I first heard this song as sung by Nina Simone, who penned it; naming it after a play by the same name written by her close friend Lorraine Hansberry.
Aretha Franklin re-recorded it, and if anything in this world is going to resonate with your spirit, it’s listening to the voice of Aretha Franklin in her prime.
It’s a thing of beauty. But as it relates to this song, it isn’t just her vocal delivery, it is the message. And that is what I want to talk about today.
Inspiration that slowly grew repetitive and then silent.
As a child, I was unfamiliar with the words, but not with the sentiment. I went to an all-Black elementary school, merely a stone’s throw from the projects, but it was there that I learned to excel. In my school, there were only two men, the principal and the music teacher, so essentially generations of young Black children, were raised, shaped, crafted and cultivated by teachers who were Black women. These women knew how to recognize intellect in their students and nurtured it, tamping down the laziness of youth.
It was in this school I learned the satisfaction of academic achievement, as well as learning the pride associated with the achievements of those who have come before. In this school, we learned Black history, despite the fact that those facts would never appear on any standardized test. We learned that Black people were responsible for far more in this world than sports, song and dance.
We learned about:
Garrett Morgan: the inventor of the gas mask and traffic light.
Benjamin Banneker; who helped survey the original borders of the District of Columbia.
Mary McLeod Bethune: who founded a Negro girl’s training school that would later become Bethune-Cookman University.
Honestly, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes Black historical figures who were pioneers in this country. But when I left that all Black school, my education regarding historical Black figures met its end. No one ever discussed them unless it was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., or Harriet Tubman. I didn’t learn about Malcolm X or Medgar Evers until Hollywood allowed for the production of movies about their…