Tryon – On Saturday, June 24, 2023, a small group of historic preservation experts, community leaders, and Nina Simone fans came together for an update on the ongoing campaign to preserve Nina Simone’s Childhood Home in Tryon, NC. Brent Leggs, senior vice president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and executive director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund (AACHF), led the meeting at the Roseland Community Center, a few blocks from the home itself.
Preserving Nina Simone’s Childhood Home
Nina Simone was born Eunice Waymon in the three-room, clapboard home in Tryon’s historic Eastside community in 1933. As Nina Simone went on to a storied career as the “High Priestess of Soul” and impactful civil rights activist, the home fell into disrepair.
In 2017, a group of four New York City-based artists purchased the home and reached out to the National Trust for assistance in preserving the structure.
Locally, the Tryon-based nonprofit Nina Simone Project has been working on similar efforts to celebrate Simone’s musical and cultural legacy for over fifteen years. The two initiatives, and many state and national partners began working hand in hand.
“The Nina Simone Project’s partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation is foremost among our outreach partnerships,” said Nina Simone Project founder Dr. Crys Armbrust. “Our mutual work with the Trust and artists Adam Pendleton, Rashid Johnson, Ellen Gallagher, and Julie Mehretu to preserve the Nina Simone Childhood Home has become the defining touchstone for the scope of our outreach activities.”
Nina Simone’s Childhood Home was designated a National Treasure in 2018. At the time, there were fewer than 100 such sites designated throughout the country. In 2021, the home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Update on the Preservation Efforts
In early May 2023, a fundraiser at New York City’s Pace Gallery was hosted by tennis star Venus Williams and curated by artist Adam Pendleton. The art auction raised over $5 million for the preservation of the home and generated national interest in the home.
The Saturday meeting in Tryon served as an update on the project and an input session from the community on long-term goals.
Melissa Jest, Program Manager at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, discussed ongoing site planning and rehabilitation, as well as next steps in preservation and protection, with an eye to future programming and interpretation related to the home.
The National Trust has completed stabilization of the home and is preparing for the next phase of exterior and interior rehabilitation and landscape planning.
Following the physical preservation work, conversations will turn to programming, interpreting, and stewardship of the site.
Said Jest, “We’re beginning to shape how the community and visitors will access and experience this resource. How do we move forward after the ribbon cutting?”
Polk County native Tanisha Akinloye was in attendance at the discussion. Akinloye’s mother was mentored by Nina Simone’s mother Reverend Mary Kate Waymon, a fellow minister, and the families maintain strong connections.
“It feels so wonderful to know that this is happening in Tryon and Polk County to shine light on Nina Simone’s birthplace,” said Akinloye. “I’m overwhelmed to know they’re doing this and taking so much pride in keeping her legacy alive. So many people all over the world get to hear about where we live because of Nina Simone and her contribution to the world.”
Additional information on the project is available at https://savingplaces.org/places/ninasimone.