Happy birthday to NinaSimoneMusic — she would have been 87 today.
Just one week after I set foot in America, I met Nina Simone—and the dream that I had sheltered since I was four years old began its journey toward reality.
Nobody in my family knew that in America, I intended to go to college and become a writer and a doctor. Had they known, they would have sent me to Saint Ann’s, the local madhouse, to have my head examined—for, having dropped out of secondary school three years earlier, I had no school-leaving certificates, no GCE passes, in any subject. But a week after I set foot in America, I met Nina Simone, and the dream that I had sheltered since I was four years old began its journey toward reality.
The last time she set eyes on Tryon, Nina’s body was riddled with cancer, and her memory of the days when they had hated her was slipping farther away. Like a good daughter, she had come to say a final farewell to her mother, but she had come armed with security guards in a limousine through which she could see but not be seen. In the church, she saw an old friend.
“We sat there and talked and talked and talked and we talked,” Counts told me. “It was lengthy, you know. But then she comes out with, ‘but I lost Abney.’ I think she got a little relief when she told me. She wouldn’t tell this to anybody.” She could tell him, because she knew that he had known how much she had loved Abney Whitehead. Fred, after all, was always there, sometimes in the middle, at other times on the sidelines of Eunice’s life.
I did not know that when Nina sang “Alabama’s gotten me so upset” that she was, most likely, referring to the tsunami of hate that people who looked like her had been enduring in America since most of them were first brought from West Africa. Neither was I aware that those words signified the pain she must have felt over the terrorizing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, which had been bombed by white men; over the murder of four young girls that day, and the injuries that 20 other parishioners had suffered.
How could she, or any person in America with the color of her skin, get a good night’s sleep knowing that those men who had bombed that church in Alabama were members of a larger group called the Ku Klux Klan, spawned in Pulaski, Tennessee with the sole purpose of lynching and terrorizing people who looked like her—especially those who, like her and Fred, dared to dream of a life beyond the borders of segregation?
She used to walk to music all the way over in Gillette Woods to Miz Mazzanovich. I would go in and do this half a day work for this lady in the yard across the way, and she would come right by coming from piano lessons. Then I would be getting off and we would walk down the street. There’s this drug store down there on the corner, Owens drugstore. As we walk by, I’d made a little money and I stop and buy us a soda. We were big buddies. So we walk on in the drugstore and I buy us a soda. We drank our sodas going down the hill because we couldn’t sit down and drink them inside. So we got down—we were just talking—but I noticed her mind just kept wandering, wandering.
sitting down under the Casablanca fans, enjoying theirs. We paid the same for ours and we have to drink ours from down the road. WeAt that age! At that age! See? I don’t know if she’s reincarnated or, I won’t say the word. I think she had some divine gift or something that she saw through these things even when the rest of us kids just took it up as life.
Nina knew that the surname she had given Mississippi had been well-earned as a result of the indecencies that great state had heaped upon the human spirit. In 1962, Governor Ross Barnett called upon his people to join him in preventing a young man named James Meredith from enrolling at the University of Mississippi in defiance of the Circuit Court’s ruling that Meredith
Read more: Ms. Magazine
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