NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire V. 16.1 - Page 103

Dent had left that uptown group following a highly publicized 1961 demonstration in the un Security Council chamber. During u.s. envoy Adlai Stevenson’s inaugural address to that body, Stevenson condemned the murder of the Congo’s first democratically elected Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, but in terms that left no doubt about what law-andorder meant in the Cold War Pax Americana, and without any discussion of Belgian (or u.s.) complicity in that murder. As he spoke, Wright and other members of On Guard and John O. Killens’ Harlem Writers Guild stood up in the visitor’s gallery and chanted “Now is the time!” until they were beaten, forcibly ejected, and arrested; this marked the first time in its brief history that the un was shut down. In the very early 1960s, Wright and Dent had been instrumental in the creation of the activist group On Guard for Cultural Freedom, birthed in the orbit of Shirley Graham Du Bois and the Freedomways collective, which had published a community newspaper that linked the domestic struggle for racial equality directly to the global struggle against colonialism and the exploitation of formerly colonized nations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The protestors were wearing black veils and armbands that Wright, writer Rosa Guy, playwright Aisha Rahman (then Virginia Hughes), and others had prepared in Abby Lincoln and Max Roac h’s apartment on the Upper West Side. Shifting his focus to the Lower East Side, Dent helped establish a regular writing workshop of like-minded young poets that included Ishmael Reed, David Henderson, Steve Cannon, Askia Muhammad Touré, Lorenzo Thomas, and Rashidah Ismaili. BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE I had first learned of Tom Dent’s work as a writer and activist through my friendship with the writer Sarah E. Wright, who had lived directly across West End Avenue from me on New York’s Upper West Side. Sarah, who departed on her own homegoing in September 2009, had published a single novel in her lifetime, This Child’s Gonna Live. First published in 1969, and still in print, This Child is set in a Maryland oyster-fishing community similar to that in which Wright had grown up during the Great Depression, a period in which the racial codes of that near-South locale had been viciously remobilized under economic pressure. As in Toni Morrison’s later Beloved, the littoral surfaces of Wright’s devastating novel were in fact a palimpsest of AfricanAmerica’s deeper, hidden histories. 101 It’s a commonplace that what’s right in front of one’s face is often the hardest to grasp. The people before whom the fst performed were hardly unaware of the hard realities wrought by racial codes, but it was an aspect of those codes that the terror they entailed, while everywhere visible, remained unstated or implicit. The move to locally generated performances from repertory plays — drawn from the proletarian black theater of Douglas Turner Ward, as well as from the European avant-garde of Brecht and Ionesco — was motivated precisely by the desire to bring the bodies of the community into the action. The goal wasn’t to blur the distinction between art and life, and thereby to aestheticize politics, but to politicize culture in a direct — and thus intensely symbolic — confrontation with power.