Black Arts Movement

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BAM! The Black Arts Movement

The amazing era of the Black Arts Movement developed the concept of an influential and artistic blackness that created controversial but significant organizations such as the Black Panther Party. The Black Arts Movement called for "an explicit connection between art and politics" (Smith). This movement created the most prevalent era in black art history by taking stereotypes and racism and turning it into artistic value. This connection between black art and politics was first made clear in a great essay written by Larry Neal in the summer of 1968. This essay illustrated the Black Arts Movement's "manifesto" or plan. Neal wrote: "The Black Arts Movement is radically opposed to any concept of the artist that alienates him from his community" (Smith). Meaning, all black people must reorganize the creativity of the Western culture because of their "desire for self-determination and nationhood "(Smith). Neal hoped that when the black community collectively join to create an new art form they would become powerful and strengthened in their society. Neal was just one of the important writers of the Black Arts Movement era. Other writers, poets, and essayists illustrated a new beginning for the black community to overcome their hardships and to rise up artistically.

The concept of Black Power stemmed from the Black Arts Movement. Black Power was a political movement that arose to express a new racial consciousness among Blacks in the United States. Black Power represented a racial dignity leading to freedom from white authority in economic and political grounds. In this era, African Americans went back to learn from old cultural history and traditions (Gladney). Major goals for Black Power were for all Black people to define the world in their own terms and to reject racism such as black on black violence and police brutality. As Black Power began to grow, it received both strong disapproval from whites and several African American organizations such as the NAACP. They probably disapproved of them because Black Power followers harshly bashed whites as well as a black community who watched and waited for changed instead of making it. The Black Panther Party became the largest Black organization advocating Black Power (Gladney). Scholars of African American art and politics still see the idea of Black Power as a strong effect on the consciousness of Black America today, though it had died out in mid 1970s (Smith). Black Power writers largely redefined and reshaped the expectations of Black literature to their own standards much alike modern day rappers. The ability of a particular group of artists to be able to define their own work is crucial to the development of an aesthetic (Gladney).

One of the most influential writers of this era was Amiri Baraka. Baraka's plays, poetry, essays, screenplays, and short fiction express his fury at a narrow-minded society encouraging racism. Gladney describes that Baraka, also known as, LeRoi Jones was born in Newark, NJ, in 1934. He attended Rutgers University and served in the military for three years before settling in Greenwich Village at the heart of the creative scene. Baraka opened the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School in 1964. The school became one of the most influential theaters within the Black Arts Movement and brought music, art, poetry and drama to the street corners of Harlem for the first time after the Harlem Renaissance (Gladney). After Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965, the artistic school closed. He later opened Spirit House in Newark, NJ (Bader). Baraka was involved in almost every aspect of the beginning of the Black Arts Movement and in many other Black political and cultural movements, including participation with the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. Baraka was instrumental in the defining of the artistic principles of the Black Arts movement (Gladney). In his poem "Black Art," he wrote, We want "poems that kill."

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