Southern Agenda

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Nina Simone’s legacy needs a physical place that enshrines her contribution to our nation and where her legacy will live on,” says Brent Leggs, the executive director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund. In 1933, Eunice Kathleen Waymon was born in Tryon, North Carolina, and less than two decades later, she launched her genre-blending musical career under the now famous stage name. In 2017, four Black artists (Adam Pendleton, Ellen Gallagher, Rashid Johnson, and Julie Mehretu) bought the three-room, 650-square-foot clapboard home where she grew up for $95,000 to save it from demolition. Following a recent fundraising art auction cocurated by Pendleton and tennis star Venus Williams, this summer and fall will see a full restoration of the home. But a traditional house museum stuffed with artifacts guarded by velvet ropes is not in the plans, Leggs says. “Our vision is to create a place of education, reflection, and inspiration, open for art residencies and creating opportunities for youth, artists, and scholars.” Simone, sometimes called the “high priestess of soul” after her 1967 album of that name, was much more than a performer—she was a lifelong civil and women’s rights activist. “The physical preservation of her personal history and the chance to learn more broadly about the historic Black community where the house sits will honor not only her legacy,” Leggs says, “but also the legacy of those who were handed her torch.”