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A Negro Camp Meeting in the South

A Negro Camp Meeting in the South

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This engraving by Solomon Eytinge depicts a church meeting held outdoors, apart from intruders. Families gather to praise God in sermon and song, and to consider their "rolling through an unfriendly world" (as one spiritual puts it) toward "a bright side, somewhere."

Avenue Steppers

Avenue Steppers

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Black New Orleans features parades at Mardi Gras and throughout the year—for other holidays, funerals, and many other occasions. The stylized music and dance-steps characteristic of such parades have helped define that city’s culture and bind its community; and these street forms comprise a continuing fountain of inspiration for artists across the categories: literary, visual, and otherwise.

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday

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Jazz singer Billie Holiday often performed the anti-lynching song "Strange Fruit" at New York᾿s Café Society, one of the country᾿s first major interracial night clubs. This poem set to music was part of a continuum of black protest songs—"What Did I Do (to Be So Black and Blue)" and "Miss Otis Regrets" among them—that became popular with American audiences.

Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox

Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox

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Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox. Illustration from an 1893 printing of Uncle Remus and His Friends by Joel Chandler Harris.

Cake Walk

Cake Walk

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At the end of the nineteenth century, the black dance called the cakewalk, with its strong elements of parody, found its way to New York stage shows, and became a citywide and then a national dance craze.

Darrington State Prison

Darrington State Prison

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"Lightnin’" Washington, inmate, and group, Darrington State Prison Farm, Sandy Point, TX

God’s Trombones

God's Trombones

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This picture presents a mass baptism (with trombone choir accompaniment) by fire hose, as conducted every June since the 1920s by the United House of Prayer for All People. The photographer has noted the picture’s "African idiom"—i.e., the imagery here suggests Accra, Dakar, or New Orleans as much as it does Manhattan. The work borrows its title from the 1927 book of poetry by James Weldon Johnson.

Iron Gate

Iron Gate

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Black ironworkers, from slavery through the twentieth century, left their mark as artists whose poetry was drawn in iron. Along with quilters, basket makers, and tailors, ironworkers offer another instance of African continuity in art. The delicate figuration of Philip Simmons᾿s gates, windows, and staircases have made him one of the most celebrated iron-artists in American history.

James Brown

James Brown

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James Brown in 1962, photograph by Charles Stewart. By many reports, Brown reigns as the single most influential and widely "sampled" musician in the world.

John Coltrane

John Coltrane

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John Coltrane (1926-1967) was a highly innovative jazz saxophonist whose intense powers of expression as well as his embrace of global influences and political themes made him a hero of his era—and beyond. The photographer here, Roy Decarava (1919-2009), often chose Coltrane as a subject, and said he saw jazz and photography as particularly suited to the black American artist’s culture. Both art forms require improvising on the spot, Decarava said, and emanate from experience that was immediate but deeply felt.

Juke Joint

Juke Joint

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Juke Joint, Belle Glade, Florida, 1941. "Musically speaking," wrote Zora Neale Hurston in an important essay of 1934, "the Jook is the most important place in America. For in its smelly, shoddy confines has been born the secular music known as blues, and on blues has been founded jazz."

The Four Tops

The Four Tops

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The Four Tops rehearsing in the basement of the Apollo Theater.