes that he wanted to be known as “a poet—not a Negro poet” and Hughes heard behind Cullen’s words a lamentable self-loathing, a pitiable hankering for whiteness. The path from Cullen’s sentiment to Hughes’ interpretation is circuitous at best, however, and there are, finally, multiple ways...

    • 13 The Art of Transformation: Parallels in the Black Arts and Feminist Art Movements
      (pp. 273-296)
      Lisa Gail Collins

      Similar utopian visions linked the Black Power and Women’s Liberation Movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Passionate participants in both struggles ardently imagined a world where they would thrive, be safe, and feel connected, authentic, and whole. Holding these honest aspirations close, activist-participants worked tirelessly to realize them by transforming the dominant social order. Both Black Power and Women’s Liberation agitators struggled to unite and mobilize the people they saw as their allies and kin in order to dismantle oppressive power relations, redistribute wealth and other resources, gain value and legitimacy, and design a new and just destiny. While Black...

    • 14 Prison Writers and the Black Arts Movement
      (pp. 297-316)
      Lee Bernstein

      The period of the Black Arts Movement—roughly 1965 to the late 1970s—saw a dramatic turn in the cultural life of American prisons. Many people were incarcerated for crimes that were driven by their anti-war, anti-colonial, and anti-racist positions and activities. In addition, the very definition of “political prisoner” underwent radical transformation by those who argued that African Americans, Native Americans, and Latinos were unfairly targeted by the criminal justice system regardless of the nature of their crime. Finally, the literary, visual, and performing arts were explicitly politicized by the Black Power Movement inside and outside prison walls just...

    • 15 ʺTo Make a Poet Blackʺ: Canonizing Puerto Rican Poets in the Black Arts Movement
      (pp. 317-332)
      Michelle Joan Wilkinson

      The reflective tone with which Countee Cullen ends his 1925 poem “Yet Do I Marvel” stands in relief to the urgent pleas in poems from the height of the Black Arts Movement. Cullen’s speaker, a Harlem Renaissance era double for the author, marvels, almost from a distance, at the conundrum God has made of him: a black man and a poet in early twentieth-century America.¹ In his efforts to share his verses, the black bard fares no better than Sisyphus, the mythological figure who, Cullen reminds us, was doomed to “struggle up a never-ending stair.”² During the 1920s, the obstacle...

    • 16 Latin Soul: Cross-Cultural Connections between the Black Arts Movement and Pocho-Che
      (pp. 333-348)
      Rod Hernandez

      In 1974,Umbramagazine, the journal of the Umbra literary group and one of the most influential publications of the Black Arts Movement, relocated from its birthplace on the Lower East Side of New York City to its new home base in the East Bay city of Berkeley, California. The move wasn’t merely geographical. An anthology marked the occasion, and it was significant not least because of its theme and subtitle: Latin Soul. What this term meant to the editors ofUmbra—who at that time were David Henderson, Barbara T. Christian, and contributors such as Victor Hernández Cruz—is...

    • 17 Black Arts to Def Jam: Performing Black ʺSpirit Workʺ across Generations
      (pp. 349-368)
      Lorrie Smith

      An emblematic moment in the emergence of the Black Arts Movement occurred at a writers’ conference at Fisk University in 1967 when Gwendolyn Brooks—up to that point a genteel integrationist anointed by the Pulitzer Prize-awarding literary establishment—had a conversion experience that gave birth to “new consciousness.” The catalyst for her transformation from “Negro” to “Black” poet, as she describes it in her 1972 autobiography,Report from Part One, was the charismatic performance of revolutionary young poets like Amiri Baraka, Hoyt Fuller, and Ron Milner. The fruitful response to this awakening—Brooks’ rebirth into “surprised queenhood in the new...

  8. Afterword: This Bridge Called ʺOur Traditionʺ: Notes on Blueblack, ʹRoundʹmidnight, Blacklight ʺConnectionʺ
    (pp. 369-374)
    Houston A. Baker Jr.

    Editors Lisa Gail Collins and Margo Natalie Crawford, under the titleNew Thoughts on the Black Arts Movement, have done a wonderful scholarly service, producing an outstanding work designed to connect fallen leaves and furiously new flowerings of black insight and talent. The recent Furious Flower Black Poetry Conference convened in the fall of 2004 at James Madison University. It debuted a brilliant documentary film in remembrance of the much heralded 1994 Furious Flower Conference, whose lively artistic and critical interchange led to books, striking video series, poetry collections, and legendary first meetings. In bold colors, the documentary film captures...

    (pp. 375-378)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 379-390)