“To be young, gifted and black” Lorraine Hansbury
During the late 1950’s African-Americans were beginning to speak of the injustices of race, discrimination, education, and the lack of pride of a people that was subjected to the rigors of American racism. Certain scenes of white segregation took hold and roar it’s ugly head when Emmett Till, a young teenager from Chicago, visited his family in Money, Mississippi during the summer of 1955. Being from the north, the young Till wasn’t acclimated to the strict ‘Jim Crow‘ laws and rules blacks had to obey. One day he went to the store with his cousin and allegedly whistled at the store owner’s wife. Word spread fast and then soon Till was kidnapped from his great uncle’s home and then tortured, beaten, and shot then killed. Roy Bryant, owner of the store that Till made the gesture, along with J.W. Milam, then took Till’s body and thew him in the Tallahtachie River with a cotton gin fan tied around his neck. Both Bryant and Milam were acquitted for the murder of Emmett Till. Mamie Till, the mother of Emmett, wanted the world to see what these brutal men did under the laws of the ‘Jim Crow‘ south.
This incident, along with the monumental arrest of Sister Rosa Parks, lead to what would become the era of the Civil Rights Movement that lead, and still leads the battle for blacks and minorities around the country. It was also this time that the Black Arts Movement began producing black writers, artists, directors, and musicians to express their art, via the arts, a new awakening throughout the country. Writers like James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Amiri Baraka, Cecil Brown, Nikki Giovanni, and Ishmael Reed expressed the deep concerns of the plight of blacks trying to have the same equal rights. Even sports figures like Muhammed Ali, Jim Brown, Bill Russell, and Wilt Chamberlain played a major part on trying to allow blacks to compete or ask for the same pay as their other white counterparts.
When it came to the Black Arts Movement in the arts, icons like Paul Roberson and Josephine Baker had been blackballed by Hollywood and Washington, DC due to their strong political beliefs and how some in the establishment didn’t take kindly to “black nationalism” as J. Edger Hoover, former F.B.I director stated. Musicians like Odetta, Harry Belafonte, Abbey Lincoln, and Max Roach began to play and sing songs of the civil rights movement. These song or spirituals were the nucleus of rallies and marches all over the south.
Sister Nina Simone was both a fiery and passionate musician and vocalist that gave the world her unique social commentary at a time during the 1960’s when all blacks were tired of fire hoses, home bombings, and the south’s ‘Jim Crow’ laws. One of Simone’s many anthems included “Mississippi Goddam,” a song about the many atrocities that took place in Mississippi and parts of the south during the early 1960’s. Incidents like the murder of NAACP activist Medgar Evers being assassinated, the four little girls that where bombed to death in Alabama, and Dr. Martin Luther King’s endless tirades to organize effective non-violent demonstrations to raise the awareness of civil injustices against blacks.
Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon on February 21st, 1933 in Tyron, North Carolina, Nina the was sixth child of eight in a struggling working class family. Her father was a minister by trade, but was also a businessman that owned many businesses until the depression wiped out the local economy in the surrounding cities where she grew up. Her mother and many in the community knew of young Eunice’s gift to play the piano and singing. She always played during church every week as well as special functions. Nina received free piano lessons and played and competed during middle and high school. Upon graduation, she was supposed to study classical piano at the Curtis Institute of Music where Nina had high expectations to become a classical pianist. Although she wasn’t accepted, she moved to New York