Reclaiming Our Way promoting the well-being of African American children & families

18Jan/140

Amiri Baraka (1934-2014) – Revolutionary Exemplar (with modest video tribute)

Today I join many of you, and others throughout the world, in acknowledging the life and legacy of Amiri Baraka. While a ritual of remembrance is held in Newark, New Jersey, many others of us, in our own way, will pay respects to a man whose ideas, actions and creative contribution helped to transform our collective self-perceptions as an African people in America, and indeed the larger American literary scene. While working closely with his contemporaries, Amiri Baraka, especially, demonstrated the courage, creativity, vision and outspokenness that helped transform the ideas among many people throughout the nation and world.

In the midst of our discussion about Amiri Baraka's creative contributions to American society (and beyond), I'd also encourage all of us to keep in mind that there was also Amiri Baraka, the very involved family man. While we remember Amiri Baraka, let us also keep the larger Baraka family in our thoughts and prayers, as their loss is particularly intimate.

For all interested in a far more comprehensive (and personal) set of reflections on the life and legacy of Amiri Baraka, I recommend the thorough compilation of articles and reflections pulled together on Cultural Front. The list alone gives one a great sense of how truly far-reaching Amiri Baraka's influence has been. Further below, there are several videos which provide an additional window (even if small in the larger scheme) into the ideas, contributions and legacy of Amiri Baraka.

Before the videos, though, one of the pieces included at Cultural Front is one by Greg Tate, posted on January 14th at Ebony. The following is a brief excerpt that begins to capture the breadth of Amiri Baraka's influence on African American life and culture:

The Black Arts Movement that Baraka godfathered (in ways alleged by some former da capo enforcers to be as Corleonean, and even Caligulan, as Conceptual) transformed the relationship between Black American society and its poets, painters, dancers, novelists and serious musicians. It challenged Black artists to be more accessible and engaged with grassroots folk; it raised esthetic, political and historical consciousness within Black America, rocked the bourgeoisie and the boulevard's working-class alike.

The Movement also fostered radioactive waves of self-love ethnic pride, tribal bonds and identity. Some commentators (like this reporter) believe Baraka’s rhetorically excessive brand of hyper-nationalism, while not immune to charges of Jewbaiting and whitey-hating, was a necessary counter-supremacist corrective: centuries of Black self-loathing, born of constitutionally and tacitly legal forms of American racism imposed on folk of African descent required extreme measures.

Say this for Baraka—he gave back to White supremacy as good and bad as he got. My mother, who maintained a friendship with the Barakas for decades, always liked to say, “Ooh, that man has a wicked tongue. Glad he never put that tongue on me!” A now dearly departed D.C. co-worker, Harlee Little, often described Baraka as a “word magician” capable of casting linguistic spells on his enemies liable to hurt them bad. To Baraka, once a rabid fan of Mandrake the Magician, Black Arts had a meaning beyond the obvious: he dreamed of BAM’s expressions deposing pale skin-did demonic forces.

Some Baraka admirers, colleagues, cronies and debunkers (like the Panthers) found the cultural aspects of his nationalism a tad too cultish and indulgent in pseudo-African pageantry for their taste. The Movement’s near-blind idolatry of all things Black as more beautiful than anything White got parodied by genius Black comic minds like Richard Pryor and George Clinton as soon as they felt safe.

Yet without the precedent and rage of the Black Arts Movement, it’s doubtful that various Ivy League schools, and even many HBCUs, would’ve felt pressured by students to create African-American studies programs or die. Many currently-employed Black professors/celebrity-intellectuals at upper-echelon schools wouldn’t have jobs today, nor would such capitalized cultural touchstones as Soul Train, BET, Essence, the NEA Jazz Masters Program, or the Alvin Ailey Company have found the funding or the audience to exist.

