I am one who tells the truth and exposes evil and seeks with Beauty
and for Beauty to set the world right. That somehow, somewhere
eternal and perfect Beauty sits above Truth and Right I can conceive,
but here and now and in the world in which I work they are for me
unseparated and inseparable.
W. E. B. Du Bois, “Criteria of Negro Art”1
Black Art is the aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power
concept….One is concerned with the relationship between art and
politics; the other with the art of politics.
Larry Neal, “The Black Arts Movement”2
[W]hen we got together, it was always Marx, Lenin, and revolution …
real girls’ talk.
Jazz musician Nina Simone, on her conversations with writer Lorraine Hansberry3
In the waning months of 1960, African American musician Louis Armstrong fielded political questions from reporters in Kenya. Armstrong had come to the East African state during an eleven‐week tour of the continent, the last nine weeks of which were sponsored by the US Department of State.
(Pepsi‐Cola sponsored the first two weeks, a fact that we will return to later in this book.) The government‐sponsored portion of the trip took him to Nairobi, where reporters were keen to have the legendary musician share his political views. This journalistic desire was understandable:
Armstrong, an African‐descended artist who had achieved worldwide fame, had arrived in Africa at an eventful moment in the history of anti‐racist and anti-colonial politics. The US civil rights movement was in full swing and making news around the world. At the same time, the transitions of African
decolonization were underway, with Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Sudan, and Ghana having gained their formal independence by 1957, and with sixteen other states following by the end of 1960.4 And these developments had come with their share of violence and controversy, particularly in what had
been the Belgian Congo, in French‐dominated Algeria, and in the Jim Crow US South.