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Black Academy of Arts and Letters

Black Academy of Arts and Letters

The Black Academy of Arts and Letters was founded in Boston in 1969 in the tradition of the American Negro Academy (18971916) to "define, reserve, cultivate, promote, foster and develop the arts and letters of black people." At the founding meeting C. Eric Lincoln, a noted historian of black religion, was elected president; novelist John O. Killens, vice president; psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint, treasurer; and author Doris Saunders, secretary. The fifty founding members included African Americans from a wide spectrum of the artistic and scholarly world, such as Alvin Ailey, Margaret Walker Alexander, Lerone Bennett, Arna Bontemps, Oliver Cromwell Cox, Alex Haley, Vincent Harding, Vivian Henderson, Henry Lewis, Carl Rowan, and Nina Simone.

One goal of the Black Academy of Arts and Letters was to recognize those who have made a notable contribution to black America. The First Annual Awards Banquet in 1970 drew a crowd of over six hundred members and friends. With Harry Belafonte as master of ceremonies, a hall of fame was established and Carter G. Woodson, Henry O. Tanner, W. E. B. Du Bois, Lena Horne, C. L. R. James, Diana Sands, Imamu Amiri Baraka, and Paul Robeson were inducted.

The academy honored George Jackson with an award for his book Soledad Brothers after its publication in 1970. In 1972 it sought to bring W. E. B. Du Bois's remains from Ghana for burial in the United States in hopes of bringing greater recognition of his achievements and contributions to the African-American struggle for freedom. The academy also attempted to purchase Langston Hughes's house in Harlem. After restoration, they hoped to use one wing of the house as their hall of fame. However, the controversy surrounding some political positions of the academy, such as their support of George Jackson, made fundraising extremely difficult. By the early 1970s the academy had ceased functioning.

See also Ailey, Alvin; Baraka, Amiri (Jones, LeRoi); Belafonte, Harry; Bontemps, Arna; Du Bois, W. E. B.; Haley, Alex; Killens, John Oliver; Robeson, Paul; Rowan, Carl T.; Tanner, Henry Ossawa


Editorial. Negro History Bulletin 33 (November 1970): 156157.

Moss, Alfred A., Jr. The American Negro Academy: Voice of the Talented Tenth. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 1981.

premilla nadasen (1996)

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