Artist Bernice Sims passed away on October 23, 2014, in Pensacola, FL, only a few weeks after publishing her memoir The Struggle: My Life and Legacy.

Born on Christmas Day, 1926, Bernice Sims lived all her life in rural and small town southern Alabama. She said she did not notice the racial divisions in the American South when she was a child, because “everybody was just poor”. As she grew up though, her eyes were opened and she became a witness to social injustice and a participant in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Although she had an early interest in painting, there was no time for it until relatively late in life. After years of working hard to earn a living and single-handedly raising her six children, Sims resolved to continue her education at the local community college. She began to paint and found her own style with the encouragement of an art instructor at the school. Her brightly coloured paintings illustrate her memories, from scenes of children playing with homemade toys, to scenes of demonstrators being attacked with fire hoses. In the years that followed, her work gained national attention and her paintings were included in many exhibits and museum collections.

In 2005, the United States Postal Service honoured Bernice Sims by issuing a postage stamp featuring her painting of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, AL, the iconic site of a violent confrontation in the civil rights struggle. The stamp is one of ten in the series entitled “To Form A More Perfect Union” chosen to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.

Although her health had begun to fail, in recent months Sims had been feeling well and had been in good spirits. Working from her bed, she collaborated with writer LaVender Shedrick Williams to put her life story onto the printed page, and she was delighted to have been able to see the project through. She celebrated the publication of The Struggle: My Life and Legacy with a crowd of fans at a local book-signing event. Sims passed away unexpectedly at the long-term care facility where she had been staying.

A strong and independent woman, Bernice Sims not only leaves us her beautiful paintings, but also her hard-won wisdom.

 

by Karen Mack

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