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Author: Simkins, Modjeska, interviewee
Interview conducted by Egerton, John
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Mike Millner
Sound recordings digitized by Steve Weiss and Aaron Smithers
First edition, 2006
Size of electronic edition: 156 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2006.
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Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2006-00-00, Celine Noel and Wanda Gunther revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2006-04-28, Mike Millner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of sound recording: Oral History Interview with Modjeska Simkins, May 11, 1990. Interview A-0356. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series A. Southern Politics. Southern Oral History Program Collection (A-0356)
Author: John Egerton
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Modjeska Simkins, May 11, 1990. Interview A-0356. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series A. Southern Politics. Southern Oral History Program Collection (A-0356)
Author: Modjeska Simkins
Description: 163 Mb
Description: 44 p.
Note: Interview conducted on May 11, 1990, by John Egerton; recorded in Columbia, South Carolina.
Note: Transcribed by Jackie Gorman.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series A. Southern Politics, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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Interview with Modjeska Simkins, May 11, 1990.
Interview A-0356. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Simkins, Modjeska, interviewee


Interview Participants

    MODJESKA SIMKINS, interviewee
    JOHN EGERTON, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
JOHN EGERTON:
Everett Otis Andrews.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Otis Whitfield, he was named for Whitfield, a Whitfield I guess of South Carolina history. He fought a duel, one of the Tillmans.
JOHN EGERTON:
Yes, Pitchfork Ben. He was a bad member wasn't he? You all planted these trees? That's a live oak.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
They came up.
JOHN EGERTON:
Oh, really? What is this one here?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
It's what you call a White Oak.
JOHN EGERTON:
A White Oak?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes.
JOHN EGERTON:
It's got a wisteria vine in it and it's huge.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
My husband's people lived in Summerville, so when they sold that property, we decided we wanted to bring something to remind us, so we brought the wisteria from Summerville, South Carolina.
JOHN EGERTON:
How old is this house?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
We don't know. Our deed goes back and I'll be glad to show that our deed goes back to when Sherman burnt the courthouse, and it says in there . . . I will show it to you. I can put my hands on it very quickly. Sherman burnt Columbia in '65. It was February 18, I believe, 1865. The came through here and then they went north, right by the property where I was [later] reared.

Page 2
JOHN EGERTON:
So you grew up not far from here?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I grew up out on [highway] 21 which is the road to Charlotte. The old road to Charlotte. Old 21 goes to Charlotte.
JOHN EGERTON:
How far out from town?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
About five miles. That's where all the family lived except for my sister. We have a sister in Birmingham. I mean Michigan—Ann Arbor Michigan. Her husband [unclear]. He's retired now. They're still living in Ann Arbor.
JOHN EGERTON:
You were a social worker?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I was everything from a busy body to a hell-raiser. Yes, I would say I was a social worker when I started out. My parents were people that were always concerned about others, or the disadvantaged or under the pressure of being mistreated. They reared us that they and they also reared us to believe that no one was better than ourselves unless they behaved better than we did. So I never suffered from an inferiority complex. And in these days I would curse out anybody—trashy white folks and the press.
JOHN EGERTON:
You just don't take any lip off anybody?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
No, I never have. I don't try to get anybody to get into anything, but if put in a corner I'll fight my way out.
JOHN EGERTON:
Well, when somebody is courteous to you you are always courteous back to them.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes.
JOHN EGERTON:
I never knew you to ever be just mean to somebody . . .
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
No, I wasn't reared that way.
JOHN EGERTON:
No, you've got good manners.

Page 3
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I had a policemand said he was a Klansman, call me one day. I said, come on up here as long as you stay on the sidewalk it's alright. I said if you get on my property somebody might [inaudible] that cat [laughs]. And then one called me once and he said he was a preacher. We talked the longest and finally [inaudible] he started cussing and I said you are a preacher and you cuss. [inaudible] He came down and he started talking all right again [inaudible] Well, my folks were saying way back, don't get no further back than they knock you back. But the average person—people are all right you know, a lot of times they have to try, try you out and see what they can do. Trial and error, you know. But now after that old trashy kind of cracker crowd, you know, after awhile they just, they're all right, some of best friends. They all come over, do things, bring this, do that. And I have good connections with the press and you know, people at the University.
JOHN EGERTON:
I want to show you something that you probably have seen before. That's a list of the people that attended the Southern Race Relations Conference in Durham in 1942. It starts on that page and it goes over, there's quite a few names on there. Your name is one of them.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, I was there.
JOHN EGERTON:
You're the only person that I've been able to identify, so far, who was at that meeting whose still living. If you see anybody else on there that you know is still living I wish you'd point them out to me.

Page 4
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I know that Jordan Hancock is gone, [inaudible] . Charles Johnson is gone.
JOHN EGERTON:
Charles Johnson, he was a great man, wasn't he?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, he was. I knew most of the others.
JOHN EGERTON:
Gordon Foster gone?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Oh, yes.
JOHN EGERTON:
Luther Foster, I mean.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
H. B. Butler is gone, he was really sweet. And Adams. I don't know about old J. A. Bacote. Is he still living?
JOHN EGERTON:
I don't know. Okay, let me turn this over because that's repeated over there and you can see the whole name. You think he might be?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I never thought he was gone. [inaudible] . Is this the same copy?
JOHN EGERTON:
Yes, ma'am.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Benedict College, call out there—they will know.
JOHN EGERTON:
Yes, ma'am, you said he is.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
No, he's gone. Bacote is gone.
JOHN EGERTON:
You changed your mind about him, then?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I'm almost sure he's gone. You can call Benedict.
JOHN EGERTON:
Or even look in the phone book, maybe.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
[inaudible] or knew anything about it was [inaudible]
JOHN EGERTON:
Oh, I see.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
She came from Virginia. [inaudible] Both [inaudible] and Stuart are gone. [inaudible]
JOHN EGERTON:
No, this was in Durham.

