Behold the Land

The Black Arts Movement in the South

By James Smethurst

244 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 7 halftones

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6304-3
    Published: June 2021
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6303-6
    Published: June 2021
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-6305-0
    Published: April 2021
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6101-6
    Published: April 2021

John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture

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In the mid-1960s, African American artists and intellectuals formed the Black Arts movement in tandem with the Black Power movement, with creative luminaries like Amiri Baraka, Gwendolyn Brooks, Toni Cade Bambara, and Gil Scott-Heron among their number. In this follow-up to his award-winning history of the movement nationally, James Smethurst investigates the origins, development, maturation, and decline of the vital but under-studied Black Arts movement in the South from the 1960s until the early 1980s. Traveling across the South, he chronicles the movement's radical roots, its ties to interracial civil rights organizations on the Gulf Coast, and how it thrived on college campuses and in southern cities. He traces the movement's growing political power as well as its disruptive use of literature and performance to advance Black civil rights.

Though recognition of its influence has waned, the Black Arts movement's legacy in the South endures through many of its initiatives and constituencies. Ultimately, Smethurst argues that the movement's southern strain was perhaps the most consequential, successfully reaching the grassroots and leaving a tangible, local legacy unmatched anywhere else in the United States.

About the Author

James Smethurst is professor of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and author of The Black Arts Movement: Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s.
For more information about James Smethurst, visit the Author Page.


“An in-depth account of the cultural and political life of Black artists and activists in the South from the 1960s to the ’80s . . . Scholars of African American literature and history will relish the granular look this influential yet often overlooked artistic movement.”—Publishers Weekly

“In Behold the Land, Smethurst demonstrates that decades of organizing and institution building, from the Garveyite years and the Popular Front to the civil rights movement, helped preserve a Black radicalism in the South that eventually became central to the Black Arts Movement in the region...Smethurst joins scholars like GerShun Avilez and Carter Mathes in revising the canonical understanding of the Black Arts Movement.”—The Nation

“Striking . . . meticulous research . . . Smethurst [shows] how the Black Arts became integrated into the institutional structures of Southern cities and evolved into organizations and events that, if less overtly radical than their earlier iterations, had more staying power.”—Society for US Intellectual History

"This book is vital and visionary. James Smethurst's exemplary study accomplishes the task of presenting the extensive work of a diverse group of African American artists across the South."--Howard Rambsy II, author of The Black Arts Enterprise and the Production of African American Poetry

"Meticulously researched and beautifully written, Behold the Land is bound to become the definitive study of the Black Arts movement in the South"--Margo Natalie Crawford, author of Black Post-Blackness: The Black Arts Movement and Twenty-First-Century Aesthetics