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Black History Month in the East Village: Black Arts Movement

February is Black History Month.  We here at GVSHP are celebrating it by highlighting different sites of significance to the African-American community within our neighborhoods, including those on our new Civil Rights & Social Justice Map.

GVSHP’s Civil Rights & Social Justice Map

In early 1962, writer Amiri Baraka (then known as LeRoi Jones) and then-wife Hettie Jones moved into the house at 27 Cooper Square. Hettie Jones, who still lives in the apartment, was allowed to stay after hotel developers agreed to incorporate the tenement into their design, using it for the lobby and concierge desk for the Cooper Square Hotel. Together, Hettie and LeRoi produced their magazine “Yugen” and Totem Press books here.
Thanks to its proximity to the original Five Spot, writers and artists, including Allen Ginsberg, Frank O’Hara and others under the “Beat” and Black Mountain labels, were frequent visitors. Later in the 60’s, the house was the “headquarters” of the Black Arts Movement, an American literary movement to advance “social engagement” as a sine qua non of its aesthetic.  Here is a good piece “Rethinking the Black Power Movement” by Komozi Woodard of Sarah Lawrence College that situates the Black Arts Movement in a larger context.

Photo from Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library

Much of Hettie Jones’s work is focused around her struggle to find identity as an outcast in a Jewish family and as the wife of a black artist during the Civil Rights Movement. She also ran a writing workshop at the New York State Correctional Facility for Women at Bedford Hills from 1989-2002. Her husband, LeRoi Jones was an African-American writer of poetry, drama, fiction, essays, and music criticism whose themes ranged from black liberation white racism. Many within the African American community compare him to James Baldwin and recognize him as one of the most respected and most widely published black writers of his generation.

Issues of Yugen

Hettie Jones has a new book out, “Love, H”, a memoir in letters of Jones’ 40-year correspondence with sculptor Helene Dorn, recently published by Duke University Press.

Cover of Love, H

Want to see more?  Check out the map here — there are nearly one hundred entries covering African-American history and many other aspects of civil rights and social justice history in the Village, East Village,and NoHo.

Some other African-American history sites on the map include the former NAACP Headquarters where the iconic “A Man Was Lynched Yesterday” flag flew; the homes of James Baldwin and Lorraine Hanseberry; Cooper Union, where Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and John Brown all railed against slavery; the first integrated club in New York City, where Billie Holiday first sang “Strange Fruit;” and the birthplace of the man who lead the successful drive for the Martin Luther King Jr. National Holiday, among many others.

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