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James Baldwin / Nina Simone - Black Lives Matter Speech / Mississippi Goddam (part I)

from A Raised Voice by James Baldwin/Nina Simone



On February 18, 1965, James Baldwin and William F. Buckley Jr. debated the concept of the American dream at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. Baldwin and Buckley were polar opposites. Baldwin, an eloquent champion of the humanity of black people, had made it his life’s mission to highlight the nuances of what it was like to be black in a country that was built by, but not for, you. Buckley, a conservative who grew up wealthy, also examined race in his writings, but he often touted the notion that black people were inferior, and championed a new rising of the south (he later changed his views).

The essence of Baldwin’s Cambridge speech was that black lives matter, and he nailed the complexities of why. He broke down how, in order to achieve real progress, we all have to reflect on the ways in which we were taught to devalue other human beings—or how to exist when you are the devalued—as a result of white supremacy.

About a month after Baldwin’s speech, people marched peacefully from Selma, AL to Montgomery, AL in protest against aggressive and illegal tactics used to keep African Americans from voting. Protesters were peaceful, but the march still ended in state troopers attacking protesters with clubs and tear gas as they passed over the county line. That day is historically known as Bloody Sunday. It was recorded and gained national attention as Americans watched, mostly horrified, but it also inspired more people to travel to Selma for another march that eventually led to president Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act that August.

The Watts Riots broke on August 11, 1965, just a few days later in response to excessive police force. What started with Marquette Frye, a young black man, being pulled over for reckless driving led to Frye, his brother, and mother being beaten. Bystanders in the predominantly black community were furious and began to fight back. The riots lasted for six days.

It’s June 2020, and people are still protesting the same issues in the wake of the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. The difference is that nowadays, everyone has the capacity to record instances of police brutality and put out calls for action (marching, protesting) on social media.

James Baldwin didn’t literally say “#blacklivesmatter” in his speech, but the idea is there and his words feel every bit as relevant 55 years later.

Nina Simone
“Mississippi Goddam” is one of iconic jazz musician’s Nina Simone’s most controversial tracks, due to Simone labelling the song as her “first civil rights song”. From her 1964 album “Nina Simone in Concert”, “Mississippi Goddam” was written and composed solely by Simone in under an hour, live at Carnegie Hall. The song captures Simone’s response to the murder of Medgar Evers in Mississippi; as well as the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, which killed four black children. When the track was released as a single, it was banned in large portions of the US, due to having the word ‘Goddam’ in the title. In the biographical film “What Happened, Miss Simone”, there was footage of boxes of records of the track being destroyed in places. “Mississippi Goddam” was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”


The name of this tune is Mississippi goddam
And I mean every word of it
Alabama's gotten me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi goddam
Alabama's gotten me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi goddam
Can't you see it
Can't you feel it
It's all in the air
I can't stand the pressure much longer
Somebody say a prayer
Alabama's gotten me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi goddam
This is a show tune
But the show hasn't been written for it, yet
Hound dogs on my trail
School children sitting in jail
Black cat cross my path
I think every day's gonna be my last
Lord have mercy on this land of mine
We all gonna get it in due time
I don't belong here


from A Raised Voice, released June 12, 2020


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