To Be Equal…The life and legacy of Amiri Baraka

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(NNPA)—“Art is a weapon in the struggle of ideas, the class struggle.”—Amiri Baraka

On Jan. 9, with the passing of the prolific poet, playwright, essayist, and critic Amiri Baraka, one of the literary giants of the 20th century was called home.  As we offer condolences to his wife, children and family, we remember the 79-year-old Baraka not only for his bold, inventive and iconoclastic literary voice, but as a courageous social justice activist.  His ideas and work had a powerful impact on both the Black Arts and Civil Rights Movements beginning in the 1960s.

Baraka was best known for his eclectic writings on race and class.  He extended many of the themes and ideals of the 1960s Black Power movement into the realm of art, which he saw as a potent weapon of change. And like many good revolutionary artists, he sometimes went out of his way to offend the status quo.  He has been variously described as a beatnik, a Black nationalist and a Marxist.  But he was first and foremost a writer and social commentator of uncommon skill and insight.

His 1963 masterpiece, “Blues People,” which explored the historical roots and sociological significance of the blues and jazz, has become a classic that is still taught in college classrooms today.  Almost every Black and progressive writer and thinker of the 20th century shared a kinship, friendship or feud with Baraka.  But, undergirding everything he wrote and stood for was his desire to lift up the downtrodden and disenfranchised, especially in his hometown of Newark, N.J.

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