What Were Black Writers Doing During the Civil Rights Era?

The Civil Rights Act was a time to stand together in solidarity. Black writers had their own methods of protesting through art. Read on to see what they did!

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The Civil Rights Movement was a time to fight against the system that constrained Black voices to segregation. Jim Crow laws were made to belittle Black people and to create a divide between white people. Though we had Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Ella Baker, and many more activists fighting for equal rights in protesting, boycotting, and other forms. Black writers did not stop writing.

They were doing what they did best, which was picking up a pen or pencil and writing out their heart’s desires. Their discourse was about the injustice and unfair conditions the black community had to endure in American society. There should be no discrimination when it comes to the color of one’s skin, and they conveyed that through writing.

Opposing Sides

Martin Luther King Jr. and Stokely Carmichael walk together in the March Against Fear through a rural Mississippi town.

A few writers in the bunch were James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks, Margaret Danner, Robert Hayden, and many many more. Some wrote short stories, novels, and plays while others concentrated on poetry.

Many different groups within the black community had different approaches to combating racism. Everyone should know about Martin Luther King Jr. and his methods of peaceful protesting. He led the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) partook in this style as well. On the other end of the spectrum, we had Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam that used aggressive methods to get their message across. My personal favorite was Stokely Carmichael and the Black Power group. Peaceful protesting unless provoked. AKA self-defense.

This was a reflection even with the writing worlds. Some decided to keep the “peace” while others used their words to express their frustration with the inequality within America. Black Writers began to make an impact on civil rights during the late 1950s and early 60s when they expressed their feelings and passions in their poetry. Some notable poets were as follows Margaret Danner, Langston Hughes, Robert Hayden, Melvin B. Tolson, Sterling Brown, and Mary Elizabeth Vroman.

Others did it through novels or short stories: James Baldwin, Paule Marshall, Lorraine Hansberry, William Melvin Kelley, and Ernest Gain.

Here are some of their notable works:

a raisin in the sun, sonny's blues, a different drummer-- Black Writers

Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin
Brown Girl, Brownstones by Paule Marshall
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
A Different Drummer by William Melvin Kelly
The Sky is Gray by Ernest Gaine

Since the 1920s and since the Harlem renaissance, black writers decided to explore the beauty behind the black culture. They began to retap and celebrate and incorporate their experiences in the worlds of America through stories, and songs, from African and African American ancestry. They reclaimed lost and misplaced black aesthetics and social values, to create positive black images. During the riots, poetry was used as a way for communal purposes, and as a political weapon. Autobiographical and biographies were made by Malcolm X and Maya Angelo.

Some were in agreement with the forms of peaceful protesting, so these writers showed an aggressive style. Amongst these writers were Yusef Iman, Madhubuti, Sun-Ra, Larry Neal, Charles Anderson, Ben Caldwell, and Amiri Baraka.

Notable reads would be these titles:

Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing edited by Ben Caldwell and Amiri Baraka
Don’t Cry, Scream by Madhubuti

The Civil Rights Movement was a time to provide voices for the voiceless, and these writers elevated their standpoint against the inequality between white and black people.

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