This essay explores the extent to which the concept of “a black radical tradition” illuminates or limits understandings of the art and activism of dancer, choreographer, and activist Pearl Primus. Focusing on Primus's emergence as a public figure and artist during the 1940s, the essay examines her involvement in leftist politics. During this period, Primus sought to navigate her leftist commitments with her own seemingly nationalist impulses. This is most evident in her support of the “Double V” campaign and her involvement with Popular Front cultural communities and venues. The essay examines Primus's performances, writing, and travels in the US South, as well as her extensive FBI file. What emerges is the portrait of a young woman carving out her own aesthetic and political sensibilities, some of which adhere to our understandings of the black radical tradition and others of which reveal the limitations of such a framing in illuminating the complexity of her political and artistic vision.
Farah Jasmine Griffin; Pearl Primus and the Idea of a Black Radical Tradition. Small Axe 1 March 2013; 17 (1 (40)): 40–49. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/07990537-1665425
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