Page 5
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I didn't know [inaudible] James Jackson is still living.
JOHN EGERTON:
James Jackson? where is he?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
He's up in Hampton, Virginia. He and his wife are living. [inaudible] He worked in the Southern Negro Youth Congress.
JOHN EGERTON:
Where did they identify him there as being . . .
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Southern Negro Youth Congress. He and Esther are still living.
JOHN EGERTON:
In Hampton?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
No, they are not in Hampton. He was head of the youth congress in Birmingham. We had that trouble down there. Who was that old governor that went down there?
JOHN EGERTON:
I forget his name.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
We had so much with the old police chief.
JOHN EGERTON:
Yes, with Bull Connor.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
He was a bull, too.
JOHN EGERTON:
He was. But you say James Jackson . . .
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
He and his wife were both outstanding civil rights workers.
JOHN EGERTON:
And you say where I might find them.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
It will come to me in a little bit. I'm ninety years old but my brain ain't what it used to be.
JOHN EGERTON:
When's your birthday?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
December 5, 1899. Rufus Clement, is he still living?
JOHN EGERTON:
Rufus Clement, no ma'am, he's gone.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
[inaudible]

Page 6
Esther and Jack, they are real nice, they are fine young people.
JOHN EGERTON:
You called him Jack?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
We called him that in the work field.
JOHN EGERTON:
And his wife's name is Esther?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
[inaudible] There's a lot of things . . . I know a person did it [inaudible]
JOHN EGERTON:
Did you finish that page?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yeah, I finished it.
JOHN EGERTON:
Look on the next page. There's a few more names over there.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Lee's gone, [inaudible] gone. I knew [inaudible] , I think all the [inaudible] are dead. I can't see Jay King, [inaudible] . I work with all degrees and classes of people in education. A lot of times you know, you have to talk their talk together to know what you're talking about. [inaudible] . I don't see anybody on here that I know is living.
JOHN EGERTON:
So you probably are the only one? Unless the Jacksons'.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, I know the Jacksons' are still living. very fine young people, young to me. [inaudible] .
JOHN EGERTON:
Where do you think they are?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I know where they are. It will come to me.
JOHN EGERTON:
What state?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
They are in Virginia. Almost sure it's Virginia. My brain's about worn out, child.

Page 7
JOHN EGERTON:
No, I don't see any sign of that. Let me see if I can get you to focus on something for me. You went to Durham. Do you remember where that meeting took place in Durham?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
As I remember it was at the college there.
JOHN EGERTON:
At the North Carolina Central.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, [James] Sheppard . . .
JOHN EGERTON:
Sheppard? Is he on this list?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Let's see, it's alphabetical order. I saw it a while ago. I have a house in the back that has a lot of my old stuff. [inaudible] I want to get some of it out. What are you really writing on?
JOHN EGERTON:
I'm writing about that period of time in the 30's and 40's when these meetings were taking place. It was at the college?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Who was I talking about?
JOHN EGERTON:
Sheppard.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yeah, I remember him well.
JOHN EGERTON:
It wasn't at the insurance company or the bank was it?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I don't know why I thought it was at the college . . . It could have been. I believe you are right, I believe it was at the North Carolina Mutual Insurance Co. But now, I'll tell you who knows where, a fellow named Clemmons. Did you ever run into Clemmons? He's retired now but he's still in Durham.
JOHN EGERTON:
Clemmon?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
His name will come to me, but he's originally from Charleston. I talked to him the other day. I was somewhere where they asked me to speak up in North Carolina the other day.

Page 8
He came to the meeting that day, I was surprised and he looked really well. He was connected to North Carolina Mutual. If you are ever on that side of Durham it would be good to talk to him. What am I looking for now, Sheppard?
JOHN EGERTON:
Sheppard.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Why isn't any of this in alphabetical order? When I pick up something like this I put it in alphabetical order.
JOHN EGERTON:
Do you remember that Gordon Hancock and P.B. Young were kind of the leaders of that?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, I knew them both.
JOHN EGERTON:
Is that the way you remember it that they were pretty much in charge?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, but Gordon Hancock was the initiator.
JOHN EGERTON:
He was the one?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes. I'm going in a minute and get that envelope. When you write my name put the "p" out on it. It's Simkins.
JOHN EGERTON:
Okay, good. I meant to ask you that.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
My husband's daddy was an old slaveowner over there, and his daddy was the slaveowner's son. He took me [inaudible] .
JOHN EGERTON:
Do I have the rest of it spelled right, Modjeska?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes. I had to carry that a long time. When I was born there was a Polish woman who was well known at that time, actress, and her name was Helena, her first name was Helena. My mother's baby sister thought it was a beautiful name and she loaded me up with that and I've been toting it all these years.
JOHN EGERTON:
Her name was Helena Modjeska?

