The fight for freedom and equality
has been fought for many decades throughout U.S. History. For black people this
fight was not only fought to gain equality, but also to allow a change in
politics, economically, and aesthetically. The domination of white superiority
has bleed itself into every fold of United States. While the country and white
supremacy was being challenged with the Civil Rights Movement a silent new
movement was about to arise, and from this emerged a social movement that shook
the world and turned minds around, giving way to a new movement that brought
with it new state of being, new since of power and unity. The Black Arts
movement is a period in history of unapologetic empowerment of the black people
creativity, beginning in the 1960’s and continuing through much of the 1970s.
The movement is also known for its connection with The Black Power Movement, as
their spiritual sister. The
movement noticed the idea of two culturally different Americas: one black and
one white. Where for black people it was forced upon them to learn white
culture and assimilate into it, and black culture was never respected or
In the “Souls of Black Folks” by
WEB Dubois, he explores this duality that is called the veil, which describes Black
life in America, particularly the plight of the black American experience and
the challenges facing Black culture. The Black Art Movement created beautiful art
work that represented specifically the Black Aesthetic, and these black artists
created for the black audiences; “FOR US, BY US”. The movement became this monument
that the black community to reinvent the inferior or self-hating mindset black
Americans had of themselves, and the Black Aesthetic is believed to be an important
component of the economic, political, and cultural empowerment of the Black
This essay will be analyzing Larry
Neal’s “The black Art Movement” to show that the concepts of Black Power,
Nationalism, Black Community, and Performance influenced the formation of “The
Black Art movement” and “The Black Power Movement”, both birthed through the
Black Aesthetics. The intertwining of black art and politics was first articulated
in an essay entitled “The Black Art Movement”, written by Larry Neal. This
essay was basically an overview of The Black Art Movement’s plans, some say a
manifesto. Neal writes “The Black Arts Movement is radically opposed to
any concept of the artist that alienates him from his community”(Neal 272).
This movement was a call to action, calling all black people to cease the allowance
of white culture and assimilation, and the call to create our own. In order to
empower anyone, they need to first have a strong sense of self. Neal envisioned
that when the black community show comradery and join together to create a vibrant,
fresh, and black art form they would become powerful and strengthened in the
black community. He was only one of multiple important artist during the Black
Arts Movement period. Other writers, poets, and essayists illustrated a new
beginning for the black community to overcome their hardships and to rise up
through art. This movement was often said to be the second Black Renaissance, which
was comparing them to the Harlem Renaissance that occurred in the 1920s and 30s.
Both were similar when it came to combining literature, performing arts,
emphasized racial pride, and appreciation of African heritage. But the Black
art movement was more impactful, longer lasting, and it more was political.
This era of the Black Art developed
the concept of an influential and artistic blackness that created controversial,
but significant pieces that caused conversation to be had and healing of souls,
that needed to be mended. This was also a period of true reconstruction, it
became one of the most impactful and liberating movements for the black
community, by taking stereotypes and racism and turning it into artistic value.
Black Art was militant and definitely revolutionary. It asked its audience to
redefine itself according to the new perceptions of beauty and representations of
the past. Kaluma ya Salaam argues that “Black Art’s dynamism, impact, and
effectiveness are a direct result of its partisan nature and advocates for
artistic and political freedom by “any and all means necessary.” (Kaluma ya
Salaam Part 2).
The Black Arts Movement, united
ethics and aesthetics holding the black artist to a new moral and cultural
responsibility for their art. Distinctively black art became a tool by which
the black community could reclaim and harvest their African/Black heritage. The
creation of black art fought against the absorption of their culture into the
white-biased society in which they lived in for centuries. The Black Arts Movement used its
literature, music and drama to speak politically and directly to the community.
The Black Arts Movement
cultivated a manner of expression which gave full voice to its feeling of
desperate, violent rebellion and independence. The publication and adoption of
the black arts is mainly due to the creation of nationally distributed magazines.
