Local artist federally recognized

Published 5:57 am Wednesday, March 23, 2005

By by Tim Cottrell
The Civil Rights Movement has left a lasting legacy on the face of American culture. Years of struggle and hardship afforded all African-Americans the right to vote, the right to go to school where they chose to, and the right to eat, sleep, drive, or marry whomever they wanted.
The United States Postal Service (USPS) has recently released a series of stamps featuring works of art by many African-American artists depicting pivotal moments in the Civil Rights Movement, from Truman integrating the military to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 being signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
One of the paintings chosen for the stamps depicts the bloody Selma to Montgomery March held March 7, 1965. The violence from the initial attempt at the March, broadcast live on television led to many legislative victories for African-Americans.
The painting in question is by a famous artist who makes her home right here in Escambia County, familiar to many Atmore residents who may have seen her work in numerous businesses and homes throughout the county. That woman is Bernice Sims of Brewton.
"They wanted to have 10 stamps issued," Sims said. "It's a great honor to be chosen. I sold the painting two or three years ago to a person working for a lawyer (Micki Beth Stiller) in Montgomery. About a year later, they started talking to the post office. She's responsible for it getting recognition."
According to information from the Ginger Young Gallery's website at www.gingeryoung.com, Sims, the eldest of 10 children, did not graduate high school until after raising her own children, deciding to get her diploma at 52. It was also then that Sims rekindled an old love of painting. She grew up around Georgiana, and her "memory paintings" often depict tales from her childhood there. Sims also paints many portraits of Civil Rights Movement themes (she participated in the movement).
"What I'm trying to do is paint the past, the country, how things used to be," Sims said. "I try to paint old houses and things you don't see anymore. I try to tell the story of what we went through, and I wound up painting."
Sims said her childhood was an interesting time.
"We were fortunate because where I came from the whites were as poor as the blacks," Sims said. "I've done paintings of cotton patches and things like that, and kids today don't see that anymore. We didn't have anything, but it was happy times because we didn't know better. We didn't have so many problems."
Sims was proud of the work she and many other African-Americans had done during the Civil Rights Movement, but worried that many were forgetting the struggle.
"People now have got it easy," Sims said. "They don't realize the struggles. I lived them. I'm proud to have been able to participate in improving the conditions of our people. Kids couldn't go to college then unless they were well off or had someone backing them. Now it's easy. You don't have to take a ditch job anymore.
"I'm proud to have had a hand in it. We've come a long way. The only thing that bothers me is that some seem to have a short memory. The young people don't know what it was like. Everyone benefits from it. We all profit when everyone is able to get a job. I can look back and say I'm proud."
Sims talked more about the Civil Rights Movement.
"I've done paintings on almost all (the events), the marches, Birmingham bombs, and everything," Sims said. "I used to be deeply involved in Civil Rights. Never did much marching because of my knees. I guess you could say while they were marching I was a cheerleader."
Sims also talked about many of her favorite paintings.
"I did a picture of Adam and Eve," Sims said. "I also did a picture of the firemen and the flag after 9/11. I've done country paintings. Those are some of my favorites."
Sims said she planned to continue painting.
"I haven't worked in a few months," she said. "I feel I've still got a story to tell, and as long as I've got the energy I'm going to keep telling it."

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