Arts Editorial

The Case of LeRoi Jones: A Call for Support

Amherst Student

On November 6, 1967 LeRoi Jones, black American poet, playwright, and prophet was convicted of illegal possession of two revolvers during the summer riots in Newark. Jones maintained throughout the trial and still maintains today that he never possessed any guns.

No attempt was made by the prosecution to trace and establish ownership of the guns. Jones was seriously injured when he was originally booked on the charges. He said he had been beaten by police; witnesses corroborated this fact; the police said no. Surprise.

They conceded that the defendant did not resist arrest, and that he was, indeed, quite injured but said they did not beat him. In giving final instructions to the jury. Essex County Judge Leon Kapp reviewed the prosecution's case without mentioning the case for the defense.

"Unfortunately," he concluded, "a mass of trivia has crept into the trial. In the final analysis, the police are the shield of the community against violence. Our government cannot exist without rule of law." Jones was convicted by an all white jury, after a deliberation of 75 minutes.

On January 4, Jones was sentenced to two and a half years in the New Jersey State Penitentiary and fined $1,000. The sentence was the maximum. The poet had no prior convictions. The New York Times reported: "The judge indicated that he based the severity of Jones' punishment to a large extent on a poem published last month in the "Evergreen Review."

The judge read the whole poem to the court, substituting "blank" for words he termed obscenities. Judge Kapp found the poem, entitled "Black People," to be a "diabolical description to commit murder and steal and loot." Judge Kapp denied the poet bail pending appeal. Jones' attorneys appealed to the Superior Court to grant bail, and on Tuesday, January 9, the poet was released on $25,000 bail. His case will now be appealed.

The freedom of every man in America, the right of every human being to express his feelings and thoughts is just one of the principles which is hanging in the balance of the decision on Jones.

The following statement of support of LeRoi Jones was drawn up by the Committee on Poetry. We support this position entirely and hope that every comfortable Amherst professor who still cares about our basic freedom will respond to it. It is ludicrous to even begin talking about the "Arts" if there is no freedom for the artist to live.

Statement Of Committee On Poetry

"We believe Leroi Jones, not the Newark police, that the poet carried no revolvers in his car at all; that the police beat Jones up and then had to find a reason, thus found phony guns; that after the double-whammy of his beating and rabbit-in-the-hat guns, his trial before an all white jury was a triple whammy. Lo and behold! Fourth execrable whammy! —the judge recited one of Jones' visionary poems to the court (a butchered, emasculated version), and gave him a long two and a half sentence because of it . . . Mr. Jones' whitekind is that self same demon we call tyranny, injustice, dictatorship. As poet, he champions the black imagination.

As revolutionary poet his revolution is fought with words. He scribes that the police carried the guns. Lyres tell the truth! We herald to literary or intellectual or academic persons: get on the ball for LeRoi Jones or get off the poetic pot. LeRoi Jones is not only a black man, a Newark man, a revolutionary, he is a conspicuous American artist imprisoned for his poetry during a crisis of authoritarianism in these States . . . Signed by John Ashberry, Gregory Corse, Robert Creeley, Diane di Prima, Robert Duncan, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, Kenneth Koch, Denise Levertov, Michael McClure, Charles Olson, Joel Oppenheimer, Peter Orlovsky, Gil Sorrentino, Philip Whalen, and John Wieners." For further information, contact the Committee on Poetry, P.O. Box 582, Stuyvesant Station, N.Y. 9, N.Y. 212-777-6786.

LeRoi Jones gives voice to what others wish not to hear. He gives sound to the cries for murder hurtled beneath rhythmic flashing cells of America's black world, cries for murder boiling behind the endless tenement nights, twisting around the panther eyes of our poor "deprived."

And he is trying to tell us about it. He is trying to warn us. Perhaps we should get down on our knees and offer thanks.

After all, the warning he offers is certainly as good as that which we offered all those poor little people down in Hiroshima before we exploded the star spangled banner in fetid chaos all over their eyes. After all . . .

Or perhaps they should take Jones and crucify him. Or at least burn him at the stake. Perhaps he deserves the greatest reward man can bestow upon man. Perhaps . . .

The poem printed on this page was published in the December "Evergreen Review" and is reprinted here with their permission and that of the Sterling Lord Agency, N.Y.C. Read it; afterwards, you will probably despise LeRoi Jones. It will then be your job to go out and help save him.

- Jim Steinman

Source: Amherst Student archives

The Black Man Is Making New Gods

by LeRoi Jones

Atheist jews double crossers stole our secrets crossed
the white desert white to spill them and
turn into wops and bulgarians.
The Fag's Death
they give us on a cross. To Worship. Our dead selves
in disguise. They give us
to worship
a dead jew
and not ourselves
chained to the bounties
of inhuman
mad chains of
dead jews
and their wishes
and their escape
with our power
with our secrets and knowledge
they turn into loud signs
advertising empty factories
the empty jew
betrays us, as he does
hanging stupidly
from a cross, in an oven, the pantomime
of our torture,
so clearly, cinemascope the jews do it
big, hail the whiteness of their
waking up unhip
with the black holy ghost
who created them
from the dirt on a bum hunch
the shit
would be useful.

These robots drag a robot
in the image of themselves, to be
ourselves, serving their dirty
image. Selling fried potatoes
and people, the little arty bastards
talking arithmetic they sucked from the arab's
Suck you pricks. The best is yet to come. On how
we beat you
and killed you
and tied you up.
And marked this specimen
"Dangerous Germ
Culture." And put you back
in a cold box.

Notes: The article above was the first Jim wrote as Arts Editor for the Amherst Student. Although this article is about the right of an artist to be free to write without fear of prison time, this may also have been built on a prior respect for LeRoi Jones. You might have noticed in the response to Jim's review of The Boor that it mentioned Jim was staging LeRoi Jones' play Dutchman.

If you'd like to read the plot of Dutchman, take a look on wikipedia and watch a talk from 2011 given by Amiri Baraka on the background of Dutchman. "You cannot say 'Here I am, the Poet, safe behind my words.' There's no safety behind words" (Amiri Baraka was previously known as LeRoi Jones)

There was also a short mention of this production in the Amherst Student newspaper on (unknown writer) :-


LeRoi Jones' one-act play "Dutchman" will be offered without charge in Stone Theater this Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, at 8:30pm.

Jim Steinman, Amherst '69, directs the play with Cindy Mitchell, Smith '68, and Dan Cochran, Amherst '68. Miss Mitchell plays a 30-year old white hippie named Lula, while Cochran is a 20-year-old Negro.

The two-scene play is about forty minutes long;the action takes place on a subway. "The action is constant with a build-up to the end which should leave audiences shaken," said Cochran.

"Dutchman" was first presented in New York City in 1964. Shortly thereafter, it received the Village Voice's "Obie" award.

"The play centres squarely on the Negro-white conflict, and is literally shocking in ideas, in language, and in honest anger," concluded Cochran.

Unfortunately we couldn't find any further details about this production from the folks at Amherst. The play was due to be performed the following year with Dan Cochran in the lead role again for the Black Arts Festival at Springfield College, but the dates - the first date April 5th 1968 turned out to be the day after Dr Martin Luther King was killed, so who knows if that went ahead.