Nina Simone Essay

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"I Don't Trust You Anymore": Nina Simone, Culture, and Black Activism in the On September 15, 1963, Nitia Simone learned chat four young African American girls had been killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Prior to that point, Simone, an African American singer, pianist, and songwriter, had an eclectic repertoire that blended jazz with blues, gospel, and classical music. Immediately after hearing about the events in Birmingham, however, Simone wrote the song "Mississippi Goddam." It came to her in a "rush of fury, hatred and determination" as she "suddenly realized what it was to be black in America in 1963." It was, she said, "my first civil rights song."' Unlike Simones earlier work (one critic had dubbed her a "supper club songstress for the elite"), "Mississippi Goddam" was a political anthem.^ The lyrics were filled with anger and despair and stood in stark contrast to the fast-paced and rollicking rhythm. Over the course of several verses Simone vehemently rejected the notions that race relations could change gradually, that the South was unique in terms of discrimination, and that African Americans could or would patiently seek political rights. "Me and my people are just about due," she declared. Simone also challenged principles that are still strongly associated with liberal civil rights activism in that period, especially the viability of a beloved community of whites and blacks. As she sang toward the end of "Mississippi Goddam": All I want is equality For my sister, my brother, my people, and me. Yes, you lied to me all these years Ruth Feldstciti teaches history at Harvard University. For comments on eariiet versions of this essay, thanks to Paul Anderson, Lizabeth Cohen, Andrea Levine, Eric Lott, Lisa McGirr, Joanne Meyerowitz, Ingrid Monson, Je.ssica Shubiiw, Judith Smith, John L. Thomas, Sherrie

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