Black Is Beautiful: A homage to photographer Kwame Brathwaite

On April 1, 2023, Kwame Brathwaite, the photojournalist and political activist who popularized the phrase “Black Is Beautiful” during the Black Power Movement of the Sixties, passed away.

Kwame hailed from New York–where he took up photography in the 1950s during the early days of the Civil Rights era. After seeing the shocking photos of the lynching of Emmett Till, he was inspired to use his camera to photograph Africans and portray his people in a real and positive light as they suffered the ugly realities of colonialism in the U.S.

As Africans were mounting a struggle against colonialism in the fifties, Kwame co-founded the African Jazz Arts Society and Studio (AJASS) and Grandassa Models (1962) in Harlem with his brother Elombe Brath. AJASS was a collective of artists, playwrights, designers and dancers; Grandassa Models was a modeling agency for African women, founded to contend with the colonizer’s standards of beauty.

By this time, Africans in the U.S. were embracing our African identity and culture, reconnecting with our roots that had been cut by the colonial slave trade, during which we were dehumanized, degraded, and debased as a people and robbed of our culture. We were taking pride in being African after having our sense of self assailed and maligned by colonialism and cultural imperialism.

Despite how the world has been taught by the colonizer to hate Africa, including Africans ourselves, there is not a place on Earth one can look out and not see the cultural impact of Africa and African people–from music, art, dance, language, food, fashion and more. An impact that has been dominated and profited on by the colonizer, while the African masses are forced to live under the worst conditions of poverty, oppression and exploitation.

Kwame’s work in the war of ideas

It was during this time of growing political consciousness in the struggle for liberation and self-determination that Kwame took photos that portrayed the unique beauty of Africans, reflecting our changing self-image after centuries of self-hate that colonialism instilled in us.

Colonialism disappeared Africa and African people when they made us into slaves, turned us into “Negroes” and “Coloreds” and other names that declared the ownership of black people by the colonizer.

Kwame’s proclamation of “Black Is Beautiful” became a slogan that expressed the pride, dignity and humanity of African people, directly contending with the colonizer’s depiction of us.

The “Black Is Beautiful” aesthetic that Kwame espoused through his photography challenged the prevailing European standards of beauty. His stylish photos of Africans forced many to see the real depth and beauty of Africans. He helped define the aesthetics of the Black Arts Movement in the 1960s.

As a photographer, Kwame used his camera to capture Africans’ journey towards self-discovery, knowledge, definition and self-determination that began with the struggle against colonialism and the pursuit of our freedom.

As a freelance journalist, he also chronicled the struggles of the Civil Rights and the Black Power era.

Through the Patrice Lumumba Coalition that he co-founded, Kwame was also active in the African Liberation Movement. He was deeply inspired and influenced by Marcus Garvey and was committed to the liberation of Africans in Africa and throughout our dispersed and colonized nation.

During the African People’s Socialist Party-led World Tribunal on Reparations to African People held in Brooklyn in 1982, Kwame testified about the depreciation of Africans and our culture and its appropriation by the colonizers. He criticized the bastardization of our music by colonial-capitalism.

His testimony exposed the vulturous cultural imperialism that has resulted in incredible wealth and riches for the colonizers, at the detriment of the colonized.

Lifetime of “art for the revolution”

Kwame remained an artist and activist with deep roots in the African Liberation Movement until his death, using his art and activism to represent African people and our struggle for liberation.

Through his career, Kwame showed art’s political impact and its responsibility to be rooted in the struggle of the colonized and the oppressed.

As a son of Africa, Kwame Brathwaite left a lasting mark on the culture and self-image of African people. He helped make it possible for Africans to look at ourselves and proudly proclaim that “Black Is Beautiful!”

With his passing, we remember Kwame Brathwaite and pay homage to a key figure of the cultural revolution, as part of the international African Revolution that continues to transform the world.

Black Is Beautiful!

The Struggle for Black Power Continues!

Long Live Kwame Brathwaite!


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