On Monday June 6, NYU Postdoctoral Fellow Andrew Gorin presented his research on Amiri Baraka’s Black Communications Project. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Baraka spearheaded this endeavor to foster Black public broadcasting and mass media as a mode of producing a Black political and cultural consciousness. First in California and then in Baraka’s hometown of Newark New Jersey, the Black Communications Project hosted and documented conferences and poetry festivals, produced films, and created public radio programming. This last initiative was a major focus of the Black Communications Project in Newark, where Baraka established a radio and television production studio with donated equipment from NBC and CBS. The Black Communications Project was able to host a public radio program on local network WNJR until their unabashed political messaging angered network executives. During the dispute that ensued, Baraka spoke out against the WNJR censorship of the Black Communications Project programming and of the larger phenomenon of white-run radio stations’ exploitation of Black cultural production and paternalism towards Black listeners.
Baraka was interested in public broadcasting as a collaborative effort between creators and listeners—a part of the African tradition of call-and-response in which spectatorship is part of the performance. One can see this theory reflected in his critiques of WNJR during the dispute as well as in spoken word poetry from this period. In “History Poem,” on the Black Spirits LP produced through the Black Communications Project, Baraka recites parts of his poem in response to a tape he plays from the stage. He, as a performer, also becomes a listener, initiating a chain reaction of co-creation.