Page 9
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Helena Modjeska, she was a Polish actress. You can look that up in the biographical sketch somewhere, but that was her surname. Here's James Sheppard, President of North Carolina College, Durham.
JOHN EGERTON:
And he's gone though?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, I'm almost sure he is.
JOHN EGERTON:
Do you remember anything much about that meeting? About what went on there?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
No, I really don't know. [inaudible] . What year was that?
JOHN EGERTON:
It was in October of '42.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Well, at that time, I know it would have concerned getting the ballot.
JOHN EGERTON:
Yes, that was one of the issues. Another issue that was real hot was whether or not this group of people ought to come four square against segregation. All the Jim Crow laws. One side was arguing to do that and the other side was arguing no, if we do that we're going to kill off all the hope we ever would have of having any kind of white support and we've got to have white support in order to ever pull this thing off. So what we better say is that we're against segregation but we recognize that for the time being we've got to live within the boundaries of it.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I don't remember that and I wouldn't have been a part of it if I had.
JOHN EGERTON:
You would have been on the side saying you got to come down against it.

Page 10
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes. I guess that's the reason I wasn't part of the decision making.
JOHN EGERTON:
The decision was made not to. Charles Johnson wrote the statement and it's very carefully worded to say that this group is unalterably opposed to segregation but they at this time are not choosing to demand that all the segregation laws be taken off the books. Save that until later.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
That was somewhat the spirit of the time. I guess maybe I've always been bull-headed—I just ran right straight into the power structure all the time. [inaudible] I don't say whites I say power structure because I dealt a lot with poor whites and there isn't a more pitiful thing in the world, the blackest most disadvantaged Negro isn't as pitiful as a po-tacky. They think their hides going to help them a little bit. The well-to-do white man didn't give a damn about a po-tacky.
JOHN EGERTON:
Po-tacky, is that what you call them?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Well, they call them that. You see, there's various names, like there was for Negroes—like poor white trash. But a lot of them call them po-tacky. Po-tacky is widely used. You see that was the place of cracker.
JOHN EGERTON:
Right.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Buckra, but they would say po buckra and then they call the white folks big buckra. They didn't say rich buckra they say big buckra and po buckra..
JOHN EGERTON:
Buckra was a term for white people?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes. Do you know the derivation of the word buckra?

Page 11
It's African. One of the few words in our dictionary that comes from Africa. Buckra, in Africa, meant a big land owner. Now buckra means big white folks. There isn't no poor to it. So buckra is really, well-to-do, upstanding, well-padded white people. But the Negroes call the poor white trash, po-buckra.
JOHN EGERTON:
I see. I never knew what the origin of that term was.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Buckra. I studied and was keenly interested in Gulla for years. Then in history, back of the Christian Era. See, a lot of people don't know, especially poor whites and the average Negro doesn't. They think and name the word that the time Christ was born. And the ones that talk about [inaudible] that's way back and I don't even want to hear about it and they don't know. . . . I tell them all this when I'm going . . . talking about it in Carolina or wherever it is. If we had had as free a civilization as black people in Africa, Lord, when the white man was drinking her blood over there in Great Britain [inaudible] . [inaudible] . I taught history for a while and I had a lot of history education [inaudible] . Teach it as it was not as you wish it had been.
JOHN EGERTON:
Teach it as it was.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
There is no need to get mad with those people who did something back then. They were working in the atmosphere of their times and all they knew what to do was what they did. The overseers, and the masters and all. Sleeping around, got in the

Page 12
bed with black women and got pretty babies and a lot of those with manners were sold as slaves. Christ, how did Christ live? [inaudible] slave market of New Orleans in particular. Concubines for well-to-do white men because they couldn't afford to lay up with the gals like they can now. We got a different thing now, what's that song? [inaudible] . [Laughter] So they don't have to hunt, what they call black wenches now, cause they got those white wenches to go to whenever they want them. As I see it now, if you're going to call yourself a historian you have to accept history as it was and evaluate it in accordance of the time. Now a lot of the men, let's take, I lived in the lynching era, and they are still lynching but its now more a lynching of the mind. I've been in two towns in this state. I was in Clemmons, South Carolina, when they lynched a man up there. [inaudible] I didn't see it but when I got home my landlady said, thank God, thank God, Lord have mercy. I said what in the world's wrong with you, you're going crazy? She knew I was out and around and she just didn't know . . . I was out on my work. She didn't know whether, maybe I was out on the road somewhere and they passed by. My daddy worked all over the South before he became very active at [inaudible] . The oldest child came home and started school, the family came back to our home base. We were in Birmingham one night when there was a lynching down there and I would have never made it [inaudible] .
JOHN EGERTON:
What were you doing in all those places?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
My daddy was a builder.

Page 13
JOHN EGERTON:
A builder?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes. There was a construction company. You see, being born when I was the South was evolving from an agricultural empire to an industrial empire. A lot of mills, Cotton mills were being built. My daddy had charge of the brick work for a company called the T.C. Thompson Brothers out of Nashville.
JOHN EGERTON:
Yes, I remember that in Nashville history.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, well he had charge of the people, he was a very fine bricklayer. When we had the trouble in [inaudible] the hard carriers did not want to carry mortar to a black man. And they decided they were gonna run him out of town. My daddy didn't have any rabbit blood in him. He said his family [inaudible] contract up to Spartanburg, up near Spartanburg. He stayed on down there and worked under guard. They guarded him on the scaffold each day. That's the kind of blood I came out of.
JOHN EGERTON:
Ya'll traveled around with him when he'd go to a job ya'll would go?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Most of the time, until I got old enough to go to school.
JOHN EGERTON:
Were you the only child?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
The oldest child.
JOHN EGERTON:
How many children?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Eight.
JOHN EGERTON:
Eight children.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
They're all gone now but me.
JOHN EGERTON:
And you were the oldest?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes.

