Nina Simone's Gun

Saeed Jones ponders what writing can do in the face violence @ Lambda Literary.

Nina Simone was listening to the radio at home when she heard about the church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama that killed four black girls. It was 1963. The year Dr. King wrote his Letter from Birmingham Jail. The year Kennedy announced the Civil Rights Bill. The year Medgar Evers was gunned down in his own driveway. But four little girls?

As Simone later recalled, “All the truths that I had denied to myself for so long rose up and slapped my face… It came as a rush of fury, hatred and determination. In church language, the Truth entered me and I came through.”

She went into the garage. When her husband, Andy, came home a few hours later, he found her sitting on the floor with a mess of tools spread out in front of her. Nina Simone was trying to build a hand-made gun.

“I had it in my mind to go out and kill someone,” she explains in I Put a Spell on You. “I didn’t know who, but someone I could identify as being in the way of my people getting justice for the first time in three hundred years.”

Andy, standing behind her as she continued to work, finally said “Nina, you don’t know anything about killing. The only thing you’ve got is music.”

Eventually, she put down the tools, went to her piano, and wrote “Mississippi Goddam” in a hour. Music was her gun.