5 September 2012
Black Arts Movement of the 1960s
The history of BAM, the types of entertainment, and their effects on society has the upmost impact on history today. Due to it being the only American literary movement to advance “social engagement” as sin qua non of its aesthetic. The movement broke from the immediate past of protest and petition (civil rights) literature and dashed forward toward an alternative that initially seemed unthinkable and unobtainable: Black Power.
One of the most important figures in the Black Arts movement is Amiri Baraka (formerly Leroi Jones). Following the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965, Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka) made a symbolic move from Manhattan’s Lower East Side to Harlem, where he founded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/ School. According to the “ Norton Anthology of African American Literature,’’ no one was more competent in the combination of the experimental and the vernacular than Amiri Baraka, whose volume Black Magic Poetry 1961- 1967(1969) is one of the first products of the African American creative energies of the 1960s. Umbra, which produced Umbra Magazine, was the first post-civil rights Black literary group to make an impact as radical in the sense of establishing their own voice distinct from, and sometimes at odds with, the prevailing white literary establishment. The attempt to merge a Black-oriented activist thrust with a primarily artistic orientation produced a classic split in Umbra between those who wanted to be activists and those who thought of themselves as primarily writers, though to some extent all members shared both views. Black writers have always had to face the issue of whether their work was primarily political or aesthetic. Black Arts Movement influenced the world of literature, portraying different ethnic voices. Before the movement, the literary canon lacked diversity, and the ability to express ideas from the point of view of racial and ethnic minorities was not valued by the mainstream. Theatre groups, poetry performances, music and dance were centered on this movement, and therefore African Americans were becoming recognized in the area of literature and arts. African Americans were also able to educate others through different types of expressions and media about cultural differences. The most common form of teaching was through poetry reading. African American performances were used for their own political advertisement, organization, and community issues. The Black Arts movement was spread by the use of newspaper advertisements. The first major arts movement publication was in 1964.
The movement lasted for about a decade, through the mid-1960s and into the 1970s. This was a period of controversy and change in the world of literature. One major change came through the portrayal of new ethnic voices in the United States. English- language literature, prior to the Black Arts movement, was dominated by white authors. The theatres, as well as cultural counters were based throughout America and were used for community meetings, study groups and film screenings. Newspapers were a major tool in spreading the Black Arts movement. In 1964, Black Dialogue was published, making it the first major arts movement publication. As the movement matured, the two major locations of Black Arts' ideological leadership, particularly for literary work, were California's Bay Area because of the Journal of Black Poetry and the Black Scholar, and the Chicago-Detroit axis because of Negro Digest/Black World and Third World Press in Chicago, and Broadside Press and Naomi Long Madgett's Lotus Press in Detroit. The only major Black Arts literary publications to come out of New York were the short-lived (six issues between 1969 and 1972) Black Theatre magazine published by the New Lafayette Theatre and Black Dialogue, which had actually started in San Francisco (1964-1968) and relocated to New York (1969-1972).
In conclusion, the impacts of Black Arts activities were the development of Black theater groups and Black poetry performances and journals, and both had close ties to community organizations and issues. Black theaters served as the focus of poetry, dance, and music performances in addition to formal and ritual drama. Black theaters were also venues for community meetings, lectures, study groups, and film screenings.