Black Arts branded blackness in ways market-savvy, capitalist America could understand. Baraka’s own poetic dynamism also gave rise to the generation of movement poets who would ultimately lend hiphop its tongue-lashing voice—David Henderson, Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, Amus Mor, Jayne Cortez, the Last Poets, Carolyn Rodgers, Mari Evans, Gil Scott-Heron. The equation is simple: no Black Arts Movement, no lyrical precedents for Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, Nas, Wu-Tang Clan, Mos Def, Kanye or Jay Z. Without Baraka and other Black Arts movement, there’d have been no radicalizing or modernizing lyrical precedents for hiphop’s streetwise poesy to build upon.

 

Amiri Baraka on his poetry and breaking rules, with E. Ethelbert Miller

Poet E. Ethelbert Miller introduces Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) as one of the most prolific writers of the century in this 1998 edition of HoCoPoLitSo's The Writing Life. They talk about the writers that influenced his work: Charlie Olson, the Black Mountain Group, Frank O'Hara and Allen Ginsberg. Baraka reads his first published poem, "Preface to a 20 Volume Suicide Note." A discussion on the link between his poetry and music precedes a reading of a section of the poem "In the Tradition," which touches on the heritage of African-American music. The conversation concludes with Baraka's greatest hope for American poetry -- that the great poets will find their voices in a collective way in order to discover literature that speaks against the rules.

 

Amiri Baraka Speaks to the Importance of African-American History

Amiri Baraka speaks to the importance of African-American history in this final event of the 2011 Community MLK Celebration. He reads from his works and takes questions from the audience gathered at Culbreth Theatre. @ The University of Virginia.

 

Amiri Baraka: University of Pennsylvania Artist-in-Residence

The Center for Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania... an evening of poetry and jazz music with the iconic poet, political activist, and founder of the Black Arts Movement. March 14, 2013.

 

Democracy Now Special on Amiri Baraka - Part 1, Featuring Sonia Sanchez, Felipe Luciano, Larry Hamm, Komozi Woodard

We spend the hour looking at the life and legacy of Amiri Baraka, the poet, playwright and political organizer who died Thursday at the age of 79. Baraka was a leading force in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. In 1963 he published "Blues People: Negro Music in White America," known as the first major history of black music to be written by an African American. A year later he published a collection of poetry titled "The Dead Lecturer" and won an Obie Award for his play, “Dutchman." After the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965, he moved to Harlem and founded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre. In the late 1960s, Baraka moved back to his hometown of Newark and began focusing more on political organizing, prompting the FBI to identify him as "the person who will probably emerge as the leader of the pan-African movement in the United States." Baraka continued writing and performing poetry up until his hospitalization late last year, leaving behind a body of work that greatly influenced a younger generation of hip-hop artists and slam poets. We are joined by four of Baraka’s longtime comrades and friends: Sonia Sanchez, a renowned writer, poet, playwright and activist; Felipe Luciano, a poet, activist, journalist and writer who was an original member of the poetry and musical group The Last Poets; Komozi Woodard, a professor of history at Sarah Lawrence College and author of "A Nation Within a Nation: Amiri Baraka and Black Power Politics"; and Larry Hamm, chairman of the People’s Organization for Progress in Newark, New Jersey.

Democracy Now Special on Amiri Baraka - Part 2

We are continuing our special on the life and legacy of the poet, playwright, and political organizer Amiri Baraka. He died on Thursday in Newark, New Jersey, at the age of 79. Baraka was a leading force in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

And to talk more about Amiri Baraka’s legacy, we’re joined by four guests. In Philadelphia, Sonia Sanchez us, the renowned writer, poet, playwright, activist and one of the foremost leaders of the black studies movement. She’s the author of over a dozen books, including Morning Haiku, Shake Loose My Skin and Homegirls and Handgrenades. Sanchez is a poet laureate of Philadelphia and a longtime friend and colleague of Amiri Baraka.

And here in the studio, we’re joined by three guests: Felipe Luciano, poet, activist, journalist and writer. He knew Amiri Baraka for 43 years. He’s a former chairman of the Young Lords and was an original group of the poetry and musical group The Last Poets.

Komozi Woodard is a professor of history at Sarah Lawrence College, the author of A Nation Within a Nation: Amiri Baraka and Black Power Politics.

And Larry Hamm is with us, chairman of the People’s Organization for Progress.

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