Saturday, May 28, 2011

Gil Scott's Role in an Untelevised Revolution

With the passing of Gil Scott-Heron, we're certain to hear about his wonderful career as a poet and musician over the coming days, weeks...years. As we should.

But there's another story that relates to "Scotty," as his childhood friends in Jackson, Tennessee, where he was raised, used to call him.

On January 25, 1962, Gil Scott-Heron and 2 other students were sent by their guardians to Tigrett Junior High School, effectively desegregating the school, and later by extension the school system.

I know what you're asking. Hadn't the Supreme Court declared in that 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education that it was unconstitutional to segregate public schools? Yep, but listen: some of these Southern towns don't care about your fancy laws and equality and Constitution.

I heard about Scotty as one of those three students who helped desegregate the schools before I became aware of his talents and many contributions as a poet and musician. Well, in a way, I heard about his very early years as a musician because he took piano lessons with my aunt when they were adolescents growing up in Jackson.

The schools in Jackson, where I was raised, did not officially become desegregated until the early 1990s. I was just starting high school at the time.  It was in 1962, after Gil Scott-Heron and others went to Tigrett, that got black folks unofficially attending more than just the black schools.

When the older folks who really helped change the system reflected on things at the time of official desegregation in the early 1990s, they'd mention this guy Scotty, along with his classmates such as Brenda Moses and Madeline Walker who were the first black students to go to the white schools.

I've been switching back and forth saying Gil Scott-Heron and Scotty, as I spoke with my aunt earlier today about him. She, like all his other friends in Jackson, only knew him as Scotty.

In 1963, Lillie Scott, his grandmother died, and so Scotty left Jackson and moved to New York City with his mother. Scotty was then on the road to becoming "the" Gil Scott-Heron.


C. Liegh McInnis said...


Great piece on GSH. This is more of the human side of the man that we must know so to balance everything and for us to understand that who we all are is deeply rooted in our home communities. Good job, again!

C. Liegh McInnis

Anonymous said...

Amazing! Thanks so much for the insight. It's so good to hear about humanity of our icons.