“For those who don’t understand / Soul, there is this word, / you never will” (B. Simmons [1967] 2007, 308). The parting blow of Barbara Simmons’s 1967 poem “Soul” typified black artists’ discussions of soul in the Black Power era. Yet even as writers and artists insisted that “soul” could not be defined, their discussions of it consistently outlined a hermeneutics of black experience that recuperated suffering into the worldly badge of soul. So whereas the term had evoked a deep spiritual-­racial consciousness at least since W. E. B. Du Bois’s theorization in The Souls of Black Folk (1903), it was in the late 1960s that “soul” acquired keyword status, emerging as a name for the social and aesthetic grace wrought from racialized pressure. In an era of conservative reentrenchment and spectacular antiblack violence, debates about soul helped to mark black cultural production as the desired yet inappropriable result of …

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