New Thoughts on the Black Arts Movement

By Lisa Gail Collins; Margo Natalie Crawford | Go to book overview

1
Black Light on the
Wall of Respect
The Chicago Black Arts
Movement

Margo Natalie Crawford

The subtleties and nuances of the Chicago Black Arts Movement emerged in the intersections of poetry and visual art. In his essay, "Toward a Definition: Black Poetry of the Sixties" (1971), Chicago-based poet and publisher Haki Madhubuti recounts that ""b"lack art of the sixties, on the national scene, started with the advent of LeRoi Jones ("Amiri" Baraka) and the black theater" and ""w"e in the Midwest felt the pressures from both the west and the east coasts."1 In "Two Schools, New York and Chicago: Contemporary African-American Photography of the 60s and 70s," a 1986 exhibit of African American photography, curated by Deborah Willis, the distinguishing traits of the Chicago Black Arts Movement photographers and the New York photographers emerge as subtle differences in the representations of black urban style.2 In order to uncover the specific texture of the Chicago Black Arts Movement, it is necessary to unveil the full significance of the legendary mural, the Wall of Respect. This 30 x 60' outdoor mural that was completed in 1967 and destroyed in 1971 became a locus of cultural activity (dance, poetry, drama, and public speaking). In order to understand the specificity of the Chicago Black Arts Movement, we must remember the significance of 43rd and Langley, the economically depressed, culturally rich site of the Wall of Respect. In the groundbreaking text, Black Arts: An Anthology of Black Creations (1969), poet Askia Muhammad Touré proclaims, "Look at the progress of the Chicago artists—the Wall of Respect plus the community workshops in the arts that they formed. … "E"very large Black community should have a Wall of Respect."3 The Wall of Respect was a cultural production that included people who lived in the neighborhood, the artists who painted the mural, the poets who read their work at the Wall, the photographers whose art reproduced and preserved the Wall, and the many Black Arts participants who lived in other parts of Chicago's "South Side" but

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