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Black Arts Movement

Black Arts Movement

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The Black Arts Movement or BAM is the artistic branch of the Black Power movement. It was started in Harlem by writer and activist Amiri Baraka (born Everett LeRoy Jones).[1] Time Magazine describes the Black Arts Movement as the "single most controversial moment in the history of African-American literature-- possibly in American literature as a whole."[2] The Black Arts Repertory Theatre is a key institution of the Black Arts Movement.



The movement was one of the most important times in the African American literature. It inspired black people to establish their own publishing houses, magazines, journals and art institutions. It led to the creation of African American Studies programs within universities. The movement was triggered by the assassination of Malcolm X.Template:Fact Other well-known writers that were involved with this movement included Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, Maya Angelou, and Rosa Grey. Although not strictly involved with the Movement, other notable African American writers such as novelists Toni Morrison and Ishmael Reed share some of its artistic and thematic concerns. Although Ishmael Reed is neither a movement apologist nor advocate, he said:

I think what Black Arts did was inspire a whole lot of Black people to write. Moreover, there would be no multiculturalism movement without Black Arts. Latinos, Asian Americans, and others all say they began writing as a result of the example of the 1960s. Blacks gave the example that you don't have to assimilate. You could do your own thing, get into your own background, your own history, your own tradition and your own culture. I think the challenge is for cultural sovereignty and Black Arts struck a blow for that.[3]

BAM 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 around 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.

Effects on Society

The movement lasted for about a decade, through the mid 1960s and into 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.

African Americans became a greater presence not only in the field of literature, but in all areas of the arts. Theater groups, poetry performances, music and dance were central to the movement. Through different forms of media, African Americans were able to educate others about the expression of cultural differences and viewpoints. In particular, black poetry readings allowed African Americans to use vernacular dialogues. This was shown in the Harlem Writers Guild which included black writers such as Maya Angelou and Rosa Guy. These performances were used to express political slogans and as a tool for organization. Theater performances also were used to convey community issues and organizations. The theaters, as well as cultural centers, 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.

The Black Arts Movement, although short, is essential to the history of the United States. It spurred political activism and use of speech throughout every African American community. It allowed African Americans the chance to express their voices in the mass media as well as become involved in communities.

Key Writers and Thinkers of this Movement

(arranged alphabetically)

Other Info

A 2005 international exhibition, 'Back to Black - Art, Cinema and the Racial Imaginary', details which are available with the Archives of Whitechapel Art Gallery

A 2006 major conference 'Should Black Art Still Be Beautiful'? Organised by OOM Gallery and Midwest the conference created a forum by examinining the development of contemporary Black cultural practice and its future in Britain. April 1st 2006, New Art Gallery Walsall, UK. Conference was in honour of the late Donald Rodney. Photo of Donald Rodney located at OOM Gallery Archive

Recently redeveloped African and Asian Visual Arts Archive ( [1]) currently located at University of East London (UEL). This archive can be searched through the UEL library site.

The Arts Council of England's (ACE) decibel initiative produced a summary, Reinventing Britain, in 2003 in association with the Guardian newspaper.

Archive available at Schomburg Centre, NYPL.


References Gladney, Marvin. “The Black Arts Movement and Hip-Hop.” Find Articles (2007). 13, Mar. 2007 < 838/is_n2_v29/ai_17534803>. Henry, Joan. “Blacks Art Movement.” (1998). 12, Mar. 2007 <>. Jansen, Mia. “Blacks Arts Movement.” Answers (2005). 12, Mar. 2007 <>.

  1. The Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School
  2. A Brief Guide to the Black Arts Movement
  3. Black Arts Movement

See also

External links

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