We always knew him as LeRoi Jones, member of the Greenwich Village beat scene, who inherited the mantle of Malcolm X after Malcolm was assassinated.
Echo boomers today have little concept of what life was like in the 1960s, when the FBI was murdering the best voices in the land in an attempt to keep the war economy on track. The beats were the heart and soul of the anti-war movement, and their passion for peace infected the next generation, who became known as the hippies.
I was super disappointed when LeRoi changed his name to Baraka and declared himself a Black Nationalist. The whole point of the counterculture was that everyone was invited to the party, and then he spun off and began writing anti-white propaganda. I lost interest in his work for a while, but there’s no denying he became the leading radical spokesperson for the black community, and he always had a knack for puncturing hypocrisy wherever he found it.
A few years ago Baraka was given a cushy gig making $10,000 a year as Poet Laurette of New Jersey. But shortly after capturing the honor, he read a poem about 9/11 called “Who Blew Up America?” in which he referenced foreknowledge of the Jewish community in New York City. New Jersey quickly fired him as their official state poet and then eliminated the position because they didn’t want any more rouge poets sprouting revolutionary rhetoric. Since we’re at the beginning of awareness of what happened that day, anyone in official positions who speaks out will be swiftly excommunicated from the power structure, just like Baraka was. This is happening in every industry and university. So any intelligent person understands that they can petition for a real investigation and lose their career, or keep quiet and have a comfortable life. The difference today is most echo boomers opt for the comfortable life, although I wonder if that might not start to feel empty later on down the road.
Baraka took on a most spiritual name when he threw off his slave name, and he played a major role in getting blacks to build their own local businesses as well as name their children with African names. He obviously had a high awareness of the magic involved with names as he changed his three times over the course of his life. “Barakah” in Sufi culture is the word for the great spirit that flows through all things. Certain things, however, can become much more highly charged with barakah: artists, poets, mystics, shamans, for example, as well as the tools they work with.
While I applauded Baraka’s speaking out on 9/11, I was saddened he supported the hoax that thousands of Jewish workers didn’t show up that day. I’m sure at least one CEO was told, but there’s no evidence thousands of Jews suspiciously avoided work. I always thought that meme was floated by spooks to discredit the 9/11 researchers. The guy who didn’t show up for work and lived is Howard Lutnik and his company seemed to have a lot of activity moving money around right before the buildings went down, not to mention his floor was the real ground zero. And then he cashed in with a book about 9/11.
As one of the most significant artists of his time, it will take time to sort out Baraka’s legacy. But it’s always sad to lose someone so filled with the spirit that flows through all things.