A boy is born in hard time Mississippi..
91 years. Sharecropping Mississippi. Jim Crow. New way. World War II. Korean War. Segregation. New York City. Freedom. Harlem Renaissance. Billie Holiday. Langston Hughes. Lindy hop. Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King, Jr. Civil disobedience. Malcolm X. By any means necessary. Negro. I’m Black and I’m Proud. African American. Hip hop. Atlanta. Martin Luther King Museum. President Barack Obama. 91 years.
My granduncle Moody Sims passed away Tuesday night. He was 91 years old. Growing up in Mississippi, he picked cotton alongside his parents when he was a young boy. He joined the navy during World War II and worked as a cook, since the army was segregrated and black men were not allowed to defend their country.
To me Uncle Sims became Uncle Mooky. I renamed him when I was just learning how to talk, and the name stuck. Since he had children, nephews, nieces, and grandchildren trying to get his attention, I had my own special name. You only needed to ask about his life over some of his famous ribs, and you’d watch your boring history textbook come to life with his words. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized the level of racism he faced at least half his life, because there was never a tone of bitterness or hurt. Just dignity.
We learned that if you are to do anything, do it the best you can. He once said, if you’re going to be a street sweeper, be the best street sweeper that ever held a broom. The only way to learn how to ride a bicycle is to take off the seat. And once you got on a roll with an idea or something you’re working hard at, you’re cooking with gas. “Yeah” was never an option in conversation. It’s “Yes, Ma’am” and “No Ma’am.” But he was never a tough disciplinarian, he was the most fun adult I’ve ever known. We would go to Coney Island and always stop at Nathan’s. I’d have hot dogs and fries, and Uncle Mooky would always have frog legs. He became best friends with my abuelita. At family parties she would ask him about his ribs and he would ask her what she put in her arroz con gandules to make it so perfect.
Our biggest discussions were on education. Uncle Mooky believed that education is power that could not be stripped away by race or gender. I was ambitious since kindergarten, and I would say, “Uncle Mooky. Let me read this to you.” He’d listen, and challenged me to do my best always, and I’d bring him back accomplishments throughout college. When his baby made it to NYU, I could see his smile through the phone. I’ll never forget how happy I was to bring him that news. I was proud to bring him with me through my journey.
His own memories became distant to his mind as sickness slowly claimed each story. Although his memory started fading, he followed politics his whole life, and was well versed on the topic. He followed the election, and when Obama won, he smiled with satisfaction. I prayed that he would be able to witness the Inauguration, for when Obama says he stands on the shoulders of many, Uncle Mooky knew his pair of shoulders helped lift him there.
Although my heart is saddened, I know that his rich memories are his again. His magnificent life touched four generations.
Uncle Mooky, I listened. I will always remember. I love you. My heart is saddened simply because I will miss you. But I am going to smile because your body and mind are yours now. You are a phenomenal force. You’re the strength in my back when I stand tall. You’re the words I write whenever I hold a pen. In the dignity in which I hold myself. In the respect I give every living creature.
Moody Sims is an American hero, 91 years of a life brilliantly lived.