Page 14
JOHN EGERTON:
So, when you got old enough to go to school, ya'll came back to Columbia?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes. The family came back but he continued to go out. Depended on what job he worked. We had our home already. When my daddy had another idea and he brought his boys up the same way. A man shouldn't be married until he had a home fit to take his wife in. When he married my mother— the house was standing.
JOHN EGERTON:
Out there on the highway?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
No, we went out . . . I'll tell you the story about that.
JOHN EGERTON:
That was earlier.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
That was on Pine Steet here in Columbia. In my girlhood all a girl had to do was go to work anywhere and make a little extra change. Work in white folks homes, nurse the babies, roll them around in carriages and my daddy's mother who was black as three midnights. She was born in 1840, somewhere in the 40's. When Freedom was declared she was working in the home of this white family, kind of well-to-do. Anyway, as the old folks used to say, the head of that family bedded my grandmother, black as homemade sin, and here come my pretty brown-skinned daddy.
JOHN EGERTON:
So it was the white master of that home. . . .
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Master of the home but not the slaver. He [my father] was born in 1870. [inaudible] Not the Emancipation but the freeing of the slaves. The Emancipation Proclamation was written in '60 or there abouts. So he gave money to educate my daddy, but my grandmamma was one of them going to heaven Baptists, so she gave

Page 15
it to the preacher. My daddy never got beyond third grade but he had a marvelous mind. He could figure, even when I was in college in classes of mathematics, he could figure sometimes in his head faster than I could on paper. Marvelous person. This old man, my daddy's daddy, never disowned his flesh. He had a daughter by another woman. He gave money to educate her and that women sent her daughter to school. [inaudible] . But my daddy didn't get out of third grade. That money went to Jesus, service of Jesus. He believed in education, so that everyone of us went to college.
JOHN EGERTON:
Where did you go?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I went to Benedict College. I went there the first day I went to school . . . see the Yankees came down and founded that school and they had—clear up through college. I started there in first grade and finished college there. They gave you a lesson they had for the day, you got it that day, you didn't bring it back tomorrow. One nice thing about [inaudible] , there was no tomorrow when it came to that assignment.
JOHN EGERTON:
When did you finally finish out there?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Benedict? I finished there in 1917 in what they called the LI. My licenciate of instruction. It was not like high school when you say 12th grade, it was whatever the kind of school . . . anybody finishing that could teach in any of the public schools in the state, any other school for that matter. And then you went to college, you went four years and you got

Page 16
your AB degree [inaudible] You could a Bachelor of Arts, or you could get a Bachelor of Science.
JOHN EGERTON:
Did you stay on and do that?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I did that. I finished Benedict in 1921.
JOHN EGERTON:
Then what did you do after that? Did you start teaching school?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I taught at Benedict one year. Then I went into the city schools. I wanted to teach mathematics. They didn't have an opening in the city school that year so I went and taught at Benedict for one year and the next year I went into the city school. They did not have mathematics so I taught in the elementary department one year and then after that I taught algebra until I married. At that time married teachers couldn't teach in the city schools systems. So when I married I got a husband but lost a job. So then after maybe a year or so . . . at that time not only in South Carolina but in the history of medicine or the history of health, you see at that time the incidence of tuberculosis was very high among blacks. The South Carolina Tuberculosis Association, that board decided that the problem was so real that they wanted to set up a special program for blacks so they organized a bunch of Negroes called the South Carolina Tuberculosis Committee. The main thing was called the South Carolina Tuberculosis Association, which was a state wide organization. Now, the South Carolina Tuberculosis Committee made some kind of survey and they found and at that some time. . . . South Carolina at that time made all the southern states I guess for that matter there were some counties that were more

Page 17
well-to-do and those counties had organized their own tuberculosis associations, kind of self-sustaining. But these poor counties, my folks would say they so poor they couldn't even spit, they had about. . . . see we had forty-eight counties and about thirty-two of those counties had no organization. Somebody told them that I was not occupied, I stayed behind and did what I wanted to do for about a year and a half, so when they organized this South Carolina Tuberculosis Committee someone suggested that maybe I would work in it. I started out and organized, set up the thing all over the state. They made some money from Christmas Seals. Tuberculosis Seals, remember they used to have? I had charge of that sale. When I went in, those counties that I had, the sales that was in that year which was the year before I went in was $1,300. It would have been more but they had nobody working them and I guess whites either didn't take any money or didn't give a damn. I got in there and worked a couple over the state. When I came out of there in 1932, I believe it was, not in '32, fifty something, I can't remember the year.
JOHN EGERTON:
You mean you stayed in that job all that time?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, I stayed in there until, I think it was 1953 or 1954. The record will show it if you want to tighten down on that. I can get it. The year that I came out, the last seal sale I ran was $32,000. Now, in the meantime, the South Carolina NAACP had already organized in South Carolina at that time, about eleven counties I guess it was. They had some kind of NAACP organization. They decided they would organize a state body. So I worked with them without a salary. I just worked as a