These magazines were imperative, because most literary publications of the time
rejected works of the black arts. Magazines such as Freedom ways and Liberator
offered publishing opportunities for young black artists.
These distributions paved the way for
more major critical journals devoted to black Arts such as the Black Dialogue
and the Journal of Black Poetry founded by Joe Goncalves. The development of independent presses,
such as Third World Press, freed black artists from the control of white-mainstream
publishers, that held many artists back in the past. The Movement worked to
liberate the black community by removing the boundaries of their expression. The
Black art movement was integrally linked to the concept of Black Aesthetics. Neal
explains in “The Black Arts Movement” how the reinforcement of racial hierarchy
through the advertisement of white aesthetic will compromise black culture. Racial
hierarchies are reinforced through the constant reminders of a dominant, primary,
white community. Neal explains in his essay that “there are in fact and in
spirit two Americas one black, one white” (Neal). The danger of not counteracting
the white aesthetics, is that it has the ability to trump the need for a black
aesthetic. The Black Aesthetic is the appreciation of the ideologies and perspectives
of art that focuses on Blackness and the Black culture. Using Black Aesthetic was to
advance the liberation of the black people by encouraging and giving them pride
in their love, struggles, beauty and history. “The motive behind the Black aesthetic is the
destruction of the white thing, the destruction of white ideas, and white ways
of looking at the world.” (Neal). Essentially, if culture, beauty and art are
standardized by a white aesthetic, then black culture, beauty and art will be
viewed as known existent and belittled, which reinforces a racial hierarchy.
The concept of the Black Aesthetic
was very important to the African American community, and accepting itself as
Black. Black Aesthetics was a major key to breaking mental chains of past
oppression. For once in U.S. history, during the 60s and 70s white people were
confronted and had to in some ways deal with their racial disparities, and on
the other hand black people were empowering each other. During the 1960s and 1970s
Black meant not only beautiful, but also was a sense of power and pride in the
legacy of African American achievement. Increasing the level of consciousness
was one of the goals for both the Black Art Movement and The Black Power Movement.
One of the results, was black people starting to call themselves Black instead
of Negro, it was a way of breaking free and taking control of what people call
them. Another result was men and women wearing their hair Natural, in such styles
as the Afro; some people also wore African Garments, African pendants and other
jewelry. Many of the black activists would change their given or slave name and
take on and African, or Arab name instead, which represented their rejection of
the forced upon white society and embracement of their African identity. The self-identification with blackness spread
throughout the entire African Diaspora, and became an active participation in
the socio-political empowerment of the black community.
While some say that The Civil Rights
were vastly different from The Black Arts movement and The Black Power Movement,
but in many ways, were influenced by Malcolm X; and can also be viewed as an extension
from the previous Civil Rights Movement. The
Black Power Movement was a vitally important point in history, because it
refers to a period in the 1960s when African-Americans, or blacks, changed
their views about the manner by which they should achieve economic power,
political power, and civil rights. The Black Power Movement began during a
period when black people legally were considered to be equal to all other citizens
of the United States, although in reality of life that was constantly proven to
be otherwise. White society still could not come to terms with seeing black
people as having as much worth and human value as whites. Black Power means the
complete freedom of black people from white oppression by whatever means black
people deem necessary. The term “Black Power” was first popularized by Stokely
Carmichael also known as Kwame Ture in 1966, during a SNCC (Student Nonviolent
Coordination committee) Rally.
Carmichael states in his speech “This is the
twenty-seventh time I have been arrested and I ain’t going to jail no more! The
only way we gonna stop them white men from whuppin’ us is to take over. What we
gonna start sayin’ now is Black Power” (Jeffries 187). Black Power believed in Black Autonomy,
Black Nationalism, Black Self-Determination, and Black Separatism, which caused
a lot of antagonism and strong disapproval from whites and several black
organizations like the NAACP. They disapproved of them because Black Power
Movement did not allow any white people from joining any of their organizations,
they never held back on what they wanted to say to white people, as well as to
the black community who think was watching and waiting for the government and
the white racist society they lived in to make change, instead of making change
themselves. Nonetheless, this movement encouraged the improvement and building
up of black communities, rather than the fight for integration and acceptance
according to white standards. The movement shaped and instilled racial dignity,
self-reliance, and revitalized the importance and need for cultural heritage
and history by utilizing Black Aesthetics. Black Aesthetics was also an important
factor when it came to the Black Power Movement, because it was the key to
freeing minds that has been also caged by mental slavery.
