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This Far by Faith

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1526-1775: from AFRICA to AMERICA1776-1865: from BONDAGE to HOLY WAR1866-1945: from EMANCIPATION to JIM CROW1946-1966: from CIVIL RIGHTS to BLACK POWER1967-TODAY: from CRISIS, A SEARCH FOR MEANINGTODAY: The Journey Continues
1526-1775: from AFRICA to AMERICA1776-1865: from BONDAGE to HOLY WAR1866-1945: from EMANCIPATION to JIM CROW
1526-1775: from AFRICA to AMERICA1776-1865: from BONDAGE to HOLY WAR1866-1945: from EMANCIPATION to JIM CROW
1946-1966: from CIVIL RIGHTS to BLACK POWER
Next Journey
The Black Arts Movement 1967-TODAY: from CRISIS, A SEARCH FOR MEANING



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Timeline: 1946-1966 View Detailed Timeline
1967-TODAY: from CRISIS, A SEARCH FOR MEANINGTODAY: The Journey Continues
1967-TODAY: from CRISIS, A SEARCH FOR MEANINGTODAY: The Journey Continues



1946-1966: from CIVIL RIGHTS to BLACK POWER
The Black Arts Movement



"I was born on the congo; I walked to the fertile crescent and built the sphinx; I designed a pyramid so tough that a star that only glows; every one hundred years falls into the center giving divine; perfect light; I am bad...; My son noah built new/ark and; I stood proudly at the helm as we sailed on a soft summer day; I turned myself into myself and was jesus; men intone my loving name; All praises All praises; I am the one who would save" --Nikki Giovanni "Ego Tripping" (excerpt, 1969)



One month after Malcolm X's assassination in February 1965, the highly respected writer LeRoi Jones moved from Manhattan's Lower East Side to Harlem, from the integrated world where he was a celebrated poet, essayist, and playwright to the black one, where he intended to develop a more political and spiritual art. In Harlem, Jones founded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School. At that moment, the Black Arts Movement was born.


Protectress of the Oppressed

Protectress of the Oppressed


Other black artists in the country's history - poet Phyllis Wheatley, painter Henry Tanner, singer Mahalia Jackson - had drawn on the Holy Spirit for inspiration and content. The Black Arts movement attempted to synthesize spirituality and politics while remaining artistically relevant. It was a movement that provided community and spiritual meaning alongside - or, in some cases, in place of - organized religion. In a 1968 essay, "The Black Arts Movement," writer Larry Neal proclaimed Black Arts as the "aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept."

Poets and musicians of the Black Arts movement were compared to preachers. "LeRoi Jones (who took the name Amiri Baraka in 1968), Don Lee, Sonia Sanchez, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, The Last Poets - check out the readings they gave in churches," says theologian James Cone. "The poets and the music gave a language to what was happening with black folks at that time."


Black Jesus

Black Jesus


Black artists produced poetry, music, and literature by black people, for black people, about black people. Their art spoke to the condition of being in America, but not of it. Mixing elements of Malcolm X's message with the wisdom of their grandmothers, they called upon black people to know themselves and their strategies for survival.

Their art both celebrated and lampooned the idea of Jesus upon which black America had rested its hopes for so long. Some painted their visions of a black Jesus.

Black Art romanticized Africa as the home of kings, queens, mathematicians and holy men, as though blacks were reaffirming, "God is in Africa, we are of Africa, God is in us." This black aesthetic lived in the culture of the street, presaging rap music and hip-hop.

The Black Arts movement was not entirely separate from organized religion. Abiodun Oyewole of the Last Poets wrote poetry inspired by his practice in the African religion of Yoruba. Although Oyewole makes it clear that going to Church "was totally against the revolutionary rules," black artists "took Jesus and made him [theirs]," rewriting and redrawing to create Jesus in the image of a black man. Writer LeRoi Jones locates the heart of black art in Sunni Islam. "As you begin to beat your way back through the symbols," wrote Jones, "getting close to the source of what Black art is, you begin to see that it comes out of Islam. The closeness of man with natural evidence of Divinity is what art was about in the beginning - to reveal, to manifest Divinity that man can understand; to make images that reveal Divinity, that reveal the presence of the One Force that animates everything."

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Horace Clarence Boyer, Professor Emeritus at University of Massachusetts at Amherst, on the role of the black church today




People of Faith


 James Cone
James Cone

 Albert Cleage
Albert Cleage


Did You Know?



Women played an important role in the Black Arts movement.
more


The widely acknowledged fathers of the Rap movement first read poetry at a memorial for Malcolm X.
more


In 1969 a gospel song "crossed over" and was widely played on American radio.
more

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