The Black Arts Movement
The Black Arts movement refers to a period of “furious flowering” of African American creativity beginning in the mid-1960’s and continuing through much of the 1970’s (Perceptions of Black). Linked both chronologically and ideologically with the Black Power Movement, The BAM recognized the idea of two cultural Americas: one black and one white. The BAM pressed for the creation of a distinctive Black Aesthetic in which black artists created for black audiences. The movement saw artistic production as the key to revising Black American’s perceptions of themselves, thus the Black Aesthetic was believed to be an integral component of the economic, political, and cultural empowerment of the Black community. The concepts of Black Power, Nationalism, Community, and Performance all influenced the formation of this national movement, and it proliferated through community institutions, theatrical performance, literature, and music.
The symbolic birth of the Black Arts Movement is generally dated to 1965 and coincides with a major transformation in the life of its most prominent leader, Amiri Baraka, formally LeRoi Jones. Early in his career LeRoi Jones won notoriety and critical acclaim for his plays, specifically the Dutchmen, while living in Greenwich Village at the heart of the Beat Scene. However, beginning in 1964 he underwent a personal transformation which resulted in his distancing himself from white culture. LeRoi Jones divorced his white wife, moved to Harlem, changed his name, and adopted a Black Nationalist View. Shortly after Malcolm X’s assassination in February of 1965, Amiri Baraka joined forces with Charles and William Patterson, Askia Toure, Clarence Moure, and several other black artists to open the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School. The institution opened on April 30, 1965 in Harlem in hopes that it would serve as the beacon of the Black Arts Movement by making drama, music, and poetry an essential part of the community.
The Black Arts Movement is famously described by Larry Neal, in his essay “The Black Arts Movement” as the “aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept” (Neal 272). Led, in some ways, by Malcolm X and advocated by the Black Panthers for Self-Defense, the Black Power Movement can be viewed as a distinct break from earlier civil rights movements. Black Power encouraged the improvement of African American communities rather than the fight for integration and acceptance according to white standards. The Black Power Movement cultivated racial dignity and self-reliance, and also revived an interest in cultural heritage and history. Furthermore, the movement recognized that “standards of beauty and self-esteem were integral to power relations” and sought to cultivate confidence within the black community. (Hiltz and Sell). In addition to sharing an ideological basis, The Black Arts Movement and Black Power Movement merged even...