Between the thirties and the end of World War II, there was perhaps as radical a change
in the psychological perspective of the Negro American toward Amer i ca as there was be-
tween the Emancipation and 1930. amiri baraka (LeRoi Jones), Blues People, 1963
Like race, time is a social construct. And as a social construct it seems natu ral,
never making itself appear indispensable while structuring much of what we
do and think, when we do and think, and most importantly how we do and
think. When time is coupled with space, also a social construct, together they
determine how we understand where we come from, where we are now, and
where we might be going next and thereafter. Such operations fulfill a limitless
number of purposes, not least of which is in the ways we think of our own place
in history and in the world. What relationship does music have in the ser vice
of these temporal and spatial operations? In the epigraph above, Amiri Baraka,
still writing as LeRoi Jones, reflected back in time to the interwar period and
claimed an ontological shift had occurred among African Americans in regard
to their relationship to the nation. He made his claim inspired no doubt by the
po litical transformations in American society of the early 1960s during which
he wrote Blues People. Such transformations from slave to citizenship, he ar-
gued, are most graphic in black music.1
We also encounter music having a formative place in James Weldon John-
son’s statement from 1925, “As the years go by and I understand more about this
music and its origin, the miracle of its production strikes me with increasing
won der.”2 We know Johnson was writing about the Negro spiritual during the
height of the Harlem Re naissance. We may also take his statement as evidence
supporting Baraka’s claim that black music has had the capacity like no other
form of expressive culture to rec ord how African Americans have forged their
place in history and the nation.
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