On March 5, 1897, in Washington, D.C., Rev. Dr. Alexander Crummell, the son of a West African Tribal Chief (Temme Tribe) and an American literary giant, founded an organization called the American Negro Academy (ANA). After ANA’s inception, five major objectives were instituted. Those objectives were:
- defense of the Negro against vicious assaults;
- publication of scholarly works;
- fostering higher education among Negroes;
- formulation of intellectual tastes and;
- promotion of literature, science and art.
It should be noted that ANA was the first and only body in America, at that time, to bring together Negro artists and scholars from all over the world. Eleven years after the founding of ANA, Alexander Crummell died (Sept. 12, 1908) and Dr. W.E.B. DuBois was elected president.
By 1918, ANA had produced in the literary market such scholarly works as:
- “Civilization: The Primal Need of the Race and Attitude of the American Mind Toward Negro Intellect” by Alexander Crummell
- “The Early Negro Conventions” by John W. Crumwell
- “Modern Industrialization and the Negro of the United States” by J.E. Moreland
- “Comparative Study of the Negro Problem” by Charles C. Cook
- “Disfranchisement of the Negro” by J.L. Lowe
- “How the Black San Domingo Legion Saved the Patriotic Army in the Siege of Savanah 1799” by T.G. Steward
- “Right on Scaffold or the Martyr of 1822” by A.H. Grimke
- “The Negro and the Elective Franchise Symposium” by A.H. Grimke, Charles C. Cook, John Noge, John L. Love, Kelly Miller and Rev. Francis J. Grimke
- “A Review of Hoffman’s Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro” by Kelley Miller
- “The Status of the Free Negro from 1860-1870” by William Pickens
- “Economic Contribution by the Negro to America” by Arthur Schomburg
- “Status of the Free Negro Prior to 1860” by L.M. Hershaw
- “The Message of San Domingo of the African Race” by T.G. Steward
- “The Sex Question and Race Segregation” by A.H. Grimke
With twenty-seven years of long tedious work and leaving a flaming torch burning for its successors, ANA cease to exist (in name only) in 1924.
Decades later, the flames that were left burning in the torch by the ANA were regenerated by interested poets, historians, dancers, essayists, musicians, dramatists, novelists, actors, journalists, scholars, and painters. These artists and scholars felt the need to recreate what had already been established by their forerunners. And so in 1968, several subsequent meetings pertaining to the rejuvenation of an Academy led to major meetings. These meetings (Oct. 5, 1968, and Dec. 8, 1968) were held at the 20th Century Fund, 41 East 70th Street, NY, NY.
Participants present at these meetings were: Dr. C. Eric Lincoln, who served as Chairperson, Julian “Cannonball” Adderly, Romare Bearden, Dr. Oliver Cromwell Cox, Floyd Coleman, Vertis C. Hayes, Dr. Vivian W. Henderson, Dr. Adelaide Cromwell Hill, Robert Hooks, John O. Killens, Dr. Martin Luther Kilson, Jr., Donald McKayle, Arthur Mitchell, Frederick O’Neal, Dr. Alvin Poussaint, Dr. Benjamin Quarles, M.J. Rossant, Doris Saunders, Chuck Stone and John A. Williams.
In March of 1969, a “Black Academy of Arts and Letters (BAAL)” was founded, chartered and incorporated as a non-profit, tax-exempt organization by the State of New York on June 12, 1969. C. Eric Lincoln was president; John O. Killens, vice president; Doris Saunders, secretary; Alvin F. Poussaint, treasurer; and Julia Prettyman, executive director. Charles V. Hamilton, Vincent Harding, Robert Hooks, Charles White and John A. Williams were other Board Members. Additional members and fellows of the Academy from 1969-1972 included Julian Adderly, Alvin Ailey, Margaret Walker Alexander, James Baldwin, Imanu Baraka, Etta Moten Barnett, Romare Bearden, Harry Belafonte, Lerone Bennet, Arna W. Bontempts, Wilfred Cartey, John Henry Clarke, Floyd Coleman, Oliver Cromwell Cox, Earnest Crinchlow, John A. Davis, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee Davis, St. Clair Drake, Earnest Dunbar, Katherine Dunham, Lonne Elder, III, Duke Ellington, John Hope Franklin, Alex Haley, Inge Hardison, Vertis C. Hayes, Vivian Henderson, Adelaide Cromwell Hill, Chester Himes, Lena Horne, Jean Hutson, Martin Kilson, Jacob Lawrence, Elma Lewis, Henry Lewis, Paule Marhsall, Benjamin E. Myes, Donald McKayle, Arthur Mitchell, Carlton Moss, Frederick O’Neal, Gordon Parks, Sidney Poitier, Dorothy B. Porter, Benjamin Quarles, Lawrence Reddick, Jay Saunders Redding, Lloyd Richards, Lucille D. Roberts, Paul LeRoy Roberson, Carl T. Rowan, Leopold Sedar Senghor, Nina Simone, Elliot Skiller, Chuck Stone, Charles H. Wesley and Hale Woodruff.
