Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Editorial: In defense of Black artists and the Black Liberation Movement: The case of Amiri Baraka

First Published: Unity, Vol. 3, No. 7, March 28-April 10, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The history of attacks and attempts to crush the Black Liberation Movement in the United States is well documented and known to a great many people both in this country and around the world. Recently revelations from the COINTELPRO operation of the U.S. government (which almost openly admits to the murder and terror reigned upon Black people in the 1960’s and 1970’s) gave us a glimpse of the extent to which the U.S. white racist ruling class and government will go to stop the forward development of Black people’s struggle for land and power, the basis for Black liberation.

One aspect of the systematic attack on Black people has been the continued attempts to silence the voice of the revolutionary Black artists; to undermine the creation of revolutionary Black literature and art, and to attack the culture and the cultural resistance of the masses of Black people to American oppression and exploitation.

This attack on Black artists is woven into the overall suppression of Black people as a part of the racism and national oppression that permeates every aspect of American life.

The attack on Black culture has been part and parcel of this oppression since early in U.S. history. In the beginning there was the attempt to totally destroy the culture of the enslaved Africans, denying them the use of their language and religion, as well as their music and art. This pattern of attack has continued throughout the U.S. Laws were written into the books making it illegal for Blacks to learn to read and write, and otherwise create any form of literature and art.

However these laws did not stop the development of Black literature and art during slavery. The underground movement of the slaves to read and write, the use of the spiritual, as both artistic form as well as a code of resistance, the development of the slave narratives and Black folktales, the oral tradition of story telling – all developed despite the attacks upon the masses of Black people and the attempts to destroy Black culture.

The development of a widespread literacy movement among the ex-slaves during the Reconstruction period led to the further development of and helped to unleash the potential of the Black artist. The Harlem Renaissance, the tremendous outpouring of in the 1930’s and 1940’s, as well as the 1960’s Black Arts Movement, attest to the resistance and determination of Black people to develop Black culture as a weapon to free themselves.

The leading figures of the Black Arts Movement have constantly been attacked. Claude McKay, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, W.E.B. DuBois and many other major literary figures were driven into exile by the racist U.S.

Langston Hughes’ most revolutionary writings have been suppressed in this country. Paul Robeson was hounded by the U.S. white ruling establishment until his death a few years ago.

The Black Arts Movement of the 1960’s has all but been eliminated from the history books, and most of the literature from that period is now out of print, suppressed; and many of the artists are denied avenues to earn a living at their trade.

This war against Black literature and art continues to this day and is actually beginning to intensify again as the struggles of Black people are rising. One glaring example is the case of Brother Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones, a member of the League of Revolutionary Struggle (ML).

As many people know, Baraka is and has been a leading figure of the Black Arts Movement since the early 1960’s, and is actually referred to as the “Father of the Black Arts Movement” because of his pioneering writings (both in content and form) on the development of Black culture in its relationship to the struggle of Black people for liberation. Not only has Brother Baraka continued to create as a writer, but he writes as an activist engaged in the struggles of the people for social change in America. He is an internationally respected poet and writer who has lectured in Africa, Europe, Japan and the Caribbean islands on Black art and the Black freedom struggle, in addition to writing plays, essays, poetry, literary and music criticism, making a major contribution to the literature of Black people.

Yet in spite of all this, he is the subject of constant attack by the white bourgeois establishment and the government. Brother Baraka has been subjected to the continuous espionage activities of the COINTELPRO, and most recently faces possible incarceration on the misdemeanor charge of “resisting arrest” stemming from an incident last summer in which he was attacked and beaten by the New York City police.

The police attack on Baraka is no surprise to Black people who are attacked regularly by the police. But the fact that they have turned this attack into a charge against him, and then turned the legal proceeding into a political trial in which Black artists and people are on trial, must bring a response from Black people everywhere. The court proceedings remind one of the old (new) South justice. The jury had only one “Black.” The DA introduced evidence that was not supposed to be allowed. Baraka and his family were character-assassinated as the prosecution tried to paint a picture of a crazed, wife-beating fanatical Black artist to the jury and the public through the, media.

The court stalled, hemmed and hawed, and finally tried, convicted and then on December 28 sentenced Baraka to 90 days in jail at Rikers Island Prison in New York. In his statement at the sentencing the DA let everyone know that Baraka should go to jail to teach Black people a lesson, and because he was using his position as a writer to attack the government – a statement so outrageous that even white journalists from the white bourgeois press had to protest it as an attack on First Amendment rights. Only mass protests in New York and throughout the U.S. helped force Baraka’s release three days later.

This case represents a new wave of attack on Black artists and Black people. It must arouse every element in the Black Liberation Movement to action. It is a repeated case of Paul Robeson and others. It is a continuation of the attempts to silence Baraka as a voice which hounds the oppressive forces in America, to destroy him, tie him up in long legal proceedings, discredit him, harass him, isolate him. We must not let it happen. We must move. Black artists and activists must raise back up the banner of Black art! We must raise back up the banner of Black liberation! We must fight all and any attempts to suppress Black art and attack Black artists. We must begin by supporting the case of Amiri Baraka.

Organizing efforts are taking place to build support for Amiri Baraka’s case. UNITY urges its readers to contribute to this struggle. You can circulate petitions demanding that Baraka’s unjust conviction be overturned, donate funds for legal expenses or help organize a fund raising activity, and help publicize the case through the media and mass organization newsletters in your area. To contribute funds or to obtain petitions, fact sheets and further information, contact:

On the East Coast: People’s Defense Committee, P.O. Box 242, New York, New York 10026.

On the West Coast: People’s Justice Committee, c/o Black Student Union, Laney College, 900 Fallon, Oakland, California 94607.