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Black Arts Movement

The Black Aesthetic.

  • Amiri Baraka
  • Harlem
  • Black Arts Repertory Theater
Black Arts Movement

1965 -1975


Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.

The Black Arts Movement began—symbolically, at least—the day after Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965. The poet LeRoi Jones (soon to rename himself Amiri Baraka) announced he would leave his integrated life on New York City’s Lower East Side for Harlem. There he founded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre, home to workshops in poetry, playwriting, music, and painting.

The Black Arts Movement was politically militant; Baraka described its goal as “to create an art, a literature that would fight for black people’s liberation with as much intensity as Malcolm X our ‘Fire Prophet’ and the rest of the enraged masses who took to the streets.” Drawing on chants, slogans, and rituals of call and response, Black Arts poetry was meant to be politically galvanizing

Black Power concept
The Black Arts, wrote poet Larry Neal, was “the aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept.” As with that burgeoning political movement, the Black Arts Movement emphasized self-determination for Black people, a separate cultural existence for Black people on their own terms, and the beauty and goodness of being Black. Black Arts poets embodied these ideas in a defiantly Black poetic language that drew on Black musical forms, especially jazz; Black vernacular speech; African folklore; and radical experimentation with sound, spelling, and grammar. Black Arts Movement poet and publisher Haki Madhubuti wrote, “And the mission is how do we become a whole people, and how do we begin to essentially tell our narrative, while at the same time move toward a level of success in this country and in the world? And we can do that. I know we can do that.”