Focusing on similar organizational objectives that were developed by ANA, some of the major programs created by BAAL included the Incentive Awards to Promising Artists and Scholars, Revolving Chairs of Black Arts and Letters at Black Colleges, Touring Exhibits of Black Art, support of Black Arts at the Community Level, Black Academy Hall of Fame, A Directory of Cultural Activities in the Black Community and a Biennial Conference of Black Artists and Scholars. Other activities included annual competitions and festivals for Black filmmakers, annual retreats for Black writers, establishment of cultural archives covering all major artists and scholars, both living and deceased, a Manual for the Guidance of Black Writers in preparing material for publication, an oral history of the Black experience, a photographic record of Black achievements in architecture and the crafts and sponsorship of cultural festivals and forums on Black Theater, Music, Art and Dance.
By the early part of 1973, BAAL had undergone some administrative changes and it became defunct approximately one year later in 1974. Both academies ANA and BAAL, however, had lived up to their respective objective. They gave reality to speculation and solidity to dreams.
Eighty years (1897-1977) after the inception of ANA and eight years (1969-1977) after the development of BAAL, a third Academy generation was formed with the concepts, goals, dreams, purposes and objectives of the previous academies. In 1977, the Junior Black Academy of Arts and Letters, Inc. (JBAAL), was conceptualized. After Curtis King had conversed with C. Eric Lincoln, John O. Killens, Margaret Walker Alexander, Frederick O’Neal, Jean Hutson, Romare Bearden and Doris Saunders concerning the formation of an Academy that would directly involve young and aspiring artists and scholars, JBAAL was founded and officially formed by Curtis King in Dallas, Texas on July 17, 1977 with $250 of his personal money.
The Junior Black Academy of Arts and Letters was established to:
- To enhance and help sustain the total cause and efforts for which ANA and BAAL were established;
- To work jointly and cooperatively under the auspices of the founders and former members of BAAL;
- To serve as a catalyst and clearinghouse for Black arts and letters organizations and institutions;
- To help promote, implement and disseminate the goals, objectives and dreams of ANA and BAAL by:
- defining, preserving, cultivating, promoting, fostering and developing the arts and letters of Black People;
- promoting and encouraging public recognition of the universality of arts and letters of Black People;
- promoting and encouraging fellowship and cooperation among Black artists, composers, musicians, writers, performers, and all others engaged in artistic and creative endeavors;
- promoting and encouraging the public recognition and honor of the young artists and others as being representative of its purposes, goals and objectives;
- promoting and encouraging the holding of competitions, exhibits, performances, presentations and showings of the arts and letters of Black People;
- providing a reference depository accessible to members and others which will depict (through any and all media now known or subsequently developed, including but not limited to photographs, paintings, sketches, carvings, casting, moldings, films, tapes, recordings, engravings and publications) the skills and achievements of Black People in the arts and letters;
- providing encouragement to and an outlet for the creative efforts and achievements in the arts and letters of Black People;
- establishing, providing and granting fellowships, prizes and awards for creative efforts and achievements in the arts and letters of Black People;
After more than four decades of producing and presenting programs in music, theater, dance, film, television, video, literature and the visual and arts throughout the United States, TBAAL continues to create strong ties among many emerging and well known artists and scholars.
In the organization’s early history (1977), it established a professional Resident Touring Company called the Third World Players. Renowned actress Regina Taylor was an original member of that company in 1978 and other artists such as Erykah Badu are a product of the Academy. As a part of the institution’s succession and sustainability plan, TBAAL hired its first Chief Executive Director, Jiles King, in October of 2013. Also in 2013, the institution donated its entire archival collection of letters, papers, brochures, photographs, videos, etc. to the University of North Texas as a part of TBAAL’s long term cultural collaborative partnership.
TBAAL has a nine (9) member Board of Directors.