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The Women of the Black Arts Movement and the Rise of the Ancestors


The Women of the Black Arts Movement and the Rise of the Ancestors

Kim Cheryl McMillon

Doctor of Philosophy in World Cultures University of California, Merced 2019

Nigel De Juan Hatton, Committee Chair

The history and survival of the African American woman has depended on a central narrative described in my dissertation as ancestralness; whereby, the ancestral tools of poetry, art, music, and community allow women to discover their inner mecca beyond the intersectional oppressions of white privilege, patriarchy and colonization. In this dissertation, I argue that ancestralness negates the designation of African Americans as “other” by opening the door to ancestral DNA and an innerness, where art and community are privileged through the awareness and power in blackness. This same knowledge allowed women of the Black Arts Movement to move beyond the liminal space prescribed to the African-American women. My research seeks to deepen and add to a conversation monitored by men who claimed to have the authority to decide who was a part of the Black Arts Movement. The Movement has been framed by historical figures like Amiri Baraka, Larry Neal, Ed Bullins, Thomas Dent, Ishmael Reed, and Askia Toure while relegating women to the back of the literary bus. This gendered and racial invisibility is explored in the writings of Cherise A. Pollard, Toni Morrison, Toni Cade Bambara, bell hooks, Lorraine Hansberry, and women extending themselves beyond the boundaries placed by race. My research represents a nonlinear conversation aimed at creating new scholarship on race, gender, and the power of Black womanhood. This power of Black womanhood was delineated at the Dillard University-Harvard’s Hutchins Center Conference in September 2016 where BAM female icons Avotcja, Charlotte “Mama C” O’Neal, Doris Derby, Tarika Lewis and others used their art, poetry, music, and research to acknowledge their ancestralness. My dissertation furthers this discussion through filmed interviews, questionnaires, and open discussions with Amina Baraka, and Doris Derby. These women epitomize communities, culture, historical narratives, and art that if left on the sidelines, similar to the history of Blacks in America, is never told.

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