Page 18
volunteer for the organization. Then at the same time the NAACP started up and the woman who was head of that thing Mrs. Chauncey McDonald, and then they had a lot of old dowagers, like the white folks. They had Negro servants moreso than they do now, and these ladies could have their meetings at 10:00 in the morning or whenever they wanted to. So she found maybe that I was interested not only in TB but maybe in some of the social action in the neighborhood. She told me that she would rather I shouldn't do that. Well, as I saw it, our problems were and they were that, tuberculosis, syphilis, gonorrhea—that's the venereal diseases—maternity and child care. With the scope that I had and having worked on some social actions before, I saw the expanse of that program and I focused my meetings—I would have to go in these meetings on the weekends and on Sundays, nights and on the weekends—and I focused on those [inaudible] . See somebody told her I was somewhere talking about syphilis and gonorrhea, something like that. She called me here and told me that I was wrong and that I shouldn't talk about those diseases. They were diseases of sin. She said that they came from sin. So we had one or two words, I mean right then so finally I told them I would rather them die and go to hell with tuberculosis than live with the philosophy than she was talking about. I reckon the fat hit the fire and she didn't say much because at that kind of time and I guess even now there's some whites like that. If a Negro talks to them like that it takes the breath out of them.
JOHN EGERTON:
Yes, I know. They were so shocked by that that they don't know how to react to it.

Page 19
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
And then she was a member of the southern Presbyterian church. You know they put out all kinds of [inaudible] . And of course that was in [inaudible] you know the philosophy that God would take care of everything. And when I told her I would rather die and go hell than to be treated like [inaudible] , she said OOOOOH, I thought she was going to have a stroke, you know. It wasn't long before she maneuvered. . . . but during that time, the people where I went to work with had tuberculosis, found. . . . you know I told them it would be best for [inaudible] to get the ballot and [inaudible] our citizenship [inaudible] . I knew my job was what I was doing [inaudible] but they had little meetings, church meetings, and I would go and talk [inaudible] . She found out about it, so she called me in one day and told me to pray for what I'd done. I said [inaudible] is getting along so well. She said I think we can [inaudible] . I wanted to ask her what she's getting by resigning. I said, I'm not going to go out there to resign, what reason do I have to resign? I said, no I'm not going to resign, you fire me! I walked on out the door. She didn't fire me and I didn't resign.
JOHN EGERTON:
You stayed on?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I stayed for awhile.
JOHN EGERTON:
But that was effectively the end of your work for them?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes. [inaudible] Maybe that was the Omega, the end. That old woman . . . have you seen any people so ridiculous that they change the lot of this world?

Page 20
JOHN EGERTON:
Yes, they hide behind that stuff. Let me back you up to something else. You know the Southern Conference for Human Welfare meeting you went to in Birmingham last December?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes.
JOHN EGERTON:
That was to celebrate. . . . It was the Southern Conference for Human Welfare.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Last year?
JOHN EGERTON:
Yes. I guess [inaudible] organized the meeting but it was to recognize the start of that in Birmingham. . . .
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Fiftieth anniversary.
JOHN EGERTON:
Yes, in 1938.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes.
JOHN EGERTON:
When I talked to you down there then you said you were not there in 1938.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I was not at that very first meeting. I was working then. I was on a job where I couldn't get off. I sent, I may have told you then, someone and told them to report to me what happened. A fellow named Seymour Carroll went there. If you ever run across the name of Richard Carroll, in old South Carolina black history stuff, that was his daddy. Seymour Carroll went down and he called to tell me what was happening.
JOHN EGERTON:
And you subsequently became a member of that organization?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Oh, yes. I was an initial member. I was one of the what you call founding members but I [inaudible] .
JOHN EGERTON:
Right. Then there was about two years later a meeting in Chattanooga. Did you go to that one?

Page 21
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I don't whether it was that one but I did go Chattanooga up there where a fellow just died not long ago.
JOHN EGERTON:
Myles Horton?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Horton, yes. I knew him when he was a young man. Yes, I was up there, I'm almost sure I was. I just can't remember all those things.
JOHN EGERTON:
Ms. Roosevelt came to both of those meetings. She was in Birmingham in 1938 and then she came up to Chattanooga in 1940.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I'll tell you about something that happened [inaudible] last year. You know about Birmingham, the strict separation of races and their law, I don't know whether it was the law of Alabama, it certainly was something in the city council. Negroes and whites were not to meet in the same place unless there was a physical barrier.
JOHN EGERTON:
Right, separated, had to sit separately.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, they had to have a barrier between them. That's the way Anne Braden got the title for her book.
JOHN EGERTON:
The Wall Between, yes.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
It was suppose to be a natural barrier.
JOHN EGERTON:
Yes.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
We went to that courthouse, have you even been to the courthouse in Birmingham? It's not like our courthouse here, our courthouse. . . . This is the courthouse floor in Birmingham, now here's the center and on each side of this great big [inaudible] , now in Columbia, we have a big center and a plank on each side. Now in Birmingham, it's absolutely divided in half. When Ms.

