Partin’ the Waters: Arts and the movement

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Art can be collective, committing or functional or art can be just for art’s sake. Often the lively arts, music, song, dance and the theatrical arts can be tools to raise awareness about social movements that aim to change the status quo. So can the visual arts be a companion tool to sharpen the fighting capacity of those for fighting change. Art can increase the I SHALL NOT BE MOVED RESOLVE.

In 1955, The Little Rock Central nine faced down bayonets and white mobs in an effort to desegregate Central High School. The recalcitrant and racist Governor Faubus threw down the gauntlet and faced off with President Eisenhower and the NAACP, CORE and other rams poised to assault the remnants of the peculiar institution of slavery. Charles Mingus, composer and jazz (Black Classical Music) took to the field with the composition Fables of Faubus. Fables of Faubus ridiculed Faubus for being “so ridiculous.” The composition probably did not do much to move Faubus, but it advanced the resolve of black America to smash desegregation. We do know that the mobs dispersed when President Eisenhower ordered the guards to fix their bayonets. Mingus was not the only musician to write “fire music.”

Who can forget “A Raisin in the Sun” by playwright Lorraine Hansberry. The TV production starred icons Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee and a young Lou Gossett. With the support of the government real estate moguls, white citizen mobs joined in an unholy alliance to establish restrictive covenants to keep black people from moving and living in the neighborhoods of their choice. These exclusive social devices became the forerunner of redlining and other practices for insuring that we were locked in slums and ghettoes with tangled webs of pathology. The blindingly talented and beautiful Ms. Hansberry brought to the stage a black family who decided to pay the cost by sacrificing comfort and money for dignity. Raisin in the Sun was subversive to the existing social order and psychic liberation to all those impacted by restrictive covenants and redlining.

Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach were two of the earliest artists to take the pulsating rhythms and captivating harmonies of jazz and produce Freedom Suite, which reflected the rising nationalist and freedom sentiments of the black masses. A flood of consciousness music became entrenched in the mindset of artist-intellectuals and the dam burst.

Most baby boomers and generation Xers will bristle when they hear Sam Cooke opening the freedom spigot with A CHANGE IS GOING TO COME. Around the time that Goodman, Schwerney and Chaney were murdered in Mississippi, hundreds of students of conscience were pouring into Lowndes County and the Black Belt to launch a new phase of struggle. Nina Simone, our black princess went along to the Black Belt with the haunting Mississippi GODDAM, and I WISH I KNEW HOW IT FELT TO BE FREE. These songs were derivatives of Billie Holiday singing about STRANGE FRUIT on southern trees.

Curtis Mayfield launched a cache of songs such as WE ARE A WINNER AND THE SOUNDTRACK FOR CLAUDINE. Sails were put beneath the anti- Vietnam War ship by Marvin Gaye and his not to be matched WHAT’S GOING ON LP.

Mari Evans, Amir Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Don L Lee picked up the pace of the Harlem Renaissance writers and developed a newer aesthetic that enabled society to view the black presence in a different manner. Great novels came forth by young and old black writers. The 2000’s will include the name of Attica Locke and Terry McMillan and, of course, the great one Tony Morrison.

Conscious ART opens the pathway and broadens the vision of poets and seers and the ordinary brother and sister. The black aesthetic is even better when we own our own cultural houses. VIVA Eileen and THE ENSEMBLE!