Born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska and known primarily as Malcolm X, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz was an African-American minister for the Nation of Islam and a human rights activist who rose to national and international prominence in the 1960s. He was a courageous advocate for the rights of blacks, a man who indicted white America in the harshest terms for its crimes against black Americans, and one of the greatest and most influential African Americans in U.S. history.
“The Autobiography of Malcolm X” as told to Alex Haley and published in 1965, remains an important, seminal work to this day, and the Spike Lee-directed feature film “Malcolm X” garnered critical acclaim as well as an Academy Award nomination for Denzel Washington. But to more fully appreciate the genius of this man, it pays to hear him speak for himself. Even if you just watch the first two minutes of the video below, you will have done yourself an immeasurable favor:
Amiri Baraka, the militant man of letters and tireless agitator whose blues-based, fist-shaking poems, plays and criticism made him a provocative and groundbreaking force in American culture, has died. He was 79. His booking agent, Celeste Bateman, told The Associated Press that Baraka, who had been hospitalized since last month, died Thursday at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center.
Perhaps no writer of the 1960s and ’70s was more radical or polarizing than Baraka (formerly LeRoi Jones), and no one did more to extend the political debates of the civil rights era to the world of the arts. He inspired at least one generation of poets, playwrights and musicians, and his immersion in spoken word traditions and raw street language anticipated rap, hip-hop and slam poetry. The FBI feared him to the point of flattery, identifying Baraka as “the person who will probably emerge as the leader of the Pan-African movement in the United States.”
Baraka transformed from the rare black to join the Beat caravan of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac to leader of the Black Arts Movement, an ally of the Black Power movement that rejected the liberal optimism of the early ’60s and intensified a divide over how and whether the black artist should take on social issues. Scorning art for art’s sake and the pursuit of black-white unity, Barak was part of a philosophy that called for the teaching of black art and history and producing works that bluntly called for revolution.
“We want ‘poems that kill,’” Baraka wrote in his landmark “Black Art,” a manifesto published in 1965, the year he helped found the Black Arts Movement. “Assassin poems. Poems that shoot guns/Poems that wrestle cops into alleys/and take their weapons leaving them dead/with tongues pulled out and sent to Ireland.”