Prev Home Next

2.06



For Marguerite Whitley Simpson Thomas

This article is not about what I feel about O.J. Simpson, but rather what I am feeling about Marguerite Whitley Simpson Thomas. Through all the media mania about the O.J. Simpson tragedy, the thought of the first Mrs. Simpson kept coming back to me. Actually, it was upper-most in my mind.

First let me say, this article (like the others in Meanderings) is not intended to negate the tragedy of the death of Nicole Brown Simpson or Ronald Goldman. It is my feeling about the impact of the tragedy on a woman that is still living, the first Mrs. Simpson.

When I first started thinking about Marguerite Simpson, like most things I feel, music popped up in my mind to provide some context to my feelings. The more I think about her, the more I'm reminded of the warnings of the women poets. I heard Aretha sing, "if you want a do right woman, you gotta be a do right man." Then Nancy Wilson piped in, "guess who I saw today my love," and Aretha came back at me, "I don't want nobody, always sittin around with me and my man..."

In June of 1967, Marguerite Whitley married Orenthal James Simpson. An "around the way girl" and a "home boy." Different generation, same feeling. Coulda been L.L.O.J., for "Ladies Love Orenthal James".

By all accounts I've read, Orenthal James was a brother from the block, hanging out, getting into trouble, having big fun and kickin' it with his homies. I don't need to recount his troubles with the law, the major media is full of the recitations. But, as I recall, the late 1960's were a time of "stone soul picnics", the Supremes and sweet falsettos.

"....like the day he happened to drive Marguerite's beau to her house, and she walked straight past the miffed boyfriend to chat with Simpson, lounging in a Mustang borrowed from a college recruiter. O.J. never forgot the magic of that moment; 'She came out of the house and she had on this white dress, looking like the Virgin Mary or something.' I sat there thinking, 'Boy, that is a beautiful lady!'" [People Magazine, April 2, 1979]

Marguerite was dating Al Cowlings at the time, but like we all know -- things happen. Marguerite married Orenthal. She was 18 and he was 19. Al and Orenthal remained friends. The threesome became a part of the evolution and the creation of the "Juice." Heretofore, Orenthal was a brother from the Potrero Hill section of San Francisco, nicknamed "Waterhead." Current media accounts talk about his membership in a street gang, his petty thievery, his antics and other brushes with the law, and how baseball great Willie Mays helped rescue him from the streets. What the accounts rarely note is the influence of Marguerite.

"In June, O.J. and Marguerite were married and settled into a pleasant two-room apartment in Los Angeles near the U.S.C. campus, with a hoard of records by the Supremes, and Hugh Masekela, and a parakeet named Harvey. Marguerite took a job as a librarian at the university, while O.J. launched into his studies and football, seven days a week. The schedule allows almost no time for so much as a movie and a malt -- although the couple goes to church regularly, ("My wife, she's very religious, she put me back on track") -- so it is up to O.J. to provide the entertainment." Life magazine, Oct. 27, 1969.

I can hear Smokey singing

"people say I'm the life of the party cause
I tell a joke or two,
although I might be laughing
loud and hearty,
deep inside I'm blue . . .
so take a good look at my face,
you'll see my smile it's out of place,
if you look closer, it's easy to trace,
the tracks of my tears . . ."

I once had a teacher tell me, that Black people should feel no guilt about the complexities of Black life in America. What must it have been like to watch an "around-the-way girl" cope with the rising star-status of her man. Love was new and fresh, and the brother was fine, athletic, popular, well-built, and on his way to being well-heeled. But the commerce that is America probably took the person Marguerite slept with and sent home a new and improved product -- "O.J., the Juice."

But love is not about commerce. It is a feeling, a commitment and it is about history, family and faith. Marguerite Simpson, from what I have read, was big on family and faith and fidelity. Things that work well for Disney, but not professional athletics, in my view.

I have been unable to find much that details the evolution of the Juice and the dissolution of the family of Orenthal James and Marguerite Whitley Simpson. I went looking for the good years and found only press reports of the divorce, the onset of the women and the announcements of great athletic accomplishments, product endorsements and, as Chaka Khan sang, the "welcome into Hollywood".

I tried to imagine the move to the coldness of Buffalo, N.Y., away from family and trusted friends, to raise children and be a supportive wife to a famous athlete. I have no reference point to even begin to understand the phenomena. I have dated athletes whose ambitions ended with undergraduate experiences as football players, track runners or basketball - there seemed to be an ever present longing and admiration for the few that made it to professional ranks. I felt, but could not appreciate the impact on "ego" of women who flock to your feet and offer up their everything, or alumni who give you car keys and cash. The educators who allow you to miss classes and still complete a course with good or better than average grades - just so you can play in the game. I can't even imagine what it's like to be the focus of microphones, television cameras and flashing bulbs. I've never been to Hollywood, nor have I ever watched "Hollywood" camp out on my doorstep. I wonder if, in retrospect, Marguerite ever thinks about what life would have been like if Al Cowlings had never come to her house with Orenthal James in tow?

