Dudley Randell, Broadside Press, and the Black Arts Movement in Detroit, 1960-1995

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Dudley Randell, Broadside Press, and the Black Arts Movement in Detroit, 1960-1995

Author: Julius E. Thompson

All the rage, these days, is found in calling New York the center of the Black Arts Movement. Nuyorican scenes of mythical proportion--East Village, Greenwich Village, Stanley's, St. Mark's, Cedar Bar--are now conjured by the next wave of young intellectuals and poets rebuffing Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s statement that the Black Arts Movement was the "shortest and least successful" movement in African-American cultural history (Time). Those in the know will speak of Umbra, the Black Aesthetic and Dasein. People will speak in generalities about Baraka's move from the Black Mountain School, to Black Nationalism, to Marxism, or talk about chauvinism within the movement. Mr. Julius E. Thompson's Dudley Randell, Broadside Press, and the Black Arts Movement in Detroit, 1960-1995 shows us that, while some main figures resided in New York at one time or another, the strongest publishing arm of the movement was centered thousands of miles away in Detroit, at Randell's Broadside Press.

Thompson's book is a thorough assessment of the press. The book meticulously displays the publishing records and authors of Broadside Press as well as describes the parallel between Broadside and the growth and demise of a northern Black nexus, "Motor City" (Detroit, Michigan). Thompson provides a biographical reading of Randell's Black middle-class upbringing and his family's ultimate arrival in Detroit where the Ford Motor Company was the major employer of Blacks, though Blacks were "[T]he last hired and the first fired." Thompson provides figures on the hirers and the hazards facing Black labor in Detroit. He runs down the numbers on Black owned businesses--barber shops, dress makers, electricians, real estate brokers, lawyers, etc.--, reminding one of W.E.B DuBois' similar account in his seminal essay, "The Talented Tenth." Thompson portrays this booming, urban, Black, American city and suggests that from this economy arose new, "Black controlled institutions" such as the Nation of Islam, NAACP, National Urban League, the eighteen Black newspapers that served Michigan and the pride surrounding Joe Louis, "the Brown Bomber," all of which Thompson utilizes well to set the scene in which Broadside grew.

In Thompson's discussions with Randell, Randell remembers early in his life reading Black luminaries such as Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes while also translating Catullus and Pushkin. Thompson also shows the friendship between Randell and poet Robert Hayden (a Detroit resident and teacher at Randell's alma-mater, Wayne State University). In an especially intimate passage from an interview with Thompson, Randell says, "When I would show Robert Hayden a new poem and he would ask where I was going to publish it, I'd be amazed. Why was he so eager to be published?"

Thompson notes that Randell had a writing community at Wayne State, but that the more lauded community of writers, in Chicago (among them Richard Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks, Margaret Danner, Margaret Walker and Frank Marshell Davis) were too far for Randell, a struggling student and poet, to reach regularly. Thompson suggests that Randell knew of these poets but sadly leaves any formal meetings with this "Chicago group" out. However, Thompson notes that Randell's poem "Legacy: My South" appears in Free Lance (1954) which was the publishing arm of the Chicago group and further implies Randell's relationship to some of the seldom sung, non-New York Black Arts centers (see Aldyn Nielson, Black Chant for more information regarding Free Lance). …

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