Sunday, January 19, 2014

Last Rites for Amiri Baraka

Ras Baraka Takes Baton from Father,
Amiri Baraka! The revolution continues!
By Marvin X

Today I participated in one of the most beautiful final rites ever, the home going ceremony for my friend, the legendary poet/playwright/organizer/music critic/historian, father/husband Amiri Baraka, aka LeRoi Jones, chief architect of the Black Arts Movement or BAM. I told the audience I was changing my name to Marvin X Baraka in honor of my friend of fifty years.

It was a poetic myth/ritual in the best of the African tradition, strong on longevity and short of brevity, but after all, it was the funeral of a poet, and they are known to be loquacious, sometimes redundant and repetitious, but such is the nature of poets and poetry.

If not for the astounding finale by the son of Amiri, Ras Baraka, it could be said the evening was long winded to the point of exhaustion. And yet what would one expect at the last rites of an African griot?

We know the griot is defined as a person who has absorbed his tribe's mythology and history. Such was the personality known as Amiri Baraka, dear friend, brother, fellow worker in the Black Arts Movement that altered the consciousness of North American Africans and Americans, from the academy to the streets.

It was the consensus of those who spoke that Amiri Baraka was a revolutionary, not some Miller Lite civil rites reformer, but a full blown revolutionary who wrote, fought, and organized for radical change in America and throughout the world. Those who spoke or participated included Danny Glover, Sonia Sanchez, Cornel West, Woody King, Jessica Care Moore, Michael Eric Dyson, Askia Toure, Glen Thurman, Tony Medina, Chokwe Lumumba's daughter, Sister Souljah, Haki Mahdhubuti, Marvin X and Ras Baraka.

Poet Sonia read a poem from Maya Angelou and herself, ending with "Resist, Resist, Resist!"

Why don't we cut to the chase to say Ras Baraka stole the show which was only proper since it was his father's funeral and the ceremony was not only the last rites, but a rites of passage for the son to take the reins of his father as poet and political operative, i.e., we fully expect Ras to be the next Mayor of Newark, New Jersey, especially after the eloquent reading/speech he delivered to conclude this myth/ritual, including his own poem “Black Fire” that ended his eulogy.

Some persons may find it hard to believe Amiri's son [Ras] delivered his father's poetry better than the father, but know for a surety the son accomplished this task and went beyond into the region of his own mind and destiny: to shape the world in his own making and likeness, yet he never stopped honoring his father at every turn. He gave full honor to his father as Sister Souljah had done when she introduced Ras Baraka.

Sista Souljah said she met Ras Baraka when she was 19 years old, or was he 19, we forget! When she went to his house, she thought he was rich because he had a father! He had a mother, a house, so she thought Ras was rich. She grew up in the projects, food stamps, Section 8, cheese, yes, she thought Ras and the Barakas were rich. They had a house full of books and music albums. They discussed serious topics whether personal or political, and you needn't agree yet there was respect for all. Yes, she thought the Baraka's were rich! Not rich with money but soul, she said!

Long live the spirit of Amiri Baraka. We shall complete the national liberation of North American Africans! Free the land!

In my remarks, we (I and co-producer Kim McMillan) invited Ras and his mother, Amina Baraka, to the upcoming University of California, Merced Black Arts Movement Conference, February 28 to March 1-2. We had invited Amiri Baraka to the conference, but we know Ras will represent his father with eloquence as will his widow, Amina.

AB had invited me to read at New York University on February 4 [2014], a tribute for ancestor poet Jayne Cortez. This event is on schedule. On February 8, the Schomburg Library in Harlem will host a fund raising event for Ras Baraka, now it will also be a tribute for Amiri Baraka.

The art piece above by Elizabeth Catlett Mora demonstrates the union of the Black Arts Movement and Black Power. In my remarks, we spoke on the need to understand Amiri Baraka and the Black Arts Movement were revolutionary, not art for art's sake in the Western tradition. The Black Arts Movement [BAM] cannot be separated from the Black Power Movement, both were about the National Liberation of North American Africans. Larry Neal said BAM was the sister of the Black Power Movement, I say BAM was the Mother!

18 January 2014
Newark, New Jersey

new ark fire dept hung big american flag outside amiri's sendoff, neworleans 2nd line brought the casket in, bagpipers from the fire dept took him out, next thing you know old boy gon be on a stamp.—Arthur Rickydoc Flowers

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Amiri Baraka & the Beginning of History
By Brian Guy Gilmore
January 19, 2014

On May 22, 1885, 2 million people came out for Victor Hugo’s state funeral. It is the largest funeral in the history of France. For a writer. It is a message. We love this guy and what he gave us. Amiri Baraka didn’t get 2 million but he got just as much love. The message was clear.

I know it sounds strange to compare a country’s celebrated tribute to a beloved artist (Hugo) more than a century ago to a people’s tribute to an artist (Baraka) today but as Amiri Baraka once wrote in his book of essays, Home: “Black is a country.” I believe that. It isn’t our fault many Black Americans consider themselves Americans but also consider themselves part of something else, something outside of America though within it; it is what we are and it is what Amiri Baraka was. Amiri Baraka was an eternal figure for Black America just as Victor Hugo is for France.

Today was a Victor Hugo moment.

But Amiri Baraka had a wide reach. Poet Sonia Sanchez. Actor Danny Glover. Poet Haki Madhubuti. Jazz trombonist, Craig Harris. Dancer Savion Glover. Professor Michael Eric Dyson. Actor Glynn Turman. Poet Askia Muhammed Toure who called his long time friend—“comrade.” Even the Newark Fire Department entered and played bagpipes. Amiri Baraka’s son, Ras Baraka in his eulogy said that his father “effected us all” and to all who called him racist or an anti-Semite, that “every color in the world is represented here today” to pay tribute to him. And like his father, in a philosophical manner, Ras Baraka called our condition “imminent,” adding that “we have lived too long off the fumes of history.” It is time, he urged to “start history again.”

One could not ignore that refrain. It is time to start history again.

Amiri Baraka’s death is a beginning for poets and artists and people of goodwill who respected his tradition and politics. Those of us who believed in his ideals have to begin to fight for these ideals more forcefully in any and every way we can. On the page. In the schools. In the streets. In our homes with our children. In the hearts of men and women of good will. There are some things more sustaining and vital than more “things,” Amiri Baraka would likely say if he could. This is the message I took away from today’s tribute. History must begin again and fight for a people’s democracy. At some point, between here and there, we lost our way.

1 comment:

  1. This is an excellent overview of Amiri Baraka's funeral. I wish I was there to be part of it but will dedicate my future writings to be more revolutionary and meaningful in honor of the master of literature.