Black Artists Are Reclaiming ‘Country’

From Beyoncé to Rissi Palmer to Ramell Ross, modern artists have long known — and celebrated — the Black history of rural culture in America

Adrienne Gibbs
8 min readFeb 17, 2024

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Natasha Trethewey is a true child of the rural South.

Born into a then-illegal biracial marriage, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet’s childhood, and now her poetry, recalls the country outskirts of Gulfport, Mississippi, where Blacks and whites lived tenuously together, making a way out of no way.

Trethewey is part of a growing cohort of modern authors, musicians and visual artists whose works intentionally center Black rural culture while also heralding and celebrating the modern growth and economics of the culture. Their efforts are reviving the histories, memories and modern-day trials of the Black towns, the Black farmers, the Black cowboys, and the Black artists who are part and parcel of rural culture and therefore should be considered part of the Americana narrative.

“There’s a real way that one is made to feel like a psychological exile in your own homeland,” says Trethewey, now a professor at Northwestern University. She links our conversation about historical memory to her book Monument, which poetically examines the markers of her childhood, alongside the names that etch land ownership into our collective mind’s eye.

“To me, it has everything to do with how the landscape of the South is inscribed with a narrative of white supremacy, from the roads and buildings to the monuments and bridges. They erase the stories of the African Americans that should also be imprinted on that landscape, and it has led to people who don’t know that Black people existed there.”

To Trethewey, and to me as well, rural or country or South has always included Black. Many of us Black northerners spent summers with grandparents and cousins “down South, down the way.” The population mega story of the last decade is how Black folks are trading cities like Chicago and Detroit for Raleigh, Houston, Atlanta and even smaller towns. But behind that storyline is this: hundreds of thousands of us never left the rural lifestyle. In my family alone I have cousins who own and tend hundreds of acres of Arkansas farmland. My…

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Adrienne Gibbs

Director of Content @Medium. Award-winning journalist. Featured in a Beyoncé reel. Before now? EBONY, Netflix, Sun-Times, Miami Herald, Boston Globe.