Posted by: Khepera | Sunday, 18 July 2004

POV: Baraka on Ron Milner & the Black Arts Movement

Ron Milner was a mentor, and friend of my family. I have put this in another post, to allow the import of this to be uncompromised.

This is a call, an evocation, for those with the ears to hear, the heart to feel, and the grip ta git it….


Goodness Descending or On Hold, Another Man Done Gone

A. My Man Ron Milner as a Paradigm of Our Losses

Ron, it’s so cold, so cold. That our whole young phalanx of resisters insister, militants, insurgents, revolutionaries, the black Intellectuals who rose mid sixties to challenge the entire intellectual, psychological cultural basis of White Supremacy Slave Owning America, is gradually been depleted. With an eerie repetitious militance. Like drums or gunshots from some kind of infinity with the finite mock of sadness.

So the death of a close comrade in the Black Arts sets me into a frame of grief and daunting apprehension. Ron who came up with me, like we say. When The Black Arts Repertory Theatre proclaimed the Black Arts Movement. The mid 60s commitment of the most advanced Black Artists to use their work to raise the consciousness and level of struggle of the Afro-American People. To use that art as a weapon, to make a Malcolm X, Art of National Struggle. To create A Revolutionary Art!

An art that would be Afro-American in form and feeling in the focus of its content, as Black as the Blues, The Sorrow Songs, as Black as Blind Lemon or Bessie Smith, as deep as Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington or John Coltrane, as wonderful as Sarah Vaughn or Louis Armstrong. An Art that would come out of the narrow places of elite regard and hit the street, a mass aimed art, aimed at Black People, to move and empower, and mobilize and help organize Black People.

And almost as soon as world hit the high and low ways, we heard that Woodie King and Ron Milner in Detroit, responded with Black Arts Midwest, and soon we would dig Ron’s Whose Got His Own, and What The Wine Sellers Buy, as the first shots fired in his expressive and constantly expanding repertory. Because Ron was a consummate professional, and openly confirmed rationalist, he knew what he wanted to do and relied on his mind and heart not mysterious inspiration to supply the kazi to turn it out. Jazz Set, Check Mate.

Plus Ron, unlike some of us, was not want to zip off into the abstract and turgid waygonesphere. He wrote about Black People, working people, their lives and conflicts, their passions and loves and tragedies. He wrote about the real life he had experienced and witnessed, analyzed and summed up. We would talk often about that, what is a play, what is relevant to our people our struggle. How do we create a theatre of The known to make the unknown familiar and useable. And as always, the great Woodie King was likely to be our engine.

Whenever I came to Detroit, naturally Ron and I would hang, I mean hang on out, with day and night long passionate, not conversations, they were too full of everything we knew remembered and desired to be framed as such, they were more like open ended discussions or intimate one on one funny time seminars, or it didn’t matter, other folks could be present and wave at the words as they sailed back and forth between us. We would stay up half the night laughing at each other’s peculiarities and re-calling whatever we liked or didn’t. We cd talk about The Black Quartet, with Ed Bullins and Ben Caldwell, produced in NYC by Woodie, of course, or nuttiness observed at would be Black Arts or Black Drama Festival, or certain Hip or very Unhip Negroes , the state of the United Snakes. Anything. And in the end we would fill each other with a kind of wonderful joviality and compassionate comradeship. Like we dug we were Brothers, Artists, Comrades in the service of the People. What ever that brought or took away from our lives. Our deepest bond is that we knew we were both down for the whole number, the protracted struggle. And that felt good and we dug each other for that.

Will I miss Ron, Ho! Like somebody stole a few thousand words out of my brain. Like I dismiss part of my self and spent the rest of my life half sad, half pissed off about it, every time it came to my mind. Yes, I’ll miss him. In fact I ain’t ready to believe it. Probably never will be.


Some Black Revolutionary Artists of the Black Arts Movement and Environs, y not many knew. The amazing Henry Dumas left too early, some fiend in the subway station murdered him for, they said, jumping a turnstile. That was not believable but it shot through us at the rising height of our rebellious frenzy (68).

Then Larry Neal, straight out of his poem till the butcher cut me down. That was deadly, both, a double deadly slice at our vital production and a reduction of ammunition for the struggles to come. And they are here.

Some others disappeared, we heard no more from Cleveland’s, Rudy B. Graham, Norman Jordan vanished somewhere into infinity, Norman, some sd, obsessed with ritual nudity. Mae Jackson, I heard from a few ticks ago, She must be summoned to re-ignite.

