Cuban leader Ricardo Alarcón: Amiri Baraka ‘led an unwavering life’

By Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada

Alarcón was president of the Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power and a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba until 2013.

Beautiful black women,
it is still raining in this terrible land.
We need you. We flex our muscles,
turn to stare at our tormentor,
we need you. Raining.
We need you, reigning, black queen.
(from the poem “Beautiful Black Women” by Amiri Baraka)

Amiri Baraka died on Jan. 9 in Newark, N.J., not far from where he had been born 79 years ago with the name of Everett LeRoi Jones. Those who were close in the intensive care ward of the hospital where he spent his last month say that poetry also accompanied him to the end.

I met him back in the sixties of last century, when he was known as LeRoi Jones. Despite his youth, he was already a recognized writer. He had published “Blues People: Negro Music in White America,” an essential text considered “the first great history of black music written by an African-American,” plus several collections of poems and a play, “Dutchman,” which received the Obie Award and has been performed many times and made into a film. One of his poems, “Black Art,” became the main poetic manifesto of the Black Arts Literary Movement.

He was, even then, one of the clearest minds of the New York intellectual milieu, whose work transcended U.S. borders. He was beginning a long and fruitful career, which would include university teaching and would extend for half a century.

His career was not limited to artistic and literary creation or his intense intellectual activity.

He belonged to that rebellious generation which, within the belly of the beast, wanted to conquer the sky. A tireless social activist, his life is inseparable from the struggle against racism and imperialism synthesized in the Black Power movement, of which he was a guide and one of its main inspirations. He was also an inspiration for the Puerto Rican Young Lords, who fought for equality and the independence of their homeland. Very soon, the FBI identified him as “the person who is likely to emerge as the leader of the Pan-African movement in the United States.”

He came to Cuba in 1960 and wrote “Cuba Libre,” a beautiful testimony of solidarity with our people and our Revolution, published in Evergreen Review. It received the Longview Award for best essay of the year. He reiterated his friendship through his “Declaration of Conscience,” and by organizing hundreds of intellectuals and young Americans into the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. He was always with us and never gave up.

More than once he was imprisoned and suffered mistreatment and abuse. In 1967, during the popular rebellion in Newark, he was brutally beaten and kidnapped by racist police. The angry protests of Blacks in the streets, and the supportive wave which swept the world driven by Allen Ginsberg, Jean-Paul Sartre and other intellectuals, saved him from death.

He survived and led an unwavering life, always clinging to his youthful ideals, confident until his last day that another world, that of freedom and socialism, is possible. He will remain with us.

This CubaNews translation from Spanish was edited by Walter Lippmann.