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Artistry in Black: The Black Arts Movement, Part III

By Useni Eugene Perkins

Presented by Omni-University

[An Edited version of Evolution of Black Art: From The Black Chicago Renaissance to The Chicago Black Arts Movement-1935-1975 (Abbreviated Interpretation)]

"The genesis of Black Art must be traced to the venerable civilizations of humankind which, from all genealogical studies, began in the ancient civilization of Kemet." Useni Eugene Perkins

The Black Arts Movement and the African Liberation Struggle

It should be noted that during the African Liberation Struggle many African nations were struggling to gain their independence from colonialism and imperialism. This was especially evident in Guinea Bissau, Angola, Mozambique, and the Cape Verde Islands, which were under Portuguese domination. In fact, many of the leaders in the African Liberation Movement were poets who used their poetry to raise the consciousness of their people. Some of these leaders were: Sekou Toure, Amilcar Cabral, Eduardo Mondlane, Marcelino Dos Santos, Agostinho Neto and Patrice Lumumba. Also, African poets Dennis Brutus and Keorapetse Kgositile from South Africa, and Ruwa Chiri from Zimbabwe, were active in BAM. Dennis Brutus had been a political prisoner in South Africa for leading a boycott to keep the South Africans from participating in the 1964 Olympics. Ruwa Chiri was actively involved in the Black Power Movement and one of the organizers of United Afrikans for One Motherland (UFOMI). To avoid being deported back to Zimbabwe, Chiri left Chicago. He allegedly committed suicide in a New York subway. Although Kgositsile spent a lot of time in Chicago he was admired for his artistic contributions to the BAM in other cities.

Chicago’s Black Arts Movement: Institutions, Media and Bookstores

What helped to make Chicago’s BAM the envy of many other cities was the wide network of resources that kept it connected to the general public. For example, [Ancestor] Lou Palmer, a highly respected journalist, hosted a monthly Black Book discussion program that was relevant to the Black community. He also had a daily radio show, which he used to discuss everyday problems and issues that impacted the Black community. He would sign off with his famous quote: “It's enough to make a Negro turn Black.” Lou Palmer was also the publisher of the Black Express, a weekly newspaper that provided information on political and cultural events in Chicago. Another journalist who focused on cultural activities was Ancestor Earl Calloway, the efficacious editor of the Chicago Defender’s Art and Culture section. Mr. Calloway’s articles were often the only ones of any newspaper, which covered Black arts and culture on a regular basis.

Chicago also had several Bookstores, e.g., Ellis Book Store and A.J. Williams Book Store hosted book receptions for writers such as Harold Cruise, James Baldwin, Lerone Bennett Jr., Sonia Sanchez, Sam Greenlee, Sterling Plumpp, Joyce Ladner, and other prominent writers. A.J. Williams was the first teacher in the public schools to teach Black History and was reprimanded for doing so.

Other cultural institutions like the renowned DuSable Museum of African American History, South Side Community Arts Center, Institute of Positive Education, House of Umoja, and the Black Typographical Center helped to keep the ideology of BAM alive and relevant. Chicago’s BAM also had many publishing companies like the Free Black Press, Afro Publishers, and Third World Press. Of these companies, the Third World Press founded by Haki Madhubuti has become the oldest Black Publishing Company in America.

Even some of Chicago’s street organizations/gangs had some involvement with the BAM. Gwendolyn Brooks taught a weekly writers’ workshop for some of the Blackstone Rangers and Oscar Brown Jr. wrote a musical entitled "Opportunity Knocks" which was performed by some of them. On the west side, the Conservative Vice Lords opened an Afro Gift Shop and provided classes in art and culture for youth. They also helped photographer Roy Lewis to develop the WEST WALL, a collage of photos that depicted members from the Lawndale community and other cultural events. Indeed the scope of Chicago’s BAM made Chicago one of the most vibrant and artistic communities in America.

Hip Hop and the Black Arts Movement

Of course, no serious discourse on the Black Arts Movement can be complete without mentioning the Hip Hop Movement which began to surface during the latter stage of BAM. To the dismay of many of its early critics, the Hip Hop Movement has become a cultural phenomenon that is now a billion-dollar industry and has gained international appeal to a variety of ethnic groups. From the streets of West and South Brooklyn, where disenfranchised Black youth relished the disjointed chords of deejaying, etched graffiti on the most improbable places, and performed stunning acrobatics in break dancing, Hip Hop has become an integral part of American culture.

However, when we trace some of the generic cultural components of Hip Hop, we can discern how it has been influenced, to some degree, by the Black Arts Movement. Artists like The Last Poets, Gil Scott Heron, Sonia Sanchez, Ted Joans, Quincy Troupe, Larry Neal, Haki Madhubuti, and the loquacious storyteller, Dan Burley all used a variety of linguistic styles that synthesized performance, language, and music to articulate socio-political issues acute to Black people.

Events And Activities Influenced by Chicago’s BAM

1. Development of Black Studies Programs in many local colleges, universities, and public schools.

2. City-wide celebration of Kwanzaa.

3. African Liberation Programs that highlighted the importance of Black people to contest the apartheid doctrine of South Africa.

4. Black political and cultural organizations e.g. All African Peoples Alliance and United Afrikans for One Motherland (UFOMI).

5. Black Publishing Companies e.g. Third World Press, Free Black Press, Afro-American Press, etc.

6. Provided the foundation for the Artists for Harold Washington which contributed to his election as Chicago’s first Black mayor.

7. Planted the seeds for the celebrated African Festival of the Arts and Culture held annually in Washington Park.

8. Planted the seeds for several annual Black Arts conferences, held primarily at Olive-Harvey Jr. College and the National Black Writers Conference held at Chicago State University.

9. Helped to narrow the schism between Continental Africans and African-Americans.

10. Although it may be difficult to quantify, the BAM increased the reading of Black Literature by the general public.

11. The Black Theater Alliance, founded in 1973, continues to meet on a regular basis and host an annual Awards Program to honor artists in all phases of the theater.

12. The resurgence of interest in the BAM by scholars, curators, and archivists from local universities, museums, and cultural institutions.

13. This resurgence has resulted in a plethora of books, exhibits, studies, and conferences on the BAM.

14. Several Chicago BAM artists have received national and international acclaim for their outstanding achievements in the arts and culture.

Although Black Arts can no longer be considered a "Movement" as such, " We can reasonably say that artists from each generation are influenced by the generation of artists that precede[d] them. Thus, Black Art will remain an integral part of Black culture and the people who engender it.

References/Recommended Readings*

The official bookstore of Omni Virtual University is When you click on titles that are linked below and make your book purchases, a portion of the proceeds from those sales go to support our work.

*The Magic of JuJu: An Appreciation of the Black Arts Movement by Kalamu Ya Salaam *Evolution of Black Art: From the Black Chicago Renaissance to the Chicago Black Arts Movement-1935-1975 ( An Abbreviated Interpretation) by Useni Eugene Perkins

*Poetry from the Masters: Black Arts Movement: an introduction to African- American Poets, Edited by Useni Eugene Perkins

They Seek A City: Chicago and the Art of Migration, 1910-1950: Edited by Sarah Kelly Oehier

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