From the outside looking in, Arizona’s culture can seem as infertile and impermeable as the soil it is built upon. In 1987, the state’s opposition to a federal holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., led by Gov. Evan Mecham and supported by Sen. John McCain, solidified Arizona as a state plagued by racism in many people’s minds. More recently, that reputation has lived on through laws targeting immigrants and banning ethnic studies in Arizona schools; and the state’s more distant past only compounds the issue.
But like that inhospitable soil, there is a richness beneath a hard, stubborn, superficial layer. In Arizona, there is a vast history of black resistance and self-determination, and at Sunday’s Grammy Awards, 36-year-old folk artist Dom Flemons will put that history on display.
Nominated in the Best Folk Album category, the Arizona native’s critically acclaimed “Black Cowboys” chronicles westward expansion from a black perspective. Ahead of Sunday’s ceremony, HuffPost spoke with Flemons about reclaiming the black folk music tradition, being black in Arizona and searching for a hidden history.