Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Late in the year, 1966.

A community center in Newark, New Jersey.

A large group of reasonably educated young people (in their 20’s and 30’s) gathered in a large basement room of the community center. About two dozen whites on one side of the room. An equal number of young Blacks on the opposing side. The Blacks stared angrily at the Whites. The Whites looked back fearfully at the Blacks. They had been charged, and also had volunteered, to be the subject of an experiment in which they would spend 14 hours in this particular room without food, without sleep, without anything, save dialogue between each other if they so chose to instigate it. They were told to say, or scream whatever was on their minds to each other, or forever hold their peace, [or piece], if they so desired.

I had been invited to witness this gathering of tinder, and partake in these festivities by a certain Professor Nameless [Psychology, Cornell University] under the auspices of a School of Industrial Relations that had solicited my labor union to serve up likely candidates for this exciting bake-off.

In all fairness, I did eventually get to go to the Cornell Club on New York’s Eastside to pick up a Certificate that indicated that I had demonstrated, for all intents and purposes, that in the Art of Communications, I was, at least, a passable specimen. All of this had transpired in the year before LeRoi Jones’ second marriage, and coincidentally, the year before my second marriage.

Also, in the coming year, 1967, the Eye of the Chimera would get seriously singed before the nation, and the world.

So how interesting is it, therefore, this less renowned Baraka “Incident”? His poem, the one under theoretical discussion in the video that I watched today, after reading the poem this morning for the first time in my still-charmed life, somewhat less interesting, but only somewhat less. Here is all that I otherwise remember about that long night’s journey into light.

JONES: “Do you know that I could kill you? I could kill you right now!”

KEEPERMAN: “Yes, but you won’t, LeRoi.”

JONES: “Really. And just why is that, pretty boy?”

KEEPERMAN: “Because if you do kill me, nobody in this room, nobody…and nobody outside of this room, nobody…but most of all, you, LeRoi, will ever know if you killed me because I was White, or because you were Black.”

Jones smiled, everyone smiled, everyone hugged. The next 12 hours were without 'incident', if I recall.

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