DANNY GLOVER: ... But interesting enough, the first time that I saw Huey P. Newton and had any idea who the Black Panther Party was in 1966, when he came to the Black House and was reading poetry at the Black
House. Huey P. Newton—that’s some footage we should have had—reading poetry at the Black House. And at the Black House, Ed Bullins lived. Eldridge Cleaver lived at the Black House. They were two people who lived at the Black House. So, there was—you could see this, and now we’re looking—certainly looking back in retrospect, but you could see this emerging movement happening around, really, what I believe was extraordinary moments of, as I said before, redefining and reimagining democracy,organizing, using those skills. Stokely was an organizer. Those members of SNCC were organizing. So, the Black Power movement was about extending that whole sense of organizing and community organizing.
Playwright Ed Bullins
The Black House by Marvin X
The Black House was organized by Marvin X and Eldridge Cleaver. Around the same time Cleaver was released from Soledad Prison, late 1966, Marvin X and his partner, Hurriyah (Ethna X) were escaping chaos at Black Arts West Theatre, co-founded by Marvin, Ed Bullins, Hurriyah, Duncan Barber, Hillery Broadous and Carl Bossiere. Art Sheridan had suggested Marvin hook up with playwright Ed Bullins. Marvin's first play had been produced by the Drama Department at San Francisco State College, now University. Ed had some plays going in North Beach, so they hooked up and started Black Arts West near Turk and Fillmore, around the corner from the Sun Reporter Newspaper office, owned by Dr. Carlton Goodlett.
Black Arts West Theatre produced the plays of Bullins and Marvin X. Two of the actors were Danny Glover and Vonetta McGee (RIP). Danny performed the role of Papa in a play by Dorothy Ahmed, Papa's Daughter. Vonetta performed in How Do You Do, a play by Ed Bullins.
When Marvin left Black Arts West Theatre, he soon hooked up with Eldridge Cleaver--the first person Cleaver got with after his release. With Cleaver's advance from his best seller Soul on Ice, he and Marvin rented a Victorian on Broderick Street and established Black House, a political/cultural center. They were soon joined by playwright Ed Bullins and singer Willie Dale, who'd done time with Cleaver at San Quentin.
Black House became a kind of half-way house for persons who got black consciousness from the arts and went into the political movement, especially the Black Panther Party. Emory Douglas came through and became BPP Minister of Culture. Samuel Napier came, got juiced on culture and became the BPP Minister of Distribution of the newspaper. George Murray got his consciousness performing in Baraka's black arts communication project at SF State and black house. George became BPP Minister of Education.
Bobby Seale had gotten consciousness at Merritt College in Oakland, along with fellow students Marvin and Huey P. Newton. Bobby performed in Marvin's second play Come Next Summer before founding the BPP.
Marvin tried to get Huey in his theatre but Huey declined. Yet Huey claimed he learned from Marvin. Maybe his reading poetry at Black House can be attributed to Marvin's influence.
For sure, the politicos learned from the artists. For this reason, Marvin X says the arts was the mother rather than the sister of the political movement. Larry Neal calls the Black Arts Movement the sister of the political liberation movement.
Henry Louis Gates says the Black Arts Movement was short-lived, but time and influence are different matters. The Black Arts Movement fundamentally altered art and literature in America, far beyond the influence and impact of the earlier Harlem Renaissance.
Black House fell from differences between the artists and politicos. Even before the Black Panthers called anyone who wouldn't pick up the gun reactionary, there were ideological differences. For example, Amiri Baraka and Eldridge Cleaver were at Black House but never talked, partly due to Cleaver's Marxism and Baraka's so-called Cultural Nationalism. Ironically, Baraka became a Marxist and Cleaver a spiritualist.
The fall of the Black House was insured after Marvin rejected an order delivered by Lil Bobby Hutton from Huey Newton that the youth clubhouse in the basement must be closed due to out of control youth.
Marvin told Lil Bobby, "Fuck the Supreme Commander!" Shortly after this, the artists were evicted and Black House became the San Francisco headquarters of the BPP.
Before the artists were evicted, those who performed included Sarah Webster Fabio, Avoctja, Chicago Arts Ensemble, Sonia Sanchez, Askia Toure, Ed Bullins, Reginald Lockett, Marvin X, Willie Dale and students from Baraka's Communications Project at SFSU, including Jimmy Garrett, Benny Stewart, George Murry, Ellendar Barnes, Jo Ann Mitchell, et al.
For more on Black House, see:
Marvin X, Somethin' Proper, autobiography of Marvin X, Black Bird Press, 1998.
Marvin X, Eldridge Cleaver, My friend the Devil, Black Bird Press, 2009.