The movement not only represented a
change in practical strategy, but also a change in the way black people thought.
Black Aesthetics was a big part of The Black Power Movement in order to help
instill self-esteem and confidence into the black community, to effectively empower
them, so they rightfully show Black Power. Neal states, in his essay “The Black
Arts Movement” is the “aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power
concept” (Neal 272). This movement also recognized that the what we think of beauty
and the self-esteem of the people were correlated to power, and their focus
became cultivating confidence within the black community through black aesthetics.
With Both movements sharing an
ideology The Black Arts Movement and Black Power Movement merged. The Black Art
Movement was seen as the “concrete expression” of the “political values
inherent in the Black Power concept” (Neal 273). With both movements sharing
the common agenda it was sometimes described as the quest for a black aesthetic.
The Black Power speakers and writers largely reshaped the expectations of what
it meant to be black and defined it to their own standards much alike The Black
Art Movement. Both Black Art Movement and The Black Power Movement rebelled
against the “White American” assumptions of life, and emphasized the importance
of community, ethics, and nationalism. In Conclusion, the concepts of Black
Power, Nationalism, Black Community, and Performance were influences of both
the Black Art movement and Black Power Movement, and both fundamentally built
in Black Aesthetics.
Throughout the 60s and 70s the two
main movements were the Black Power Movement and the Black Arts movements, both
sharing in the ideologies, goals and fundamentals. The main idea they shared
was the power that Black Aesthetics has possession of. The contrast of both
movements was their approach. The Black Arts Movement was a community of black
artist who collectively joined together to create a new unapologetically black art
form that empowered and strengthened their society at the time and in the
future. The Black art movement artist utilized their talents in Dance, Poetry,
Writing, and Drama to speak on a number of issues and politics that affects the
black community. What they focused most on was the reshaping the mindsets of
black people, mentally liberating them to be free. They believed that Black
Aesthetics would be the way they fulfilled their goal. Black Aesthetics was
seen as the catalyst to get the black people to understand and embrace their
selves, and not the adoption of white standards.
By both movements utilizing Black
Aesthetic, they believed it would advance the liberation of the black people by
encouraging and giving them pride in who they are as a people; through their
blackness, their struggles, their beauty and history. The Black Power movement was
about self-determination, nationalism, freedom, and pride, which allowed them
to shake up the way millions of people thoughts and their beliefs. The Black Power
Movement was about completely liberating themselves from white control, and the
white dominating society. Both Movements used Black Aesthetics as a foundation
to liberate the minds of black people, to instill Black pride, Black nationalism,
and sense of community.
Neal, Larry. “The Black Arts
Movement.” The Black Aesthetic. Ed. Addison Gayle, Jr. New
York: Doubleday &Company, Inc., 1971.272 – 290.
Kalamu ya Salaam. “Historical
Background of the Black Arts Movement (BAM)– Part2”
The Black Collegian Online. 28 Nov.
Jeffries, Hasan Kwame. Bloody
Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama’s Black Belt. New York
University Press, 2010.
Smith, Robert C. “Black Power
Movement.” Encyclopedia of African-American Politics.
New York: Facts on File, Inc.,
2003. Facts on File, Inc. African-American History & Culture.
Dubois, William E.B. The Souls of
Black Folks. Translated by Walter Covell, Unabridged, Jimcin Recordings, 1993.
Gates, Henry Louis, and Valerie
Smith. “The Black Arts Era.” The Norton Anthology of African American
Literature, 3rd ed., vol. 2, W.W. Norton & Company, 2014.