Ray Johnson, L.Goodwin, Ahmed Alhamisi, DL Graham, Jacques Wakefield, Kuwasi Balagon, where, doing what? We need their words. Sam Cornish, is he still in Maryland?

Bob Bennett, Al Haynes in Boston & AB Spellman, Charlie Cobb with Walt Delegall in DC, we need to hear their voice! Where is Bill Mahoney? Joe Goncalves, who was the provocateur of Black Poetry Journal, another heavy thinker he writes from Atlanta. And where the wonderful Welton Smith. He said it ‘They want to be White Women’ an ugly prophecy hammered down now with White Chicks, yes, played by Negro men.

Can someone summon Lindsay Barrett who left Jamaica for Nigeria, who erupted with a scarlet beauty? Charles Anderson, Richard Thomas, QR Hand, Lethonia Gee, Ron Welburn, (the brilliant analyst of The Music who the demons removed when the shift to passivity they felt had come and so sent all our writers on the music to Sports, and now not a one speaks from those big mags and the theft rises almost unopposed, even Stanley Crouch, the most famous defector, has been mugged.) James Danner, Barbara Simmons. We have not heard from Lefty Sims, straight off the Harlem prairie, Lebert Bethune (in the islands they say). What about the two missing in action in Chicago, Amus Mor and Carolyn Rodgers, Mor’s Poem to The Hip Generation exited our whole generation with its use of The Music and the mytho-biographical narrative of person and place. His reading on Woodie King’s Motown issued poorly distributed Black Spirits remains an awesome example of the artistic and political power generated by the BAM. Rodgers was reputed to have gone into the Church on the heavy side. She made the Chi Hood a place of living struggle and revelation.

Where are they all? Let them reappear and tell us help us give us a missing strength and power. They are some of the forces of the Black Arts Cultural Revolution.; We are pressed now against the wall of erased truth and newly neoned lies and dishonour.

We had already lost a great innovator, Lorraine Hansberry, who flexed the breath we did not even know we had. And she, for all the ink about Raisin, is still not fully known for the power that followed. The Drinking Gourd. Whites in Harlem do Genet’s The Blacks but no one seems willing to do Lorraine’s power answer Les Blancs. How many years before all of her is known?

And Jimmy Baldwin too, the other explosive paradigm, who helped set the tone, the direction of The Black Arts Cultural Revolution with all of his searching works evaluating sorry America. Blues for Mr Charlie presented the choice, the gun or the bible he said, one of them gonna work! And so he was removed from the pantheon of the Colored, OK to read. No Name In the Street, Evidence makes it all abundantly clear of our protracted struggle as well as the wooden Negroes barb wiring our path!

Margaret Walker the grand dame of Black American poetry also passed a few months ago. That was as debilitating culturally as Langston’s exit. Add (really subtract) Gwendolyn Brooks, our first Pulitzer poet or Dudley Randall, long time publisher of the nervy and adventurous Broadside Press or Black World editor, Hoyt Fuller.

And then, so soon too many of those who their baton was intended Stokely, that energy and commitment to organizing plus that love for the people is dead, and Detroit’s revolutionary theorist , James Boggs, John Henrik Clarke, our towering Historian, likewise to the spirit world. Calvin Hernton, James Stewart, David Llorens. The Great visionary of sound and thought, Sun Ra probably on Saturn reaching us when he can. Hart LeRoi Bibbs to Paris to eternity. My main man, Actor, Activist, Yusef Iman, a vacuum where he pummelled the air. (Remember the LP’s Black & Beautiful, Nation Time or Black Mass w/ Sun Ra). the troubled but lyrical insistence of Harlem’s Clarence Reed, long dead, still unknown. The lovely irony of Toni Cade Bambara that too removed from us. Big hearted, Big voiced, Lance Jeffers, Jamaica’s Mikey Smith, the thrilling Dub: incendiary murdered in Jamaica by Blindaga’s perverts. Though Linton Kwesi Johnson, Kamau Braithwaite, Oku Onuora, Mutabaruka remain & yet cook! Ngugi wa Thiongo had to escape from Kenya’s government murderers. The still unknown but important Ugandan Okot p Bitek suicided by frustration. We could add Martin Carter and Walter Rodney as part of our United Front as well as the so called Black Beats, Bob Kaufman and Ted Joans with their uncategorized assaults on the Ignorant, the Arrogant and the Greedy.

