Nikki Giovanni: Growing Up in Lincoln Heights

I first lived in Wyoming; we were renting there. Then we bought a home in Lincoln Heights on Jackson Street and we moved there for a long time, and then we bought a house on Congress Street. Lincoln Heights to me was a lovely place. When I was growing up it was a working-class community. I went to St. Simon’s and I walked to school every day, which I liked. We had Neal’s Grocery Store—he was a veteran—when we lived on Jackson Street. Directly facing our home was Green’s. It was a juke joint. They actually had a jukebox. They sold Cokes. Some other things that I didn’t understand were probably going on inside.

G.E. was needing engineers and they had imported black engineers. There was still segregation. These black engineers rented rooms in Lincoln Heights. It was the ’60s, so there were rooms.

We never had a high school. We could go to Wayne High in Lockland; our kids could also go to Woodward. We would walk from Lincoln Heights to Lockland to talent shows. The Isley Brothers used to win all of the contests. Everybody sang. We were black so everybody sang. My mother was a jazz person and I was the only person singing jazz.

I was a schoolteacher’s child. My mom taught at St. Simon’s and my dad taught seventh-grade math. It’s like being a preacher’s kid. I remember feeling incredibly safe. Even the crazy people knew my dad. The term I would use and I would use with great affection is: it was Southern. —Nikki Giovanni, Poet

Illustration by Kathryn Rathke.
Originally published in the October 2011 issue.

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