In a time where racial discrimination and profiling reigned supreme, the Black Arts Movement (BAM) was the only thing that stood out as different. The movement was a divergent form of activism for equal rights of the black people and other American minorities in a world dominated by the white man. It was at this time that the black people saw that using violence to gain equality from the white man only made their situation worse as seen by the outcomes of the Black Power Movement and the Black Panther.
The movement was founded sometime in the mid-1960s after the assassination of Malcolm X. The assassination of the celebrated figure caused some stir among the black community in which two doctrines were to be followed; the first being the Revolutionary Nationalists who still believed that force and willpower was the only way forward thus the Black Panther Movement and the Cultural Nationalist who chose the aesthetics such as literature, drama, and music as a form of political activism.
It is from the cultural nationalism that the BAM was born. With its slogan, Black Power, it challenged the African American community to rise up from oppression and suppression with a new generation of leadership that called for self-determination and self-respect in the social experimentation of black autonomy. These philosophies were mostly derived from the Martin Luther King’s teachings of peaceful demonstration while the difference is that it was not much of an active demonstration rather, a passive-aggressive form of liberation as it called for the use of the African American culture, something that the Black American community is famous for.
Among the reasons for the adoption of the BAM, the movement was to develop a nationally available magazine that could provide a platform for critiques and budding writers and poets while also providing publication for those that were accepted. This is mainly because all of the publishing houses usually rejected any books which related to the black arts regardless of the race of the writer which the bigger heads in the black arts saw both as a challenge and as an opportunity. The challenge came in gaining autonomy where they were in constant threats of shutting down by the government and the opportunity came in the form of challenging the younger generation to drop its violent ways and adopt a better solution to discrimination.
The movement mainly comprised of poets, artists, writers and dramatists who came together to use poems, songs and drama to empower their brethren. Among them were the poet and playwright Imamu Amiri Baraka who founded a publishing press for the movement and also wrote some of the culturally themed plays and print media among them being the Yugen.
The BAM imagined its political movements as a means of gaining liberation and political autonomy through mass media which they themselves developed. The efforts made by the movement saw to it that the black American community could have access to printed media which was their mode of passing their teaching to the greater community thus there was a need for them to have their own printing presses and also incorporate some of their plays into institutions which would eventually reach the masses.
The key figures in the movement realized that the struggle for equality of the black man could be gained in stages as was observed in the Chinese revolution. The first stage was national liberation, which mass media such as magazines and journals could be used to create awareness to every African American all over the country which would then be followed by the second stage, social transformation which called for every person to leave the violent means of fighting for freedom as it only called for the worst.
This is because the dominant white government would use this as an excuse to suppress and kill all possible hope for liberation of the black Americans as evidenced by the infiltration of the Black Power Movement by the FBI and the assassinations of both Dr Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X who both succumbed to their untimely deaths as a result of trying to make America a place where the black man could lively freely without discrimination.
It is safe to say that the movement borrowed most of its empowerment from the African continent which was also struggling for freedom from colonialism at that time. Most people would argue that internal colonialism of the black minority was the main concept in the national liberation, it was through Baraka's rise in the ranks that the politics of the movement started to make a shape. He saw to it that the black power politics combined both liberation and socialism as adopted from the African’s struggle for independence through political parties.
Even though it was clear that autonomy of the black American community was the only way forward, acquiring it was to be a struggle both within the community and outside the community. Within the community, there was a gap among the people of which those that supported the Revolutionary Nationalist movement who saw that using white man’s education to gain equality was a joke and could not be achieved thus they still sought to violence. It is this reasoning that made the outside challenges have more ground; the white-dominated government only viewed all the black Americans as thugs thus the police were encouraged to use brutal force on every black person which would lead to many unlawful imprisonment and deaths of some of the leaders.
However, the BAM still had its hopes in music and drama. Its official inauguration came after the opening of the Black Arts Repertory Theatre in Harlem with its goal being to use theatrical arts and poetry to call for the unity of the black community through culture; something that they all shared and that they could all relate to.
