New Thoughts on the Black Arts Movement

By Lisa Gail Collins; Margo Natalie Crawford | Go to book overview

3
The Black Arts
Movement and
Historically Black
Colleges and
Universities

James Smethurst

Discussions of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s rarely give much consideration to black cultural activity in the South. This lack of interest is not only a feature of our own time. At the height of the movement, southern black artists and intellectuals complained about how difficult it was to attract the attention of their counterparts in the Northeast, the Midwest, and the West, even with the tremendous symbolic significance that the region retained in African American history and culture.1 Yet despite this past and present scholarly inattention, Black Arts organizations, institutions, and events in the South were among the most successful grassroots black cultural efforts. These efforts made a powerful, and in many ways lasting, local impression in the South. At the same time, they were also central in promoting Black Arts as a truly national movement—national in the sense of bringing together activists from across the United States (and beyond) as well as in that of broadly embodying and articulating the concerns and the existence of a black nation.

Many of the political and cultural institutions of Reconstruction in the South had been destroyed by the disenfranchisement of most black southerners and the establishment of Jim Crow, but one legacy of Reconstruction and what might be thought of as the Reconstruction spirit still thrived in the 1950s and early 1960s: the historically black colleges and universities. The vast majority of these were located below the Mason-Dixon Line—though some important schools, notably Lincoln University, Cheney Training School for Teachers, and Central State University, were up North, and others, such as Howard University and Morgan State University, were to be found in such regionally ambiguous cities as Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. Since de jure segregation still operated in the South (and beyond) and de facto segregation or token integration was in effect at many colleges and universities elsewhere, a huge proportion

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