What is BAM's history?



Back to BAM

"If we had not had a Black Arts movement in the sixties we certainly wouldn't have had national Black literary figures like Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alice Walker, or Toni Morrison because much more so than the Harlem Renaissance, in which Black artists were always on the leash of white patrons and publishing houses, the Black Arts movement did it for itself. What you had was Black people going out nationally, in mass, saving that we are an independent Black people and this is what we produce."

                  --Robert Chrisman from The Black Scholar

The Black Arts Movement was born in the decade of 1960 and lasted through the early 1970s. Most believe it was conceived by the ideologies of the Black Power Movement and its black artists in response. BAM was born in Harlem, NY and became a revolution just after the assassination of Malcolm X. This tragic event provoked and solidified the movement due to the much struggle and explicit need for African nations to emerge as individuals and in doing so to act through custom and tradition while rising above oppression. BAM became a platform for blacks to artistically develop their sense of beauty and experience.

Following Malcolm X's assassination LeRoi Jones (aka Amiri Baraka) moved to Harlem to open Black Arts Repertory Theater/School (BARTS) to support black art, black nationalism and the black experience. Many black emerging writers were apart of the "Umbra Workshop," which was the "first post-civil rights Black literary group" to create a heeded voice in America. Umbra was a huge influence in BAM's emergence (http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/blackarts). Eventually members of BARTS and Umbra became torn as to think of themselves as political activists or as artists. Many couldn't make the distinction because they felt one needed the other and this tension became a huge part of the black aesthetic. The movement was also fueled by ethics, "that is, from the viewpoint of the oppressed" (Larry Neal, The Black Arts Movement)

LeRoi Jones moved back to the upper-east side of New York and BARTS failed. However its project, the Black Arts Movement, rose into full force because of its close alignment "with the then-burgeoning Black Power movement" (http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/blackarts).

BAM's end came once the Black Power Movement was busted up by our government. Black organizations were "hounded, disrupted, and defeated by repressive government measures, such as Cointelpro and IRS probes" (http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/blackarts/historical.htm). But the expressions and above all the art will forever be immortalized and important. Just like all movements or revolutions, they all must come to an end so another can begin.


1939-1945 World War II

1948: Cold War

1955: Blacks boycott buses in Montgomery; Supreme Court orders school desegregation

1962: Cuban Missile Crisis

1963: U.S. enters Vietnam War

1960-1965: Civil Rights movement

1963: Kennedy assassinated

1963: Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech

1963: President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act

1968: Martin Luther King Jr. assassinated

1973: U.S. leaves Vietnam War

1981: AIDS discovered

1991: Collapse of the Soviet Union

(“U.S. History Timeline) and (“1950-1999”)

Works Sited