Page 22
Roosevelt got there and they told her, evidently somebody whispered to her, I met Ms. Roosevelt, I was in close proximity to her once or twice, she looked like a person who would just say something knowing it was going to be kind of funny or kind of picking on something. Somebody told Ms. Roosevelt about that division, that physical barrier. So when she went in, and Seymore told me, she went in and went directly to the black section. I don't know whether she got to sit down or anything but she went in that direction. They got her from there and told her she would have to sit on the other side. She moved over there and they got her on down and out of the way from where she was going [inaudible] . We were kind of together out in front of the [inaudible] building and she said bring me a chair. That's just the way she talked—bring me a chair. Now bring me a ruler.
JOHN EGERTON:
A ruler.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
They brought her the yardstick. She said, "Now measure from that chair to this chair." And they did that not knowing where she was coming from. She said, "Now find the mark half way between us, and put an x." which they did. "Now bring me a chair." And she told them to set it so the middle of the chair was over that x. I was telling the crowd about it so and I said Mrs. Roosevelt sat in that chair over that x with one of her hands on one side of that x and one of hands on the other. That's the way she sat the whole meeting. Yes, she did. Now I was down there when Glen Taylor, you know who Glen Taylor is?
JOHN EGERTON:
No, now what about that?

Page 23
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
We brought him down there to the Southern Negro Youth Conference. Southern Negro Youth Conference was one of those organizations blackballed by the Dies Committee. Glen Taylor was out of South Dakota, I think. He came down there. You heard about Bull Connor, I guess.
JOHN EGERTON:
Right.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Well, Bull Connor—have you ever been to Birmingham?
JOHN EGERTON:
Yes.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Now here's your courthouse, here's a street, yard goes right on the street. Right across on that corner over there from the courthouse, at that time was a little three room house. White folks been living here [inaudible] . In that house lived a kind of—I call an off brand preacher, not Baptist or Methodist—not one of the regular names. Now down the street on the other side was a noted Baptist Church. I know it must be standing there today. And those people and the pastor of that church and their board gave us the right to use their church as headquarters. When Bull Connor heard about it they threatened them, and they were more afraid of Bull Connor than they were of Jesus Christ or God Almighty. When we got down to church it was bolted, but this little preacher let us use his church. Since there was a physical barrier between, they found they were going to use this little [unknown] three room house, then they said that we would have to go in different doors. They had it fixed that the whites would come in the back door. . . .
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
He was already in town, I knew he was in, I don't know whether he had already picked up a hotel room or not. He may have come in on a plane that morning. [inaudible] since I was at the front this was the only way that colored folks could have come in. So somebody must have told Glen Taylor [inaudible] so they were trying to guide him in the back door and he bolted loose from them and went right straight up that little platform. I was standing as close to him as I am to you when he came up on that. There were three cops at that platform and there was three in the back, but when he started up he got on that porch about to go in that door, I'm standing by the door like on this side and he's going on that side. They grabbed him and he grabbed them and that cat must have known, because—and he knocked all three of those cops on the ground. [Laughter] They took him to jail, to the Birmingham jail. They took the fellow from the Negro Youth Congress, and the little preacher that was the head of the church, Jim Dombrowsky, carried Jim Dombrowsky and I think one other, I believe a little white fellow, a mountaineer.
JOHN EGERTON:
Carried them all to jail?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Put them in the Birmingham jail. Yes, sir. I've been in there, been in Bull Connor's office in the Birmingham jail. We go in the Birmingham jail and get our [inaudible] people. On those steps you have to go up by Connor's office. He said, "Did you see those men going down as you were coming in? They

Page 25
were members of the Klan, they came to offer me their full cooperation." That was Bull Connor.
JOHN EGERTON:
Tell me something about Gordon Hancock and P.B. Young. Did you know them real well?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I met P.B. Young [inaudible] Most of my stuff has gone to [the University of South] Carolina, some of it has gone to other colleges. First it has to be separated, however, I didn't know P.B. Young except he didn't [inaudible] . But Gordon Hancock finished Benedict College.
JOHN EGERTON:
He did?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, he finished Benedict College.
JOHN EGERTON:
Did you know him then?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I knew him as a young girl, you know a child. He was up in college.
JOHN EGERTON:
He was older?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, he was older. He was the moving spirit in the Southern Regional Council.
JOHN EGERTON:
Yes, that's what this meeting was the start of.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, that's right. On the strength of that that's when he invited me to come up to this meeting because the old folks that he knew at Benedict and around the state [inaudible] stayed awhile. [inaudible] .
JOHN EGERTON:
You knew him pretty well then?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Knew him well. I knew him the better part of forty years. See I'm ninety years old.
JOHN EGERTON:
He really was the ring leader of that, wasn't he?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, he was.

Page 26
JOHN EGERTON:
Do you think of him as being. . . .
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
He was the moving spirit.
JOHN EGERTON:
What about Charles S. Johnson? Did you get to know him?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Knew him well. He had something in Washington when I was up there he was connected with—I can't remember—with DuBois and—the great singer.
JOHN EGERTON:
Paul Robeson.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Paul Robeson. We walked together on a picket line at the White House.
JOHN EGERTON:
But you were in several meetings with Charles S. Johnson?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes.
JOHN EGERTON:
What did you think of him?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I was very much impressed with him. I didn't know him like I knew Hancock.
JOHN EGERTON:
Did you think of him as being as rather formal man? He wasn't somebody that you just sort of could be real informal with, joke and carry on.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I wasn't around him that much. But Hancock, knowing known him coming from this state and having known him in later years, I got to know him, you know once you be a child and then when you get grown you just grow and it's like all of you were grown at the same time. Hancock was a kind of fellow who was a great scholar and kind of like Thurgood Marshall. Thurgood had all the air and everything of a great lawyer and then when he gets home and shakes his shoes off and gets him a little drink or

