The effect of poetry on the African American community is reflective of the remarkable achievements by black leaders, inventors, scholars, athletes, musicians and other performing artists who have been inspired by the works of great African American poets.
To recall the likes of writers including Langston Hughes, W.E.B. DuBois, Claude McKay, Countee Cullen, James Weldon Johnson, Arna Bontemps, Jessie Fauset, among many other black renaissance writers one is tempted to say that the focus of these writers fundamentally changed the inherent misconceptions that African Americans had about their history, spirituality, past and future as Americans.
Much of recorded history on poetry within the African American community lead to the fact that the central theme since the 18th Century when Lucy Terry authored her first ballad ‘Bars fight’ in 1746, throughout the period of New Negro Renaissance in the 1920s up till the Civil Rights Movements in 1960s and even current literary works hasn’t strayed far from the fight against slavery, racism and social equality in American society.
The development of poetry at the turn of the 20th Century in African American communities encompassed the development of an elaborate oral tradition that depicted every aspect and attitude of black life and black consciousness. This can be witnessed particularly in the music, arts and entertainment industry.
The emergence of robust, militant racial poetry for example had the most psychological impact on African Americans. W.E.B. Du Bois, whose intellectual contribution to American political and historical thought, towers over the century’s best minds, wrote little poetry. However, his best piece, “A Litany of Atlanta,” written in response to the Atlanta riot of 1906 is representative and provides a bridge for the strains of protest prevalent in both the 1800s and the 1900s.
Credit is however given to Countee Cullen who perhaps more than any of his contemporaries, agonized over issues relating to social equality and racism. He was the most famous and most quoted African American writer at the time.
The impact did not end there. What became known as the Black Arts Movement in the late 1960s was led by Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), Larry Neal, and Askia Muhammad Touré (Rolland Snellings). Baraka saw the movement as a revolutionary force “to create an art, a literature that would fight for black people’s liberation with as much intensity as Malcolm X.” Their works sparked a revolution in black consciousness.
The movement united two generations of African American poets around the dream of freedom and equality and supplied them with a wealth of cultural heroes including MartinLuther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Emmett Till, Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers, who became the subject matter of their poetry.
The proliferation of the ideas and impact of the Black Arts Movement was largely due to the formation of cultural organizations and Writers Workshops committed to encouraging African American poets and increasing readership among an African American audience. The impact of poetry, undoubtedly, is indicative of the assertiveness of African Americans in the socio-political, cultural and philosophical rise of America.