Art and Civil Rights Movement





Art and Civil Rights Movement

Art has always been an important aspect for African Americans, for the longest time Art was used as a form of expressing what they felt, what they were going through from the period of slavery and racial segregation and it did also become a great part in helping them fight for equality. When we think of civil rights movement the first thought are probably news or newspaper footage from this period, but art has been an important factor in helping us understand the happenings that were going on during this period. There are several artists that came up during this period Abstract Expressionist movement as well as the pop art were dominating during this time (Reed, pg. 106). Forms of art that were featured during this period included realist as well as assemblage painting. Writing was also important and it is during this period that some African Americans rose into fame as they were using their skill to address the inequality in the society. This paper looks at various art that came up during the civil right movement and the role they played.

AfriCOBRA may have laid ground for the formation of artist group that would take part in civil rights movement. African Commune of Bad Relevan Artists founded in 1968 by Gerald Williams, Jeff Donaldson, Wadsworth Jarrell and Barbara Jones-Hugo with the aim of rising the plights that the African Americas were facing (Hogu, pg. 90-97). They knew using political revolt would not be the best option considering the various restrictions that were being put especially on the political movements. Art was not only providing new ways of activism but rather there were exhibitions that were used in raising funds for Congress of Racial Equality.

Langston Hughes has often been known as an important factor when it came to the Harlem Renaissance. His involvement into activism gave the other authors a lee way or a base they could use to compare what it really felt taking part in activism without getting involved politically. Most of the authors utilized their platform to speak out on the issue that they were really facing. Some of these authors include Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and Brent Staples. They have books that really portray the issues African Americans went through. Recitatif Toni Morrrison portrays the stereotyping that was present in America. Recitatif tells a story of a difficult friendship between an African American girl and a Caucasian girl. However, Morrison doesn’t tell us who is black or white. Twyla has this stereotypical mindset about people of different races. Toni Morrison is a well-known author that won the Nobel peace prize in literature. (Morrison 1) This story is an example of a renowned American writer for her investigation of black experience within the black community. Morrison makes the readers identify their perceptions about the race through the character development of Roberta, Twyla, and the surrounding relationship.  Another book is The Hate that U Give is a New York best-selling novel by Angie Thomas that aims to create empathy among the readers as it describes why the Black lives matter. Starr who is the protagonist in the novel, is used to represent a fearless generation that is willing to stand up and fight the injustices that are presented in our society including police brutality especially towards people of color. The book is also pointing out how often police officers involved in brutal murders of black men are often not indicted.

Music has also been important for African Americans in stating what they went through. African Americans have played a great role in the contribution of the music industry since the 18th century. Rap which is part of hip-hop culture can be traced to as early as the period which slavery was rampant in America. It is often said that most African Americans turned to music as solace for the difficulty they were going through. When hip-hop began, it was not what we currently see. People did not rap about sex, drugs, illegal activities or killings. It was a form of art that educated African Americans on various things and was used in depicting the plight of African Americans.Rap in the past was a culture that African Americans were proud of; it was something they could say they created and people loved. It was defined by four key n elements: rapping, breakdancing, Ding and graffiti writing. This was a form of art where the African American talked of their plight, what they were going through in the hands of police, how they were treated in America as second class citizens and the extent of racism that occurred in America, it was a form of black identity (Clay, pg. 1346-58). Prior to 1989, there were no questions on the effects of Rap to Americans or of their negative impact. However, Hip-hop started being attacked in 1989 when Niggas with Attitude released a song titled “Fuck the Police”. Ice cube raps “You’d rather see me in pen than me rollin’ in a Benz-o Beat a police out of shape and when I am finished bring the yellow tape” a threat that they would beat up the police for harassment as they would rather see them in jail than driving (Krohn, pg. 139-154). There was a public outcry especially from the white community as the song had negative comments about the police and made threats too that where directed towards the police. Most saw the song was a way of inciting people to attack police officers. However, the African Americans sighted that the song was a portrayal of hatred that African Americans had towards the police due to their brutality, killing of unarmed black men and constant arresting for no reason. This slogan has constantly been used to show disapproval of police brutality, and several other contemporary Artist always made reference to this song as it is considered one of the greatest song in Hip Hop culture.

Black Lives Matter has been one movement that has tried to utilize art in their protest. The injustices against that blacks still have to go through even years after Malcolm, and Martin Luther tried fighting them. Alicia Garza is one of the names currently considered a hero by the black community for her efforts in helping to fight for the lives of the people of color. Black lives are a young movement that was formed after George Zimmerman was acquitted in July 2013. George Zimmerman had been charged with shooting a young black American teenager Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012. He claimed that he shot Trayvon as an act of self-defense (LeBron). People though were angered by this as the kid was not armed. This movement was not only for Travon Martin but for what the black men were going through in general.

There are various artists that have expressed what they feel on the killing using art as BLM is considered as a peaceful movement. One art is by Tes One on the Stand Our Ground art which is to urge more people to stand up and act on the cases of police brutality that are directed to African Americans. Another example is Carson Ellis who drew faces of young black men that have been killed by law enforcers. Most artist working with leaders of the BLM have pointed out how powerful art may be a form of protesting in a peaceful way (Siscoe, 237). They say a picture is 1000 words and this has been a great way of illustrating issues of police brutality especially towards African Americans. There had been more cases of police brutality towards unarmed black men and even use of force. The law enforcers who did this somehow managed to get away with this as there was always no proof they were infringing on the rights of the black, but they were carrying out their duties. Garza was the first to go on twitter expressing how black lives mattered, her core founders Patrisse Cullors and Opal Torment picked up the tweet and tweeted using the #BlackLivesMatter and just like that the revolution movement started that would advocate against injustices on blacks.

In conclusion, it is quite evident on the role that art has plyed for the African Americans. Protestt for most Africans were deemed to be violent and they were thus labelled as violent. This is what led to the rise of other means of protest and art was now see as the best way to articulate the issues that the African Americans were going through. Writing is seen as one of the key ways that have been used by African Americans to state various issues in the African community including stereotypes, racism and police brutality. Movements such as Black Lives Matter are using peaceful methods including use of art as a way to communicate instead of using confrontational method that seem to get more people hurt.

Works Cited

Clay, Andreana. “Keepin’it real: Black youth, hip-hop culture, and Black identity.” American behavioral scientist 46.10 (2003): 1346-1358.

Krohn, Franklin B., and Frances L. Suazo. “Contemporary Urban Music: Controversial Messages in Hip-Hop and Rap Lyrics.” ETC: A Review of General Semantics 52.2 (1995): 139-154.

Lebron, Christopher J. The making of black lives matter: A brief history of an idea. Oxford University Press, 2017.

Morrison, Toni, and Doris Lessing. Recitatif. Difusión, Centro de Investigación y Publicaciones de Idiomas, 2010.

Reed, Thomas Vernon. The art of protest: Culture and activism from the civil rights movement to the streets of Seattle. U of Minnesota Press, 2005.

Siscoe, Tanika, “#BlackLivesMatter: This Generation’s Civil Rights Movement” (2016). University Honors Theses. Paper 237