Mississippi Goddam- Nina Simone

A rage that is all too modern

“You don’t have to live next to me
Just give me my equality”

Racial discrimination is a problem of the present. With the Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump filling our tv screens and newspapers with racist remarks and comments, and as police violence towards black people keeps on claiming lives, Nina Simone’s outrage in 1964 “Mississippi Goddam” reflects that of many today.

The song was written after the murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers in Mississippi in June 1963, and the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, which killed 4 black girls As Song Fact reports, Simone said in I Got Thunder: Black Women Songwriters and Their Craft, “When I heard about the bombing of the church in which the four little black girls were killed in Alabama, I shut myself up in a room and that song happened. Medgar Evers had been recently slain in Mississippi. At first I tried to make myself a gun. I gathered some materials. I was going to take one of them out, and I didn’t care who it was. Then Andy, my husband at the time, said to me, ‘Nina, you can’t kill anyone. You are a musician. Do what you do.’ When I sat down the whole song happened. I never stopped writing until the thing was finished.”

The song quickly became a civil rights anthem, and marked a key point in Simone’s life and career. She became more political, and this complicated her relationship with the white establishment. Whilst Simone’s songs had always mentioned her black origins, they never carried such a political opinion. Simone has recently changed record label to Philips, consequently changing the contents of her songs, from ‘Mississippi Goddam‘ almost all of Simone’s songs carried a political message to do with the civil rights movement, and she became extremely involved with it. Simone advocated a more violent civil rights fight, contrary to Martin Luther King’s nonviolent approach. Songs like ‘To Be Young Gifted and Black’ and ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free‘ reflected her strong opinion and pride.

Mississippi Goddam was famously performed live at Carnegie Hall in New York, to a mainly white audience. Simone was keen to bring them closer to the injustice and discrimination that black people in America were facing at that time.

‘Mississippi Goddam’ begins with a couplet “Alabama has got me so upset, Tennessee has made me lose the rest”, both were important cities for the rise of the civil rights movement in those years, and would be even more in the future. Simone’s words poignantly reflect her anger, the song seems to be a fundamental turning point for Simone, as she sings “Don’t tell me, I tell you, Me and my people just about due”.  A softer plea, “All I want is equality for my sister, my brother, my people and me” — turns into an angry crescendo : “Oh but this whole country is full of lies/You’re all gonna die and die like flies.”.

What we are witnessing is a repetition of history. Perhaps with different means and different weapons, but just the same. The United States has an entrenched history of racial discrimination and violence that is deeply rooted in its society and politics. It is no coincidence that a man like Donald Trump has managed to arrive where he has, with the support that he has. Even though major steps have been made, there is still a long way to go, and more than ever, there is need for Simone’s outrage from people of all races, and not only black people.

 

“Mississippi Goddam”

The name of this tune is Mississippi Goddam
And I mean every word of itAlabama’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
I don’t belong there
I’ve even stopped believing in prayer

Don’t tell me
I tell you
Me and my people just about due
I’ve been there so I know
They keep on saying “Go slow!”

But that’s just the trouble
“do it slow”
Washing the windows
“do it slow”
Picking the cotton
“do it slow”
You’re just plain rotten
“do it slow”
You’re too damn lazy
“do it slow”
The thinking’s crazy
“do it slow”
Where am I going
What am I doing
I don’t know
I don’t know

Just try to do your very best
Stand up be counted with all the rest
For everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

I made you thought I was kiddin’

Picket lines
School boy cots
They try to say it’s a communist plot
All I want is equality
for my sister my brother my people and me

Yes you lied to me all these years
You told me to wash and clean my ears
And talk real fine just like a lady
And you’d stop calling me Sister Sadie

Oh but this whole country is full of lies
You’re all gonna die and die like flies
I don’t trust you any more
You keep on saying “Go slow!”
“Go slow!”

But that’s just the trouble
“do it slow”
Desegregation
“do it slow”
Mass participation
“do it slow”
Reunification
“do it slow”
Do things gradually
“do it slow”
But bring more tragedy
“do it slow”
Why don’t you see it
Why don’t you feel it
I don’t know
I don’t know

You don’t have to live next to me
Just give me my equality
Everybody knows about Mississippi
Everybody knows about Alabama
Everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

That’s it!

Categories
Sounds from the Bucket
Virginia Vigliar

Virginia is a freelance journalist and editor based in Barcelona, consults for Oxfam in Spain and the Netherlands, and she is the Chief Editor of WIB. She is a passionate advocate of human rights and freedom of speech. And a meme enthusiast. She has worked in the development sector in Malawi and Kenya and Somalia before returning to Europe, where she gained experience in the United Kingdom, Norway, and Spain. To see her work, look at her website here: http://virginiavigliar.com/
3 Comments on this post.
  • Roger Hawcroft
    13 August 2016 at 10:34 am
    Leave a Reply

    Yes, the resurgence of ignorant, malevolent & uninformed views that encourage division and mistrust, even hatred, among people of difference is a major concern. It appears to be a symptom of the increasing gap between rich and poor and the disadvantages and desperation that it breeds, together with a mistrust of our social institutions that, despite all the “wins” and enlightenment that has been achieved, still seems to act discriminately. Hard right wing conservative groups: religious, political, social, ethnic and so on, are capitalising on this discontent by using simplistic populist rhetoric to appeal to the fears and discontent of everyday men and women. With their control of the mainstream media and the general lack of education and critical thinking capacity of a dumbed down majority, they are having much success – hence the re-election of an abomination of a government in Australia and the Trump phenomenon in the US. I don’t know how we beat this but I know that we must.

  • Marina
    22 August 2016 at 10:43 am
    Leave a Reply

    Ottimo articolo completo e con le giuste considerazioni. L’ho letto con passione

  • The sound of resistance under Trump
    10 February 2017 at 4:30 pm
    Leave a Reply

    […] and amuse and channel the outrage of a nation.”  You can listen to some evergreens like Mississipi Goddam by Nina Simone, Where Have All the Flowers Gone? by Pete Seeger, This is not America by David […]

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