nikki giovanni: i come from athletes – kneeling is a sign of love
November 6, 2017
By Nikki Giovanni*, AFROPUNK Contributor
There is no way that I can think of that says segregation was a good idea, yet some things have to be considered. Were I in a bad mood I would point out we didn’t have to be bothered with white folks. It’s still strange to me that white Americans keep saying they don’t want to be bothered with us: they don’t want to sit next to us on buses; they want to use a different toilet; they want their own table in their own restaurants and things like that yet they came to our dances when The Blues were being featured; they rushed the stage when Nat “King” Cole was singing; they broke into our homes to take our children out to beat them to death and actually they used the most precious organ a man has, his penis, to insert in forcefully into a woman or man or child. We ended up all different colors and they kept saying they didn’t like us. Very strange, indeed.
Of course, the penis will soon be extinct because it has been so often misused. Like the tonsils and other useless organs, one day men will wake up and it will be gone. I have no idea what will take its place but anything that is useless or misused will be eliminated. Segregation should have kept them on their side, but they kept coming.
My father was from Mobile, Alabama. He was actually short, about 5′5″. The lucky thing about Gus, which is what we called him, is that he was smart. Fannie Mae Jones was his mother and his father was, if not unknown, then not known to us. What was remembered is Giovanni, which is Italian and translates to John. My father was Jones Giovanni. They were, as were most black Americans, poor. Fannie wanted her son to go to college so she had him practice basketball a lot. He came home from school and threw the ball until it was dark. Then he went inside and did his homework. He was really good at math, but no one was going to give a black boy a math scholarship in those days.
Knoxville College was a Presbyterian College looking to help poor folks, and someone saw Gus shooting the basketball. They offered him a scholarship. Off he went.
Mommy was a Knoxvillian by birth. Her name is Yolande Cornelia Watson. I always thought the Yolande was because Grandpapa was a Fisk graduate and influenced by WEB DuBois. Cornelia was my great grandmother’s name, so Mommy got to share it. She attended Knoxville College because that is what Grandmother and Grandpapa could afford.
Almost no woman even my age can swim because the swimming pools were segregated and we could only swim on Saturdays, which would not do, as Sunday was church. But―and this is a wonderful but―Dr. Johnson, a black physician, thought black children needed some place to play and purchased several acres of land directly across the street from my grandparents on Mulvaney Street.
I’m sure Dr. Johnson didn’t purchase the land because of my grandparents, but luckily for us, that’s where it was. He had trees planted and benches and tables put there. He also put several tennis courts in Cal Johnson Park. Mommy, as with many others on our side of town, played tennis regularly and Mommy became quite good. Since this was segregation, blacks could not compete in the regular tournaments. They went to Wilberforce University in Ohio to play. One year, Mommy got all the way to the finals where she competed against Althea Gibson. Ms. Gibson defeated Mommy, but what a thrill. Mommy went on to college where she met Gus.
My guess is that he was charming. When I met him there were other issues, but they fell in love and after graduation were married. This is my point. There was a photo that Mommy kept on her dresser all her life. Gus is holding a basketball and inscribed the photo: “Think I’ll score?” Since you can’t corrupt the innocent, I was well grown before I realized he was talking dirty to her. I thought he wanted two points. Oh well.
We attended the Baptist Church, Mt. Zion, with grandmother and grandpapa where you stood to sing and pray. When they married and had me and moved to Cincinnati, we attended an AME church where you stood or sat. Since I attended an Episcopalian school we learned to kneel in church each morning before classes.
As far as I can recall, men knelt when they wanted to ask a woman “Will you take my name and be true to me?” Kneeling was a sign of love. I sincerely dislike that man who occupies the White House trying to take the love and faith of our athletes, who are kneeling and asking the Constitution: “Will you be mine?” It will always be a sign of hope that the answer will be “Yes.” We are not the folk who divorce. We have married for life.
*A GOOD CRY, What We Learn From Tears and Laughter is Nikki Giovanni’s 27th volume of poetry. The book is on sale from William Morrow October 24, 2017.
Get The Latest
Signup for the AFROPUNK newsletter