The Black Arts Movement: Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s

By James Edward Smethurst | Go to book overview

By 1970 it becomes possible to talk about a Black Arts movement that truly spanned the United States—albeit one that contained some large ideological and aesthetic contradictions and significant local variations. A number of the pioneering institutions, such as BARTS, Umbra, the Watts Writers Workshop, the FST, the Black House, the BCP, and BAW had disappeared or diminished radically, but others had taken their place as the movement, like Black Power, spread to virtually every city and many smaller towns in which there was a discernible African American community. A quick look at JBP'S correspondence and the farflung reports of Black World's annual black theater issue reveals not only the geographical spread of the movement but also the network of communication and cooperation (and debate) that was the mature Black Arts movement. Not only did activists in, say, Danville, Illinois, or Little Rock, Arkansas, find out what was going on in San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, or New York but black artists and intellectuals in cities more famous for radical African American politics and art really felt that they were part of an emerging nation as well as a mass movement.

As the movement grew and institutions developed, conflicts that were ideological, material (e.g., the distribution of public and foundation grant money), or personal became more intense in many respects—though as we have seen, those intense conflicts were potentially if not absolutely inherent to the complicated matrix of political and cultural radicalism out of which the movement grew. These conflicts not only contributed to the decline of the movement but also to how we remember and interpret the movement today.

As has been argued throughout this study, the Black Arts movement devel

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