The Women of the Black Arts and Civil Rights Movements

With the Civil Rights Movement being set into motion in 1955, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 being adopted African- Americans were well on their way to a whole new world. Many leaders such as W.E.B. DuBois, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr., led the Black community in breaking down barriers and reaching the unattainable goal: Equality. These men did the unthinkable as racial activists through the arts of poetry, writing, speech, and outreach. The movement, once started, could not be hindered and would change how African- Americans would be viewed forever.

However, not only men made great contributions to this cause. Many women made their presence known as activists within this time period,
especially Rosa Parks. By not conforming to the demand that she move to the back of the bus, Parks sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and her action served as a prominent symbol of resistance to racial segregation for the movement. As the secretary for the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP, she was not ignorant to the disrespect and lack of rights that African- Americans received everywhere. Born on February 4, 1913 Rosa Parks was raised in a society where racism was the norm, and she was one who would do anything to change that. For her act she took on the penalty of losing her seamstress job, but accepted the action as a private citizen who was just "tired of giving in." Later nicknamed the "Mother of the Modern-Day Civil Rights Movement" by the US Congress, Parks unquestionably did her part for Black Rights. When the Black Arts Movement began, Rosa Parks served as an example for more women to arise as leaders. Two pioneering women who were, and still are, pivotal in the Civil Rights arena are Nikki Giovanni and Sonia Sanchez.

Yolanda Cornelia "Nikki" Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tennessee on June 7, 1943 and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. A survivor of lung cancer, Virginia Tech professor, and mother of one, Giovanni has lived a colorful life. Receiving her bachelor of arts degree in 1967 from Fisk University, her life was (and still is) consumed by her love of poetry. Many of Nikki Giovanni's earliest and most renowned works were inspired by the Civil Rights and Black Arts Movements. She was fully committed to the movement as well as the idea of black power.
Black Feeling, Black Talk (1967), Black Judgment (1968), and Re: Creation (1970) are some of her most famous works that truly expressed the emotions, thoughts, and desires of African- American society in the late 60's and early 70's. It is said that, "her content was urgently revolutionary and suffused with deliberate interpretation of experience through a black consciousness." Nikki Giovanni's poetry has made her one of the most distinguished poets of the Black Arts Movement and her work can still be found today. Always preventing the truth as she sees it, her website claims that she, "remains as determined and committed as ever to the fight for civil rights and equality."

Wilsonia Benita Driveronia aka Sonia Sanchez is an American poet, playwright, and professor who is noted for her black activism. A zealous woman, Sanchez was born September 6, 1934 in Birmingham, Alabama. When her mother died during her childhood, her father had moved the family to Harlem, setting her up to be involved in the Harlem Renaissance and bigger picture of the Black Arts Movement. She received her B.A. in political science from Hunter College in 1955 and later briefly studied writing at New York University. Her works pushed the limits, especially Homecoming (1969) which "contains considerable invective against “white Americaand “white violence." She also frequently wrote about what she called "neo-slavery" and average blacks as socially and psychologically unfree beings. Her other controversial works include topics of sexism, child abuse, and generational and class conflicts. Now working at Temple University, Sachez's contentious work and outreach can still be found today.

These women, as well as many others, took the lead in activism for a cause they had passion: civil rights. Whether involved directly in the Civil Rights Movement, like Parks, or more indirectly involved through their deep and controversial works within the Harlem Renaisance and Black Arts Movement, like Giovanni and Sanchez, these women showed their true colors. Giovanni and Sanchez showed their true colors, no matter how unpopular or controversial and set forward on a path to the one thing they always desired: Equality.


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"Giovanni, Nikki." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online School Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2010. Web. 18 Feb. 2010 .

Giovanni, Nikki. "Yolanda Cornelia "Nikki" Giovanni- Poet, Virginia Tech University Professor." (2010): n. pag. Web. 18 Feb 2010. .

Luker, Ralph. "Civil Rights Movement." Americans at War. Ed. John Resch. Vol. 4. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. 4 pp. 4 vols. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale. Wyoming Seminary. 18 Feb. 2010.

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