The United Brothers and Committee for Unified Newark

In November of 1967, two friends of Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), John Bugg and Harold Wilson, sent out a letter inviting a small group of African American leaders to meet at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Newark on December 8th. Twelve men and one woman were asked to be a part of the development of a “Black United Front” to take power in the election of 1970.

Some of the people invited were involved in most of the key resistance efforts in Newark in the late 1960s: Donald Tucker, Earl Harris, Eulis “Honey” Ward, Harry Wheeler, Junius Williams, and Louise Epperson, all coming fresh from the Medical School fight and/or the Parker Callaghan struggle. Ken Gibson was not a radical or a militant, but he had been involved with the BICC (the coalition of business and community leaders convened to bring jobs for black people in downtown retail stores and other places) and the United Community Corporation (the War on Poverty).  Additionally, he ran for Mayor in 1966 and got 15,000 votes. Ted Pinckney was active in the UCC; Russell Bingham was a protégé of Honey Ward. Harold Wilson, John Bugg, and others were personal friends of Baraka. This group would meet each Sunday to organize and develop this “Black United Front.”

Baraka introduced a security force to these Sunday meetings. First came Kamiel Wadud and his men. Kamiel was a Sunni Muslim affiliated with a man named Hajj Heesham Jaaber—an associate of the late Malcolm X. Baraka said in his autobiography that it was Heesham who first changed his name from LeRoi Jones to Ameer Barakat.

But soon thereafter another group was presented as security. Black Community  Development and Defense (BCD) was headed by Pan Africanist Balozi Zayd Muhammad, and karate expert Mfundishi Maasi, both of whom were from East Orange.

Baraka admired Ron Karenga, a cultural nationalist in California with an organization called “US.” It was Karenga who changed his name from Ameer Barakat, to Amiri Baraka.

Karenga’s style of organization was based on discipline and tight control by a central leader.  Under the tutelage of Karenga, Baraka began to build that kind of organization in Newark, with the help of the BCD. Baraka envisioned the Committee for Unified Newark as a “larger united front” composed of Baraka’s Spirit House Movers and Players, the BCD, and the United Brothers.

This change didn’t happen overnight, but over about a several month period. More and more elements of Karenga’s “cultural revolution” were added to the organization. There was an African identity assumed by those who were Baraka’s most loyal followers, which required African garb, and the regular use of Swahili, the trade language amongst Africans in East Africa. Discipline was a part of the culture.  The women, also in African garb, were expected to serve in disciplined fashion.  Some of the members in CFUN were given Afrocentric names by Baraka or Karenga, and Baraka also married people and named babies.

A building at 502 High Street became the headquarters for CFUN.  The Housing Authority gave its use to Baraka, because one day he went over and made the demand for the building. It was a beautiful building acquired by the Housing Authority through urban renewal, next to the St. Benedict’s High School on High Street near the corner of Springfield Avenue.

There were “Soul Sessions” at CFUN headquarters, also called the “Hekalu,” which were very much tailored to make the African connection.  The brothers and sisters wore African garb, and danced to African music. Baraka and Karenga, when he was in town, gave spirited speeches focusing on cultural identity and politics. They were held on Sunday afternoons and lasted into the early evenings.

The merger of interests between cultural nationalism (CFUN) and mayoral politics (United Brothers) was a volatile coalition that survived the election of Ken Gibson as Mayor in 1970.  Not everyone who was a part of the United Brothers, though, was a cultural nationalist.

Clip from interview with poet and activist Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), in which he discusses the formation of the United Brothers and Committee for Unified Newark. The United Brothers was a coalition of Black leaders in Newark organized to develop a “Black United Front” to take power in the mayoral election of 1970. This coalition evolved into the Committee for Unified Newark, a “larger united front,” consisting of the United Brothers, the Spirit House Movers and Players, and Black Community Development and Defense. — Credit: Henry Hampton Collection, Washington University Libraries

Clip from an interview with Newark Area Planning Association (NAPA) and Newark Community Union Project (NCUP) member Junius Williams, in which he discusses the emergence of the United Brothers in Newark. The United Brothers was a coalition of Black leaders in Newark organized to develop a “Black United Front” to take power in the mayoral election of 1970. — Credit: Henry Hampton Collection, Washington University Libraries

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Support LeRoi, Come to the Trial

Support LeRoi, Come to the Trial

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Flyer distributed to encourage community support at the trial of LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), who was arrested and beaten by Newark police during the 1967 Newark rebellion for alleged gun possesion. The flyer shows a picture of Jones bloodied and bandaged after his arrest. — Credit: Amiri Baraka Papers; Box 56, Folder 13; Rare Book and Manuscript Library; Columbia University
 
 
Telegram from Ron Karenga

Telegram from Ron Karenga

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Telegram sent by Ron Karenga, of the nationalist US Organization in Los Angeles, to LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) on July 15, 1967. The telegram reads: “Keep on pushin if you need anything call us see you next week. ‘Take it slow we’ve got a long time a long way to go but we have each other and the world.’ Blackly, Maulana Ron Karenga and All of US” — Credit: Amiri Baraka Papers; Box 56, Folder 13; Rare Book and Manuscript Library; Columbia University
 
 
 
 
 
Parley To Name Negroes As City Council Candidates

Parley To Name Negroes As City Council Candidates

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Article from the Star-Ledger on June 13, 1968 covering a political convention to be held by the United Brothers for the purpose of nominating candidates to run for City Council positions. — Credit: The Star-Ledger
 
Petition Drive Planned For 2 Negro Candidates

Petition Drive Planned For 2 Negro Candidates

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Article from the Star-Ledger on June 25, 1968 covering the nomination of Theodore Pinckney and Donald Tucker for City Council positions during a political convention held by the United Brothers. The article contains brief biographies of both Pinckney and Tucker. — Credit: The Star-Ledger
 
