The Black Arts Movement: History

The Black Arts Movement (BAM) occurred during the mid 1960s to 1975. The activist and writer, Leroi Jones, also known as Amiri Baraka, founded the movement in Harlem after the assassination of Malcolm X.  Jones also established the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School (BARTS) as an outlet for BAM. The movement was considered the artistic sector of the Black Power Movement. In an essay concerning the Black Arts Movement, Larry Neal stated that the literary movement was the “Aesthetic and Spiritual Sister of Black Power”. It was also considered one of the most influential movements to African American literature due to its ability to inspire blacks to write. Overall, BAM inspired the creation of Black Publishing Companies, theaters, journals, magazines and institutions. The main critiques of the controversial movement by scholars were that it was sexist, homophobic and racially exclusive.
During BAM, the 2nd Wave of the Women’s Movement, the Women’s Liberation Movement was taking place. However, Black Feminism became an important political statement conveyed by the women of the Black Arts Movement. Popular topics of these women were race and economic status, sexism, class oppression and racism. The spirit of the movement was not only to express creativity but also to stabilize the black community. 

Women Scholars of BAM

-       Maya Angelou
-       Nikki Giovanni
-       Sonia Sanchez
-       Toni Morrison
-       Angela Davis
-       Bell Hooks
-       Paula Giddings
-       Gwendolyn Brooks
-       Rosa Guy
-       Lorraine Hansburry
-       Barbara Ann Teer
-       Adrienne Kennedy
-       Clenora Hudson Weems
-       Jayne Cortez
-       Audre Lorde

Angela Davis talks about the meaning of violence. 

Toni Morrison on the challenges of female writers.

Audre Lorde in a series of interviews. 


Alice Walker popularized the term, “Womanism”, in the 1980s. It related to the outgrowth of feminism and argued that feminism did not include Black women’s perspectives. The term critiqued racist and classist aspects of white feminism and recognized the black man as essential to the black woman. “Womanism” was not political like feminism; it just honored the strength and experiences of Black women and their struggle against oppression in their individual lives. 

Africana Womanism

In 1998, Clenora Hudson Weems argued the term, “African Womanism” as not an outgrowth nor kind of feminism. It related to the Africana family and community vs. gender. This cultural ideology insists that Africana women culturally are not at odds with their men; however, they need to unite for the liberation and survival of the Black community. “Africana Womanism” was not an individualistic ideology because it was geared toward a communal identity.

Poetry from Women of the Black Arts Movement

We Real Cool


We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

- Gwendolyn Brooks (1969)

Sonia Sanchez performing "Put on the Sleeves of Love"