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May 9, 2012

By James, b Chigozie
Department of English and Literary Studies
University of Nigeria, Nsukka


The Black Arts Movement (BAM), usually referred to as a “sixties” movement, came together around 1965 and broke apart around 1975/1976. The movement is assumed to have actually started in the Northeast America as a “separate and distinct local initiatives across a wide geographic area” and eventually came together to form the broader national movement. Hence, New York City is often referred to as the “birthplace” of the Black Arts Movement, because it was home to many revolutionary Black artists and activists. The movement was characterized by an acute self awareness and activism. This movement inspired to a large extent, black people to establish ownership of publishing houses, magazines, journals and art institutions. Furthermore, the Black Arts Movement sought “to link, in a highly conscious manner, art and politics in order to assist in the liberation of black people,” and produced an increase in the quantity and viability of African American artistic production for this reason, Ishmael Reed explained the positive aspects of the Black Arts Movement:
I think what Black Arts did was to inspire a whole lot of Black people to write. Moreover, there would be no Multiculturalism movement without Black Arts…. Blacks gave the example that you don’t have to assimilate. You could do your own thing, The challenge is for cultural sovereignty and Black Arts struck a blow for that.
This shows that the Black Arts Movement really, achieved a lot in America. It is infact, the single most controversial movement in the history of African America literature, possibly in the American literature as a whole.
Leading theorists, thinkers, writers and key players of the Black Arts Movement include: Amiri Baraka (Born as LeRoi Jones), who later founded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre in Harlem (1965). He was triggered, just as the movement itself, by the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965. He is sometimes described as the pioneer of the movement. They also include other thinkers who, directly or indirectly, influenced the movement: Houston A. Baker, Jr., Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Addison Gayle, Jr., Hoyt W. Fuller, Larry Neal, Haki R. Madhubuti, Mari Evans, Nikki Giovanni, Gil-Scott Heron, Ishmael Reed, Kalamu Ya Salaam, Sonia Sanchez, Ntozake Shange, Askia M. Toure, Marvin X, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ed Bullins, Eldridge Ceaver, Jayne Cortez, Harold Cruse, Lorraine Hansberry, Maulana Ron Karenga, Etheridge Knight, Andrienne Kennedy, Quincy Troupe, John Alfred Williams, Steve Cannon, Ray Durem, Rosa Guy, David Henderson, Calvin Hicks, and Maya Angelou, to mention but a few.
The prominent theme of the movement is the independence of the Black people in the American literary society and cultural autonomy. The literature of the movement, generally written in Black English vernacular are confrontational in tone, addressed such issues as interracial tension, sociopolitical awareness, and the relevance of African history and culture to the black in the United States. During this period, African American writers, performing artists and visual artists made black culture and the political struggles of the black people world wide, their main reason of existence. Hence, art’s capacity to endow the artist, viewer, and others with self-affirmation and a sense of cultural authority, became the benchmark for the Black Arts Movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
In one word, both inherently and overtly political in content, the Black Arts Movement was the only American literary movement to advance “social engagement” as a sine qua non of its aesthetic.

The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned the 1920s and 1930s. At the time, it was referred to as the “New Negro Movement”, named after the 1925 anthology by Alain Locke. Though it was centered in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, many French-speaking black writers from African and Caribbean colonies who lived in Paris were also influenced by the Harlem Renaissance.
Historians disagree as to the when the Harlem Renaissance began and ended. The Harlem Renaissance is unofficially recognized to have spanned from about 1919 until the early or mid 1930s. The movement grew out of the changes that had taken place in the African American community since the abolition of slavery. These accelerated as a consequence of World War I and the great social and cultural changes in early 20th century United States. Contributing factors leading to the Harlem Renaissance were the “Great Migration” of African American to northern cities, which concentrated ambitions people in place where they could encourage each other, and the First World War, which had created new industrial work opportunities for tens of thousands of people. One great factor leading to the decline of this era is the “Great Depression”.
The notable figures or key players who either directly or indirectly contributed to the success of the Harlem Renaissance include such novelists, poets, and playwrights as: Hubert Harrison, “The father of Harlem Radicalism”, Jean Toomer, Jessie Fauset, Claude Mckay, Zora Neale Hurston, James Weldon Johnson, Alain Locke, Eric D.Walrond, Langston Hughes, Arna Bontemps, Rudolph Fisher, Countee Cullen, Nella Larson, George Schuyler, Wallace Thurman, Carl Vechten, Charlse Gilpin, Waring Cuney, and Dorathy Kruger, to mention but a few.
Moreover, the themes of the movement cannot be overemphasized. Some common themes represented during the Harlem Renaissance were the influence of the experiences of slavery and emerging African-American folk traditions on black identity, the effects of institutional racism, the dilemmas inherent in performing and writing for elite white audiences, and the question of how to convey the experiences of modern black life in the Urban North. Hence, characterizing the Harlem Renaissance was an overt radical pride that came to be represented in the idea of the “New Negro”, who through intellect and production of literature, art, and music could challenge the pervading racism and stereotypes, to promote progressive or socialist politics, and racial and social integration.
In one word, Renaissance was more than a literary or artistic movement; it possessed a certain sociological development, particularly through a new racial consciousness and racial integration.

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