LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka)

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Playwright, poet and activist LeRoi Jones, whose play "Dutchman" is playing off-Broadway, is shown in New York City on June 30, 1964.

This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.

Note to producers: audio does contain some language that could be offensive out of context.

From card catalog: Leroi Jones, Negro playwright, reads a statement of what the Negro revolutionary theater is. He considers it a political, sociological and psychological weapon. Questions and answers.

McGurn introduces Jones with a quote from Time magazine, advertises an event at St. Marks Theater to benefit the creation of the first repertory theater in Harlem.

Jones reads from a paper commissioned (and returned unpublished) by the New York Times by Lewis Funke called "The Revolutionary Theater." Should force change, should be change. Must accuse and attack because it is a theater of victims. Must take dreams and give them reality. "Popular white man's theater shows tired white lives and the problems of eating white sugar." Most white artists don't need to be political because they are in complete sympathy with social repressive forces.

Full text of article can be accessed here: http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/maai3/protest/text12/barakatheatre.pdf (Last accessed 05-17-2011.)

Joe Newman hosts Q&A: Comment on the plot to blow up the Statue of Liberty? Someone told him people were planning it because television was so boring. What would happen to his movement if whites were to withdraw their support for the cause? Baraka responds by asking if he can call Negroes just black, because it's a better delineation. It would probably change a lot of black people who are skating with the idea that there is a benevolent program outlined for them by the white man. It would be a much more honest situation because most of the help is extended through a pathological guilt feeling. Fascism and Americanism are synonymous? Americanism is worse because it's stronger; they beat the fascists. What are Americans dedicated to? Luxury, having people do things for you. From his own experience? Yes. There are two Americas: a white America and a black America. The black man wants to be, first of all, a human being. White society is set up so they must oppress. Greatest satisfaction as artist or propagandist? There's no difference. "Aesthetics and ethics are one." Art is in the method in which he can propagandize. European Marxists tried the same thing in the theater, and it failed - how to keep revolutionary ideals and a good play in tact? The questioner thinks that the two are mutually exclusive; art can be anything.

Host sign off, concluding remarks: Jones is using poetic symbols in what he's saying, his aim is to shock (crowd reacts negatively to these ideas), his language choice is unfortunate.

Questions continue: An argument between Jones and an audience member who suggests he is the exact same as a white man. Jones calls him a well-fed bourgeoisie, that they are definitely not alike. Asks the man if God made him more qualified for his job than a black man without a job. Why was the NY Times piece rejected? Ask the man next to you. Fascism and Americanism question. That answer is edited out. Another question is edited out. He says he's always been faced with white faces telling him what he's thinking, why he's incorrect. He says an audience member "looks like the principal of my high school." How does he feel about the black Muslims? He is not a religious man. They're no more racist than the Methodist church of America. Their version of social history of America is correct, but perhaps their solution to contemporary social frictions is unrealistic. Is it his feeling that there is no possibility of "live and let live" arrangement between the black and white man? Cites US involvement in China, Vietnam, and Congo; suggests US involvement abroad will cause the white man to be hated. The more tokens extended to the black man, the worse the situation gets. People think of MLK and sit-ins as being the most articulate demonstration of Negro dissent; they represent middle class Negro aspirations. Most Negros in the US are neither middle class, nor college students. Cops in Harlem, what kind of context is that for a rational discussion for ways to end oppression. Do most Negroes feel the way he does about MLK? He doesn't reflect the wishes of the majority of Negroes, and most would agree with that. They can't get out of jail by asking LBJ for help. Does he agree with the statement that the white man should stop kidding himself that he is any better than a member of the KKK? A fair paraphrase. If he were a social counselor, how would you suggest a person save his neck? "I'd say, give me all your money and get out of the country." Among white men, do you distinguish between a fascist and an anti-fascist? Anti-fascists won WW2; US organized Filipinos in to anti-fascist group. Once the fascists were beaten, the anti-fascists re-established the same kind of fascist policies that had existed previously. Fascism has been made obsolete by Americanism. America is the cancer on the world. Question off-mic. He believes his mother is better-equipped to tell about the world than the woman who asked the question. How does he feel toward the middle class black man? An argument breaks out and he says, "see what happens when you integrate these luncheons, lady?" Most of them are traitors. How does he feel that not a single black member of the OPC has come to see him speak? He asks how many they are, and the woman in the audience (Adele Nathan) says she doesn't know, she's colorblind, to which Jones responds, Oh really? That's too bad. He says he doesn't know why they didn't come. He says they secretly hate themselves as they associate with her. Does he consider every successful black man a member of the middle class? Usually a black man who has made his way in to the mainstream of American society is somehow a traitor and hates himself. He asks the audience what they think about the Congo. Suggests the statue of liberty should be melted down and sold to pay for razing buildings uptown. What do they think about the girls killed in Birmingham.

For more on Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka) and this broadcast please see:

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection

WNYC archives id: 5770
Municipal archives id: T674