Romare Bearden in the Homeland of His Imagination

An Artist's Reckoning with the South

By Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore

Romare Bearden in the Homeland of His Imagination

176 pp., 7 x 10, 34 color plates, 1 drawing, 17 halftones, notes, bibl

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6786-7
    Published: May 2022

Ferris and Ferris Books

Hardcover Available May 2022, but pre-order your copy today!

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Romare Bearden (1911–1988), one of the most prolific, original, and acclaimed American artists of the twentieth century, richly depicted scenes and figures rooted in the American South and the Black experience. Bearden hailed from North Carolina but was forced to relocate to the North when a white mob harassed them in the 1910s. His family story is a compelling, complicated saga of Black middle-class achievement in the face of relentless waves of white supremacy. It is also a narrative of the generational trauma that slavery and racism inflicted over decades. But as Glenda Gilmore reveals in this trenchant reappraisal of Bearden’s life and art, his work reveals his deep imagination, extensive training, and rich knowledge of art history.

Gilmore explores four generations of Bearden’s family and highlights his experiences in North Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Harlem. She engages deeply with Bearden's art and considers it as an alternative archive that offers a unique perspective on the history, memory, and collective imagination of Black southerners who migrated to the North. In doing so, she revises and deepens our appreciation of Bearden’s place in the artistic canon and our understanding of his relationship to southern, African American, and American cultural and social history.

About the Author

Glenda Gilmore is the Peter V. and C. Vann Woodward Professor of History Emerita at Yale University.
For more information about Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, visit the Author Page.


“Glenda Gilmore has given us a miracle of scholarship and insight: the historical Romare Bearden, in place(s), ancestry, and varied influence. The depth of research here is devotional, revealing a profound understanding of the artist’s imagination as it emerges from—and riffs on—his lived experience and that of the people he comes from. Gilmore has given us the gift of deeper understanding of how Bearden’s origins manifest in his work, spark his invention, and complicate his genius.”—Elizabeth Alexander, President, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

“This book tells of two lives in one. One life is Bearden’s, which Glenda Gilmore tells in sublime detail. The other is the one that exists purely on the page, the work of Gilmore’s historical art—a rare blend of archival curiosity and ethical commitment.”—Alexander Nemerov, author of Fierce Poise: Helen Frankenthaler and 1950s New York

"Glenda Gilmore’s brilliant juxtaposition of history, memory, and visual art shows us—literally—the tensions, even the contradictions, between the facts of Romare Bearden’s lived history and his evocations of Black history in and around the South. Comprehensively illustrated with images of people, history, and Bearden’s art, This book rewards the viewer as well as the reader."—Nell Irvin Painter, author of Creating Black Americans: African American History and Its Meanings, 1619 to the Present

“This sparkling study of the intersection between history and imagination is a portrait of the artist as the bearer of experience felt without being known. Glenda Gilmore writes with style, lucidity, and an also complicated love for the North Carolina homeland she and Romare Bearden share. Through a highly satisfying blend of narrative and visuals, Gilmore’s meticulous scholarship and her empathy enrich as well as explain the art of a master."

—Diane McWhorter, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama—The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution