The Black Arts movement came out of the Black Power Movement. These poets, artists, musicians and writers were politically motivated. Imani Imiri Baraka was the father of the Black Arts Movement from 1965 to 1975. On Thursday, February 23, 1017 a noted panel presented the history and culture of the Black Arts Movement past and present at Northeastern Crossing. The panel consisted of L’Merchie Frazier, Askia Toure, Catherine Morris and Jacqui Parker with moderator Valerie Stephens.
Valerie Stephens opened the discussion with a quote from the great Dr. Nina Simone, “You can’t help it, an artists’ duty, as far as I’m concerned is to reflect the time.” As I listened to the opening statements of each of these panelists I realized what this statement truly meant.
Askia Toure expounded on the written culture and the struggle. His “War Poem” gave tribute to the soldiers, scholars and writers of not only then but now: people such as Larry Neal, Tome Feelings and Nozanke Shange, August Wilson and Octavia Butler. There are Warrior Women like Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, Sonia and Jane Freedom fighters like, Frederick Douglas, Harriett Tubman, Eldridge Cleaver and Kwami Ture who fought the long ward.
Artist and educator, L’Merchie Frazier gave a history of such artists like poet Phyllis Wheatley whose book “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, was published in 1773. In this book Phyllis references the, Ethiops and, that ‘Puritans should be ashamed of the enslavement of anyone. ” Phyllis Wheatley was a kidnapped African and educated by the Wheatleys, hence her given name.Phyllis was a member of Boston’s Abolitionist Committee, alongside Prince Hall. Though she was kidnapped at the age of twelve her words gave vision to the rise of those such as Askia Toure. Frazier spoke about Frederick Douglas’ 170 photos which he used while traveling through Europe to change the image of Black people in the minds of white people.
His goal was to also confront what is right, freedom, democracy and the integrity of Black people. He was changing theperception and mythology of the African people.Edmonia Lewis was the sculptor of the bust of Robert Shaw which sits in the African American Museum on Beacon Hill which you can visit to see the bust. Frazier spoke candidly of these artists like Lewis whose shoulders we stand on and the movement is still alive today.Catherine Morris,founder and Artistic creator of Boston Arts Soul Music Festival began this journey speaking with elders and her peers to find out what the Black Arts movement was like “back in the day’. BAMS will debut in 2018 in Franklin Park.Morris had conversations with Valerie Stephens about black art during the 1960’s and 70’s. As she talked with folks she saw the change in body language and excitement when they spoke and reminisced on people, places and events.
When asked about where it is today she saw body language change to less excitement. Her role now is to connect the generations in a way that is as she says, “cool, relevant powerful and tactful. Food, music, art and dance is what brings black and brown folks together.” This festival is to get neighborhoods exploring each other again and musicians in Roxbury, should know artists in Mattapan and attend events across the river in Cambridge is Morris’s vision. She doesn’t want our youth to the forget the past, but look at their history not as ancient but relevant in their lives.