Except we shd know that all those works must be brought back, republished, that spirit and those lives of fire and hope re-presented to the world! That is a concrete critical task. These are works that can reignite our Cultural Revolution, in the face of Imperialism murderers, liars, deceivers, white supremacists and wooden Negro apprentices and compradors.

We are still bowed with grief and longing for, one of our closest bad bard comrades in struggle, Gaston Neal, who has still to have his sizzling book appear. Bobb Hamilton. My sister Kimako, who fought the ignorant saboteurs with us at the Black Arts Repertory Theatre School who created The Kuumba Theatre and Kimako’s to raise the life spirit and cultural understanding of Harlem. She and Arthur Mitchell had a mid-town Ballet theatre before that, and after the Black Arts she was the first to bring.

And just this year, Nina Simone, Benny Carter, Vincent Smith, Tom Feelings, Jeff Cobb, Ray Charles the truth, beauty and power of some who gave full dimension to the grandness of contemporary Afro-American Arts and Culture. Or the rebellious colorists, William White, Bob Thompson, gone long before them. The ingenious Bob Blackburn.

Certainly from the specific pledge of understanding and commitment to black American Political and Cultural Insurrection the Black Arts Movement itself proclaimed. And since then dwell a moment on the Monumental subtraction of our force the Coltrane, Clifford Browns, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Olatunji, Albert Ailey, Thelonius Monk, Albert Ayler, Sarah Vaughn, Marvin Gaye, Miles Davis, Elvin Jones, Eddie Blackwell, Julius Hemphill, Don Cherry, Lester Bowie, Don Pullen, in addition the Huey Newton, Martin Luther Kings, Malcolm X . It should be hurtfully clear how much we are in need of a regrouping a repositioning, a reaffirmation, remobilization of the Afro American Artistic Culture.

So from the specific parameters of the Black Arts Movement, we know that Ed Bullins, Ben Caldwell, Woodie King, Marvin X, Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, David Henderson, Sonia, Ted Wilson, Carol Freeman, Ojijiko, Askia Toure (Rolland Snellings), Willie Kgostisile ( in S. Africa), Ed Spriggs (the spark that built the now enemy-occupied Studio Museum of Harlem), Reggie Lockett, Sam Anderson, Clarence Franklin, Jay Wright, Yusef Rahman, Lorenzo Thomas, Joe White, Charlie Fuller, Haki Madhubuti, Sterling Plumpp, Jimmy Garrett, Gylan Kain (In Netherlands), The other Last Poets, Felipe Luciano, Daveed Nelson, Umar, Abiodun, I know they alive and well. Nikki Giovanni, Mari Evans, Johari Amini, they around.

Victor Hernandez Cruz (in Puerto Rico?) was in Black Fire, though we have also lost our Latin brothers, Mikey Pinero, the great Pedro Pietri. But Miguel Algarin, Sandra Esteves, Papaleto, Piri Thomas, are on the scene. And Miguel’s NuYorican Poets Theatre still stands and delivers. Just as John Watusi Branch’s African Poetry Theatre in Queens holds fast. Marvelous Woodie King, still kicks out new drama monthly at the New Federal Theatre in NYC.

Marvin X’s Recovery Theatre in Oakland Is still producing. Amina & Amiri Baraka s Kimako’s Blues People has functioned for the last 15 years in their basement, in Newark. Closed for the last year by the obscene tragedy of our youngest daughter, Shani’s, murder. They are planning to reopen it later in 04.

Haki Madhubuti’s Third World Press is a powerful institution of confrontation with ignorance and ugliness. Baraka has begun publication of the newspaper Unity & Struggle (June 04) and is calling for allies in initiating a journal and publishing entity called RAZOR . Sonia Sanchez and her son, Mungu are filming a series of interviews with BAM activists which is something now critically needed.

All this together suggests though we are now near bottom of the Sisyphus Syndrome, as Dubois termed the up and down motion of the BLM, the Afro-American struggle for Democracy & Self- Determination!, we still have a great many resources needing only to be re-mobilized, plus we must begin to reproduce and re-present the important works in the huge treasure chest of the Afro American Artistic and Political culture! And as well re-introduce those revolutionary figures who have contributed to the power, the truth and beauty of Black American Culture.


“We are the digital drummers of the technical ether, counteracting the inherent arrhythmia and harmonizing the fundamental discordance which is the wilderness West. As soldiers, shoulder to shoulder, mind to mind, I & I be warriors, our weapons lightning & the music of thunder.”

by jamal ali 18 march 1991


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