This soon spread across the country from New York to Detroit and Chicago. This spread also paved way for the printing press to create the opportunity for the rising black writers and poets such as the Third World Press in Chicago and the Lotus Press and Broadside Press in Detroit that republished the older works that contained black poetry. The that the printing presses started empowered the young generation and experimental poets such as Maya Angelou who was also an activist in black woman empowerment.
The first literary publication was the Black Dialogue, printed in California in 1964 and edited by Malcolm X among others. It included a political theme with poetry being placed in the Reject Note section which was an ironic statement considering it was not a politically inclined publication rather, a culturally themed one. The story behind this irony was to engage and challenge its readers in both a politically and culturally themed outlet.
The Black Arts creative literature had Chicago based Negro Digest. It was published by Johnson which was also famous for Jet and Ebony which were all culturally themed. The editor in chief was Hoyt Fuller who was also an activist in the BAM and through his links, the Negro Digest found its ways on newsstands nationwide. It eventually changed its name to Black Word which together with the Slogan Black Power, it seemed to hold more grounds that the original Negro which the African Americans viewed as a racial term.
The Black World was eventually turned into a publication of a wide variety of literature including poetry, fiction, and drama. Included was also the perspectives column that entailed the upcoming cultural events and conferences that invited everyone. This was a strategy in the form of social awareness. Through this, the activists were invited to perform their methods of liberation which would soon be adopted thereby seeing to the fall of the Revolutionary Nationalists. Violence among the black community started to show a significant reduction in more and more youth sought to peaceful means of self-awareness and expression as a means to fight of the oppression. Higher institutions such as universities also started to incorporate the forms of theatrical arts in the curriculum eventually paving way for more novices who would use it as a political means to abolish discrimination.
Aside from this, they saw to it that music was also incorporated into the fight for autonomy and through collaborations with jazz artists such as John Coltrane and Archie Shepp, music became a tool for the struggle as it was infamous for being more politically appealing and generally to the white people than soul and rhythm blues which were more inclined to the blacks.
In the field of theatrical arts, profound innovation was a demand which had to have the appeal of the black culture but soon, as it started to gain more popularity, there soon emerged a need to develop more works that could also empower the white audience through telling the story how the African Americans saw it. As such, these performances would feature raw aspects such as violence which in fact alienated both the black and white culture.
At its height in the Mid-1970s, their efforts started to bear fruits. All the key figures with Baraka included started to gain cultural recognition and eventually became an economic success which even though was not part of the plan for liberation, still gained an audience of the white supremacist who saw to it that the only way forward was to unite. The fame that they gained threatened the autonomy of the African American Population which was something that they could not deal with; a country within a country was a dangerous risk and because the white population began to appreciate them, violence from the government would be met with even more backlashes and revolutions.
The political protest of the BAM differs from its predecessors in a variety of ways chief among them is the incorporation of all form of art in the struggle for liberation. This includes vernacular tradition such as spirituals, gospels and the blues which called for the empowerment of the black community and theatricals such as drama and plays.
The third edition of the Norton Anthology of African American Literature provides a timeline for the works that the BAM inspired among them being the Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs which is a narrative of the life of a girl born into slavery and struggle to flee captivity to the eventual freedom after the emancipation proclamation.
Even after the American civil war, black men were still captive in America and had no right even to the air he breathes. Several activists rose up and all of them were silenced, the black man was still looked down upon and racism became even rampant with several anti-black organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan who actively hunted and killed any black person because they believed that it was their God-given right to do so. It is these struggles, contained in the form of narratives that the Anthology provides with every timeline included. In general, the book is a library of the works prior and after the efforts raised by the BAM.
In conclusion, the editions of the Norton Anthology of African American Literature all include detailed works of the artists as seen in that generation. It is through the BAM and the struggle for liberation that the books have included and even though the BAM is no longer in existence, its efforts have left a make in the world. The Hip Hop culture is the new version of cultural expression of African Americans. The book provides guidance to all the means of struggle to equality.here...
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