“History Refused to Die” proved to be a striking title for a memorable exhibition. On view at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art through late September, it marked a gift to the museum of 57 works from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation in Atlanta, an organization whose name derives from a poem by Langston Hughes. The foundation was started by William S. Arnett, a collector of African art who became fascinated in the 1980s by the work of self-taught black artists in the American South. Convinced that their art was part of a coherent tradition reflecting “the rich, symbolic world of the black rural South through highly charged works that address a wide range of revelatory social and political subjects,” Arnett has sponsored research, publications, and exhibitions on the subject. He has found himself dogged by controversy at times: In 1993, the arch-philistine Morley Safer aired a segment on 60 Minutes suggesting that Arnett was exploiting the artists whose work he promoted. (A full quarter-century later, Safer’s charges remain unsubstantiated.) And the gift to the Met testifies not only to the generosity of Arnett’s intentions but also to the abundant riches of the world he dedicated so much of his life to helping preserve.