LeRoi Jones was a prominent African American figure throughout the various art forms and communities of New York City. He is difficult to place in any one particular place/location since he is mentioned in various neighborhoods depending upon what point in his life we examine (the Living Theater, Cherry Lane Theater, the New School, Gas Light Cafe, Eight Street Bookstore).
I found the following site while searching the web www.bridgesweb.com/baraka.html . I found this site of particular importance and significance since it conceptualizes Jones/Baraka in a timeline autobiography. It traces his days from a Beat to a Black Nationalist to a Third World Marxist.
At the end is a discussion of his play "Dutchman" which we viewed in class last week. It elaborates on Banes theory for motivations and themes within the play and how it correlated to his life and many African Americans of his time.
I had never heard of LeRoi Jones prior to this semester, but now that I have, his name has popped a couple of times outside of this class. So, I thought I would add a bit to what Lynette brought up about his involvement in the Black Nationalist movement.
For a history class I am taking this semester, we are reading a book entitled, The River of No Return. It is an autobiography of an African American militant, Cleveland Sellers, who was a member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during the 1960's. He highlights LeRoi Jones and his significance to Cultural Nationalists, a group who felt that blacks had to get themselves together culturally before they could overtly attack the system. Part of this involved a focus on the "revolutionary function of black art." The leader of one of these groups, Ron Karenga, felt that, "Black art must expose the enemy, praise the people, and support the revolution. It must be like LeRoi Jones' poems." Karenga claimed that Jones' poems were, "assassins, poems that kill and shoot guns and ╬wrassle cops in alleys taking their weapons, leaving them dead with their tongues pulled out and sent to Ireland."
Based on this statement and those made by Sally Banes in Greenwich Village 1963, it seems that Jones very effectively used art as a form of resistance and rebellion. He was able to attack American culture and society through his plays, films and poems.
After the Civil Rights Movement and before Black Nationalism - LeRoi Jones was an active avant-garde artist in Greenwich Village. Jones's play Dutchman from 1964 is about interracial flirtation, which initially is a private act between two people, which explodes into a public outbreak.
Clay, a middle-class African American intellectual, sits nonchalantly on the Subway where he is suddenly greeted by Lula, a white woman. Lula arouses Clay's sexuality and then incites him with insults to racial anger. As Clay's calm demeanor changes to accept the rage of an entire people who predicts a black revolution, Lula stabs him. Banes explains the movies complexity as being multilevel. First, the movie is a sexual struggle between man and woman as we see in the inroduction scenes of the movie. The subway stops and outside stands this beautiful, blond hair sexy lady, who in the next scene appears on the train -- the ultimate flirtation scene.
The second level of struggle, according to Banes, is between individual self and the nation. Lula appears to be apart of Clay's innerconsciousness. Clay is labeled an "Uncle Tom" and told to break apart from the world he lives in. Yet Lula is more than just a part of his innercosciousness -- she is the part of him that is white and middle class. Here we see Lula taunting him and by the end of the movie Lula has the power to control his life, as she kills him and the blackness of his soul.
What dos this story line say about African Ameicans of this time period and even more so about Jones? Jones entered the world of Greenwich Village, a world where equality and freedom were its goals, and became a successful African American artist. But as time progressed, his race and the "aesthetics" of himself and Black art became a conflict, or a different perspective of life (a battle with the innerconsciousness and with the white world) as Jones breaks free from his current world and moves to Harlem to become a important theorist, militant poet, and producer of revolutionary black theater.
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