Page 27
something like that then he just gets down there and then all of us have a nice time talking together and poking fun at what somebody said in the courtroom and all that kind of crap.
JOHN EGERTON:
Stay in people's houses.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
He certainly doesn't stay here all the time.
JOHN EGERTON:
Let's talk about John McCray. I told you on the phone the other day that I was real interested in him. I noticed his name was not on this list, why do you suppose he wouldn't be involved in a meeting like this.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
What year was that?
JOHN EGERTON:
1942.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
1942, he was a youngster then.
JOHN EGERTON:
When did he take over this newspaper?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
In the fifties.
JOHN EGERTON:
No, he was here in the forties because I've got some clippings . . .
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Wait a minute now—no, he left here in the fifties. He must have come up here around 1941-42.
JOHN EGERTON:
Where do you think he came here from?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Charleston.
JOHN EGERTON:
From Charleston?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
[inaudible] He and I, we were getting ready to open the statewide fight about the ballot and I said we needed a newspaper. We had a newspaper here at the time but it was more like a church paper. It wouldn't have carried anything like a fight. So Steven Carroll who I mentioned a while ago, he for long time was over the program of the American Humane Education

Page 28
Society out of Boston. He knew a lot of people. The Carroll family and the Monteith family, that's my maiden name, [inaudible] so Seymour was more like a brother of mine, well we kind of played together as children. So Seymour said "I know a fellow down at Charleston. He's got a knack for newspaper writing. He said we could get him up here and get a place for an office. So maybe we could work it out." So Seymour and I went to Charleston and talked to John McCray and he decided that he would come up there. I got my husband to let us have a section of the building that we owned at that time down on Washington Street. Down in the main part of town. We gave him a place for an office, office space. [inaudible] .
JOHN EGERTON:
So that is how the paper got started, or was it already here?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
His paper was called The Lighthouse, that's what his paper was. There was another paper running here all through the years, run by somebody named Howard, a preacher out of Darlington. You may run on some old copies of that somewhere. The Informer. Seymour Carroll's daddy was a great Baptist potentate. So we maneuvered in some way to get Howard to let us make a banner. So he let us take over The Informer and combine them and make the masthead. That's where The Lighthouse and The Informer came from.
JOHN EGERTON:
That was in the early forties? How long did it last?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Over into the fifties. We had it when we beat the white primary [in 1947].
JOHN EGERTON:
Did John McCray stay with it until it folded?

Page 29
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
No, it folded not long after he left. He was. . . you know, the power structure here put him in prison.
JOHN EGERTON:
No, I want to hear that story, you told me you'd tell it to me.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
He printed some articles, they weren't libelous, but it was libelous to them. What ever happened at that time, I forget now—a fellow named Booth, Dale Booth, he was on the staff of the State, the paper here. Now Dale Booth and McCray wrote articles about the same thing, and they carried them both to court, but Dale Booth didn't serve any time. McCray served time on it. On the chain gang. I don't think he ever went on the road, but. . .
JOHN EGERTON:
When was this?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
This was in the fifties. He served time and when he was convicted, when they were getting ready to take him to the road gang, he called me. I knew his lawyer well. The lawyer gave him time to call me asking me for help. "Whatever you do try to keep the press open."
JOHN EGERTON:
Keep the paper running?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, which I did.
JOHN EGERTON:
You did? How did you do that?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Well, I had a lot of newspaper experience, no newspaper writing.
JOHN EGERTON:
You mean, you ran the paper after they took him to jail?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I ran it, you see, his staff was there. I didn't have to run the press or anything.

Page 30
JOHN EGERTON:
Yes, I know, but you were in effect the editor of the paper.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, that's right and I wrote some such editorials—one of the first persons to come out after you get the paper off the press for somebody to [inaudible] the problem. We kept it up. McCray and I were the same kind of people. I ran that paper and when he came out I was still there. He wasn't up there too long.
JOHN EGERTON:
How long do you think? A year?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
All that will have to come back to me. But anyway, when McCray came back, he got out, came by the office. I'd run the paper, in fact, he called me [inaudible] he was living right across the street by now. He begged me to see that his family had food and to see that the paper got off the press. Which I did both of them. Without him giving me a quarter. When he came back he walked into the office, the building is still standing out there, he walked in the back and I think he went upstairs. He came downstairs and walked by and didn't even say, good morning or thank you and walked on out.
JOHN EGERTON:
Was that the last time you saw him?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
[inaudible] I never saw him again.
JOHN EGERTON:
Why do you think he did that?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I don't know. I reckon he was like, my old folks used to say, wasn't raised he was brought up.
JOHN EGERTON:
How did you interpret that?

Page 31
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I didn't interpret it. I ran the paper a little bit longer like that and then he just closed it down. He didn't come back to see, the presses were there.
JOHN EGERTON:
What about his family, did he take his family with him?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
His family had already gone. His wife [inaudible] . He went to Talledega College in Alabama and that's where they met. She came from Flint, Michigan. She took her children and went to Flint. So when he came out, I don't remember whether his family had already had gone or not, but they were living in a home right over there in the middle of that block. So she went on back up to Flint. He went to Alabama or something.
JOHN EGERTON:
Went back to Talledega?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, moved down there that year. He finally was in Talledega, that's where he finally staked himself. All of those papers, I mean he was a good writer, those papers were priceless, and all the copies were destroyed, thrown out. They are not in the library like a lot of them. Not found in the archives.
JOHN EGERTON:
They're not on microfilm?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
No.
JOHN EGERTON:
Too bad, too bad. What a waste! He was a good writer, he was an excellent writer.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
There certainly was no doubt about that.
JOHN EGERTON:
He was a troubled man though, wasn't he?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I don't know what was wrong with him.