"The price of fame was our biggest problem," O.J. once observed. "My wife is a private person, yet we can't walk down the street without causing a commotion." Today, because of injuries and age (31), his football glory seems past. Ironically, so is the marriage between O.J. and the person he credits most, along with baseball idol Willie Mays, with straightening him out when he was a troubled ghetto kid." People Magazine, April 2, 1979

I recall an interview with Marguerite's sister and mother on one of those tabloid televisions shows. They were discussing the impact of the trial on their family, and on Marguerite, in particular. The sister began to cry as she recounted how Orenthal James spoke to Marguerite and apologized to her for all the pain he had caused her. The camera maintained its focus on the face of Marguerite's sister as she told the story of how Marguerite encouraged Orenthal to continue to read the Bible and to maintain faith. It seems to me now that this was the same message she tried to instill into Orenthal back when they were man and wife, before the money and the fame, before the ultimate tragedy that is now Orenthal's life - charged with murdering a white female and a white male.

"One barrier to an effective coalition between Black women and white women is their competition for Black men . . .Some Black men see white women as symbols of the white man's privileges. Black women tend to see them as symbols of the Black male's oppression and subjugation." The Black Woman in America, by Robert Staples, 1973

Somewhere I hear in the back of my mind a Johnny Taylor song, not sure, but something about "if I could turn back the hands of time..." In 1976, the third child of Orenthal and Marguerite died in an accidental drowning in the swimming pool of their home. Aaren Simpson was only 23 months old. According to accounts I've read, at the hospital, O.J. ran down the hall towards Marguerite screaming and accusing her of drowning their child. In his own grief as a father, he probably did not see the far greater pain of the loss of a child for a Black mother, particularly a spiritually-based one as Marguerite Whitley Simpson. In his recent book, I Want to Tell You, O.J. gives all credit for the beauty and grace and intelligence of his daughter, Arnelle, to the foundation and love that Marguerite provided for their children. O.J. recounts how it was his son, Jason, who conducted research on the Simpson family history. O.J. admits that his children by Marguerite have a base of knowledge to draw on when it comes to their heritage as Black people. Marguerite raised her children. I wonder if O.J. ever doubted what Orenthal knew?

There is no need to recount the whirlwind romance of Nicole Brown and O.J. "Juice" Simpson - that is the stuff of commerce and justice as the trial turns. There is no need to describe the white roses, the extravagant gifts, the homes, the expense accounts, the many ways O.J. "prized" his second bride who, some would say, just happened to be white.

But this case has a funny way of pulling into its orbit people who were once ignored or forgotten. In the major news magazines, I can find only bits about O.J.'s marriage to Marguerite. I had to go to JET Magazine to see the family photographs of a young running back, a beautiful young Black woman and their two children, a boy and a girl in front of a "mountain-top home". Only the JET stories contained accounts in which Marguerite denied that Orenthal ever hit her during their marriage.

"During a recent 20/20 interview, Mrs. Thomas told anchor Barbara Walters that O. J. Simpson never hit her during their 12-year marriage". Marguerite Thomas went further to say, "If he did, he would have got a frying pan upside his head. There was just no way that I would allow that to happen to me."

There are press accounts and political ramblings about, and many organizations dedicated to "victim's rights" these days. There are also numerous definitions of what a "victim" is. In the court room of Judge Ito, the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman are an ever-present reminder that life was lost in a most tragic and brutal manner and that two children are left parentless as a result. The combustible mix of domestic violence, race, sex, celebrity and money are combined in this trial like no other in American history. It's like Nicole Brown was O.J.'s "Rocket Love" that took him "up to heaven and dropped him down to this cold, cold world," while there was once a woman who probably loved him, as Roberta Flack sang,

"tonight you're mine completely
I give my love, so sweetly,
tonight, the light of love is in your eyes,
but will you love me tomorrow..."
He didn't.

Victims. Yes, the deaths of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman were awful. What more can be said about that? The tragic loss of parental presence suffered by Sydney and Justin Simpson. There is no way anyone can negate the profound impact of this cruelty. There is also the pain that Arnelle and Jason Simpson must bear (as young adults) and the pieces that Marguerite Thomas will continue to pick up. But let us not forget, that every story has a beginning as well as an end. Perhaps the beginning was not in the blossoming of an interracial love tale with Samson and Delilah overtones but, rather, in something far more simple and American - how an "around-the-way girl" lost her "homeboy" in Hollywood.

"Seems like love should be easier to bear,
          but it's such a heavy load."
            Smokey Robinson


Prev Home Next



Meanderings 2.06 -- June 1995