In The Black Arts Movement: Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s, James Smethurst writes that “Black arts cultural nationalism draws on a long history.” He describes the cultural nationalist stance we associate with Black Arts as involving a concept of liberation and self-determination that entails some notion of the development or recovery of a “true” national culture,” conveying “an already existing folk or popular culture,” often relying on recognizable African elements. Black arts cultural nationalism expressed the linkages between Black Arts and Black Power even before they were specifically named and identified. In particular, Black arts cultural nationalism was visible in some of the ways 1940s and 1950s Black leftists engaged with commitments to Black nationhood, Black leadership, and Black liberation. Many Black leftists from the 1940s and 1950s were part of the writing and organizing which laid some of the groundwork for the movements commonly identified with Black Arts after 1965. Looking more closely at one formation of Black artists and writers from the early l960s, the Association of Artists for Freedom, illuminates one kind of precedent for the emerging Black Arts movement.
Smith, Judith E., "“It Is Time for Artists to Be Heard”: Artists and Writers for Freedom, 1963–1964" (2018). American Studies Faculty Publication Series. 13.