Breaking the Camel’s Back
After the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965, Jones left his wife and two kids, and moved to Harlem as a dedicated radical Black Cultural Nationalist. He aligned himself with the Nation of Islam (NOI), and began sharing many of their nationalist views (Amiri Baraka; Poet, Playwright, Activist 12). His writings, according to critics, would allegedly gain bigoted connotation during this period, as he became publicly vocal in his convictions and he relaxed his sense of self-censorship (Brown 10). In his past, he had denounced the pacifist nonviolent tactics of the Civil Rights leaders, but now he stood in staunch opposition; he began to advocate for the pragmatism of militant resistance (Brown 10).
During this period, he would be accused of homophobia, anti-Semitism, male chauvinism, and other intolerance; despite this, his novel System of Dante’s Hell (1965) was well received by critics. He founded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School (BARTS) in Harlem, which would later become the birthplace of the Black Arts Movement (BAM) (Brown 10). During this time, he opened a publishing company called Jihad, which means ‘struggle’ in Arabic. In 1966, he remarried to Silvia Robinson, whom he found to be a beautiful, focused, and responsible actress.
Shortly thereafter, Jones was arrested during the 1967 Newark Riots, and although he was later acquitted, this furthered his radicalism and dedication to the Black struggle. After his acquittal, he changed his name to Amiri Baraka, and his wife changed hers to Amina (Brown 11). His poetry collection Black Music (1967) describes the abandonment of white people for an all-black existence; his poems advocated violence as a means of achieving social justice, and encouraged the use of words as weapons. Canonical Consideration.
The Black Arts Movement
(historical information here; Canon discussed on last page)
“The Black Arts Movement was the aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept.” – Larry Neal (1968 Essay)
After the assassination of Malcolm X on February 21, 1965, LeRoi Jones completely abandoned his hopes of racial equality through assimilation and interaction. His play Dutchman, would be the last work intended for an integrated world. By this time, Jones had secured a reputation, alongside James Baldwin, as the most published and nationally respected black contemporary writer. He moved to Harlem and established the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School (BARTS), which would become the birthplace of the “Black Arts Movement”. Black artists began to reject traditional methods of literary representation in light of the society’s failures to reach social equality.
In 1965, Jones published “Black Art”, which was a poem that highlighted “Black Arts” aesthetic convictions. The movement advocated that blacks take a stance of self-defense, and to resist oppression “by any means necessary”. This attitude to confront the hierarchical social structure in society, coupled with the deaths of Civil Rights advocates, helped cement Jones as a leading national black figure.
The Black Arts movement advocated for armed resistance, and it seemed to many blacks as the only legitimate means to achieve black liberation. Unlike the Non-Violent movements that became popularized in the early 1960s, Black Arts advocates rejected integration and assimilation. The Black Arts Movement and the Black Power Movement fed off of each other, and BAM is often considered as the artistic subset of the movement.
Even though Jones’ only remained in Harlem for a few months, and BARTS was left in financial shambles, the Black Arts Movement would prove to be resilient. The influences of this period have been monumental on contemporary forms of artistic expression.