The Black Arts Movement

Black Americans have found power in organizing. From the Non-violence Movement of America to the Civil Rights Movement to the Black Lives Matter Movement, Black Americans were committed to unify in their fight to transform their social and political statuses in the country.

In these movements, the participants used strategies like protests (nonviolent and other), religious outreach, and reaching out to the media to convey the message that Black Americans deserved the right to political and social voices like their White American counterparts.

There was one movement that sought political and social change through art. That movement was the Black Arts Movement. Starting in the mid-1960s, the Black Arts Movement was led by literary, musical, and expressive artists that were influenced by the Black Power Movement.

Participants in the movement organized shortly after Civil Rights Activist Malcolm X’s assassination. Black artists (mostly male) formed a group called the Umbra Writers Workshop that worked on poems and short stories that focused on the lives and stories of black people (mainly residing in New York and New Jersey).

This network expanded to music composers, actors, dancers, and some women artists that also wanted to share their stories and gain their political and social voices. The movement produced a variety of publications that highlighted black voices such as the Journal of Black Poetry, Negro Digest, Black World, and The Black Woman. After some disagreements within the networks of the movement, the movement ended in the mid-1970s.

While the movement was not perfect –as it received criticism from being exclusive towards feminine, Semitic, and LGBT groups—many artists and historians still recognize the movement as something that was successful at advancing the black population. Artists who came out of the movement include: Gil Scott-Heron, Audre Lorde, Sonia Sanchez, James Baldwin, and Nikki Giovanni.