Several community activists spoke at the service, recounting how Baraka had urged them to work for change in their communities — especially in his beloved Newark — and to engage in social activism through art.
Musicians played jazz standards and original pieces written for the service. Tap dancer Savion Glover performed as poet Sonia Sanchez read a poem written by Maya Angelou as a tribute to Baraka.
Amiri Baraka was named New Jersey’s poet laureate in 2002, but the position was eliminated following controversy over his poem, “Somebody Blew up America.” The poem, alleging that some Israelis had advance knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks, led to widespread outrage and added fuel to critics who had long denounced Baraka as homophobic and anti-Semitic.
Several of the speakers at his service alluded to Baraka’s fiery, controversial public image, while hailing him as a man who had contributed greatly to the civil rights struggle.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who spoke at a wake for Baraka on Friday night in Newark, called Baraka “a curious, creative activist and change agent who never stopped fighting or working for the formula to create social justice.”
Baraka is survived by his wife of 47 years, Amina Baraka, and nine children. One of his sons, Ras Baraka, who is running for mayor of Newark, was to give the eulogy at Saturday’s service.
(AP Photo: Poet Sonia Sanchez reads a poem during the funeral of poet Amiri Baraka Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, in Newark, N.J.)