Baraka died this week at the age of 79 years old. The Associated Press confirmed his death through his booking agent, Celeste Bateman. He had been in the hospital since last month.
Formerly known as LeRoi Jones, Baraka was a critical figure in bringing the civil rights struggle into the world of the arts. His work has inspired an entire generation of poets, playwrights and musicians. The FBI once identified him as “the person who will probably emerge as the leader of the Pan-African movement in the United States.”
Baraka was a recognized and respected revolutionary, demanding equality for people of color and the teaching of black history and various art forms.
“We want ‘poems that kill,'” Baraka once wrote in the Black Art manifesto in 1965.
“Assassin poems. Poems that shoot guns/Poems that wrestle cops into alleys/and take their weapons leaving them dead/with tongues pulled out and sent to Ireland.”
Of course he had his critics, black, white and otherwise. But even those who critiqued him considered him to be brilliant, even referring to him as the Malcolm X of literature and spoken word. He pushed forth the Black Arts Movement, something that might be valuable in 2013 after most African American artistic expression has been warped for the pursuit of the corporate dollar.
“From Amiri Baraka, I learned that all art is political, although I don’t write political plays,” said August Wilson, who won the Pulitzer Prize.
May he rest in peace and may a thousand others take his place.