United Brothers Event Featuring Stokely Carmichael

United Brothers Event Featuring Stokely Carmichael

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Flyer for an event hosted by the United Brothers on April 26, 1968, featuring international Black Power advocate Stokely Carmichael, Charles Kenyatta, Kenneth Gibson, and John Henrik Clarke. — Credit: HUAC Hearings (1968)
 
Benefit for the Newark Fund with CT Vivian

Benefit for the Newark Fund with CT Vivian

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Poster announcing a fundraiser event for The Newark Fund on February 22, 1970, featuring Civil Rights Movement veterans Rev. C.T. Vivian and Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer. The Newark Fund was established by Amiri Baraka to support the campaigns of candidates nominated by the Black and Puerto Rican Convention, which the United Brothers and Committee For Unified Newark helped to organize. — Credit: Newark Public Library
thumbnail of -Spirit House, The New Fortress,- by Amiri Baraka-ilovepdf-compressed

"Spirit House, The New Fortress," by Amiri Baraka

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In this unpublished essay written in 2013, Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) describes the histories of The Spirit House at 33 Stirling Street in Newark. Baraka explains the context of The Spirit House’s founding, along with its political, cultural, and historic significance for Newark and the Black Arts Movement. This essay was generously given to “The North” by Amina Baraka. — Credit: Amina Baraka
 
Black and Beautiful, Soul and Madness

Black and Beautiful, Soul and Madness

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Cover of a spoken word album composed by Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) and the Spirit House Movers in 1968. The album was produced by the Jihad record label, operated out of The Spirit House, and also produced music from jazz legend Sun Ra. — Credit: Amiri Baraka Papers; Rare Book and Manuscript Library; Columbia University
Letter from John Bugg to Robert Curvin

Letter from John Bugg to Robert Curvin

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Letter from Committee For Unified Newark (CFUN) member John Bugg, to Robert Curvin, inviting him to a planning meeting for what would become the Black and Puerto Rican Convention in 1969. CFUN and the United Brothers collaborated with other civil rights leaders and organizations in Newark to organize this political convention for the purpose of running black candidates in the 1970 city elections. — Credit: Amiri Baraka Papers; Rare Book and Manuscript Library; Columbia University
CFUN Newsletter- Words from Imamu

CFUN Newsletter- Words from Imamu

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An undated newsletter from the Committee For Unified Newark (CFUN) carrying a message from Imamu Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) regarding government surveillance and infiltration of nationalist organizations. The FBI’s Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) actively surveilled, infiltrated, and sought to disrupt and destroy civil rights and black power organizations in the 1960s. — Credit: Amiri Baraka Papers; Rare Book and Manuscript Library; Columbia University
 
Amiri Baraka and Ken Gibson

Amiri Baraka and Ken Gibson

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Photo of Amiri Baraka in the foreground, with Ken Gibson just behind him. Baraka and Gibson were both members of the United Brothers, a coalition of Black leaders in Newark organized to develop a “Black United Front” to take power in the mayoral election of 1970. — Credit: Newark Public Library
 
Junius Williams In Front Of NAPA Office

Junius Williams In Front Of NAPA Office

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Photo of Junius Williams, member of the United Brothers, standing in front of NAPA headquarters. On the window behind him is a poster for the United Brothers that reads “Black Unity! Self-Government is Possible in 1970. Let’s Do It Together!” — Credit: Junius Williams Collection
 
 
Portrait of Theodore Pinckney

Portrait of Theodore Pinckney

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Portrait of Theodore Pinckney, director of the Neighborhood Youth Corps, and member of the United Brothers. Pinckney ran for Newark City Councilman-at-Large in 1968 as a nominee of the United Brothers. — Credit: Newark Public Library
Portrait of Harry Wheeler

Portrait of Harry Wheeler

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Portrait of Harry Wheeler, member of the Committee Against Negro and Puerto Rican Removal and the United Brothers. The United Brothers was a coalition of Black leaders in Newark organized to develop a “Black United Front” to take power in the mayoral election of 1970. — Credit: Newark Public Library
Photo of Amiri Baraka

Photo of Amiri Baraka

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Photo of Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) from the late 1960s. After being arrested and badly beaten during the 1967 Newark Rebellion, Baraka became a highly visible figure in the struggle for Black Power in Newark. — Credit: Amiri Baraka Papers; Rare Book and Manuscript Library; Columbia University
Press Conference Inside The Spirit House

Press Conference Inside The Spirit House

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A bandaged Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) holds a press conference inside the Spirit House in Newark during the National Conference on Black Power. Baraka was wounded after being arrested on gun charges and beaten by Newark Police during the 1967 rebellion. To the left of Baraka are cultural nationalist leader Ron Karenga (US Organization) and the mother of James Rutledge (veiled), who was shot 39 times by State Police during the rebellion. — Credit: Amiri Baraka Papers; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library
Jazz Group Performs Inside the Hekalu

Jazz Group Performs Inside the Hekalu

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A view from inside the Hekalu, the headquarters of the Committee For Unified Newark, during a jazz performance. The Hekalu was a hub for political and cultural expression and nationalism, regularly hosting concerts, performances, and film screenings grounded in the politics of liberation and nationalism. — Credit: Newark Public Library
Jazz Group Performs Inside the Hekalu

Jazz Group Performs Inside the Hekalu

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A view from inside the Hekalu, the headquarters of the Committee For Unified Newark, during a jazz performance. The Hekalu was a hub for political and cultural expression and nationalism, regularly hosting concerts, performances, and film screenings grounded in the politics of liberation and nationalism. — Credit: Newark Public Library