Cory Booker Never Spoke for Newark Like Amiri Baraka DidRoundup: Historians' Take
tags: New Jersey, Newark, Cory Booker, Amiri Baraka
Jelani Cobb is associate professor of history at the University of Connecticut. Follow him on Twitter @jelani9
The lines of mourners, some draped in somber funereal garb, others in colorful African prints, snaked for nearly a block down Broad Street in Newark on Saturday. Just beyond Newark Symphony Hall, a massive American flag was suspended between two raised fire truck ladders and swayed forlornly in the wind. Inside the hall, a red, black, and green black liberation flag, smaller but no less intently hung, was draped from the balcony. For three-plus hours, speakers sought to explain the life and significance of the poet, activist, and Newark native Amiri Baraka; but the most succinct metaphor was found in the fact that his coffin, like his life, was located somewhere between those two flags.
Baraka’s death occasioned a great deal of commentary, some of it lukewarm literary praise, dutifully observant of the controversial nature of his work and his political opinions. Others focused upon the centrality of his influence as a cultural figure in black life. The Black Arts Movement, which he helped found, equaled the Harlem Renaissance in the breadth of its influence upon African American literary development. His centrality to the political history of Newark and black America at-large was noted to a far lesser degree—even though it, as much as anything he ever wrote, was why an unbroken stream of local residents filed past his coffin for three-and-a-half hours during his wake, why some three thousand of them crowded into Symphony hall for his homegoing services, why one observer said to me somewhat cryptically that the funeral raised for black Newark the kind of questions white people pondered at the death of the last Civil War veteran....