Page 32
JOHN EGERTON:
For him to have done that after you had taken care of the paper and family and for him to walk out and not even thank you. . . .
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Well, some people. . . . my old folks used to say that somebody acted like that, he wasn't raised he was just drug up.
JOHN EGERTON:
Didn't have the manners or whatever. It sounds to me like there was something really bothering him.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Maybe he felt that without him there it would have crashed. When he found I could keep it going, maybe it was a shock. I don't know, I never discussed it with him or anybody.
JOHN EGERTON:
Do you think his widow is living here now?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
She is here somewhere.
JOHN EGERTON:
She came back to Columbia?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
She was not a Columbia woman, she came from somewhere else. She has a sister connected with something here. And I think she came here to be near her sister. Her name is [inaudible] .
JOHN EGERTON:
Okay, I'll look her up. That would all be in the newspaper about that trial and everything, won't it? In The State, they must have covered that libel trial.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, they should have.
JOHN EGERTON:
Do you think that was in the 1950's? Or could it have been in the late 40's?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I just can't remember. McCray helped to organize the Progressive Democratic party here and I think that was organized in the forties, because we worked together to organize that.

Page 33
JOHN EGERTON:
Right. Let me ask you about a couple of other people. Did you ever Know Rayford Logan?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I know the name. What is he connected with?
JOHN EGERTON:
I'm not sure where he was, I think he was an English professor. But, I don't know if he was in South Carolina or not. He got a book out in 1944 called, what the Negro wants, and it was a real important book because it had essays by about twelve or fifteen black leaders from around the country.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Do you have a copy anywhere?
JOHN EGERTON:
No, I haven't.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I can't remember now which one he was. Isn't there a black encyclopedia somewhere?
JOHN EGERTON:
Yes, I'm going to hunt it up, I'll find it. Who did you think of as the black leaders at that time in the 30's and 40's? Who did you look to for some kind of moral support or what not?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
The leadership in this state at that time was largely in the hands of the state conference NAACP. We had a very big conference at that time. We were black-mailed by Governor [James] Byrnes, I think it was. The NAACP Conference. They expected us to. . . . What were they doing with the organization at that time?
JOHN EGERTON:
One of the issues, I know, was the white primary.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I don't mean that. I meant that during that time they were doing something in organization, like black-balling. The state was doing something. It can't come to me now, but I know it concerned the administration. They were threatening . . .

Page 34
kind of like the Dies Committee did with all the organizations all over the country. They tried something like [inaudible] organization.
JOHN EGERTON:
Tried to silence it somehow?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, they tried to and it was during the Byrnes administration as I remember.
JOHN EGERTON:
What did you think of Jimmy Byrnes?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Nothing. Ain't as good as dog meat.
JOHN EGERTON:
Ain't as good as dog meat?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes. [Laughter] He was a dog catcher, you know.
JOHN EGERTON:
Yes.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
There was a lot of mess going on at that time about Byrnes' daddy. He never knew his daddy.
JOHN EGERTON:
Oh, he never knew his daddy?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
That's what they said, he never knew his daddy. You might look up that point on him. He was supposed to have been brought up by some woman down in Charleston. There was a lot of mess about that one time.
JOHN EGERTON:
Can you think of anybody white during that period of time, 30's, 40's, 50's, anybody white you met in or out of South Carolina that you felt like was trying to do right by black people in this country?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
The ones I would have met would have been in organizations like the Southern Conference for Human Welfare.
JOHN EGERTON:
Like Dombrowsky and so forth.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I was with the old civil rights conference, that was organized by black workers.

Page 35
JOHN EGERTON:
Like Frank Porter Graham or Jim Dombrowsky;
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, Graham was with the group that helped organized the Southern Conference for Human Welfare.
JOHN EGERTON:
Right. Mrs. Durr?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, I still hear from her quite a bit.
JOHN EGERTON:
Back then, were you able to think of those people as being allies with your cause?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, we did. They were pressured by their own people for just saying that a Negro was a human being. We weren't considered human beings until the Emancipation and that was only in the north. It wasn't in the minds of some people. They bred us just like they did cattle. They put Negroes on the plantation in time for the woman to be in heat so to speak. They bred them just like they do cows and hogs and sheep. I tell them history books don't include those things. I had to laugh one of the last times I was down in Carolina. A lady asked me down to her place. "I hope you're not on tight schedule because some people in the other classes heard you were coming down and they want to come hear you." Most of them young white fellows, young boys. You see they're not teaching history as it was. When I go I tell them like it was, like I'm telling you today. They treated Negro women just like cows. Men just bred them like they did the pigs. And I tell my folks, "You don't have to hate white people for what they did back then, they were doing what was the matter of course at the time." They say, "I don't like Jews because they crucified Jesus." I say, "You don't even know whether Jesus was crucified or not."

Page 36
JOHN EGERTON:
They don't know so they've got no right to say it.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
He gave them prescription, love God with all your heart, love your neighbor as yourself. [inaudible] . He didn't tell them to try to get to heaven. He said He was going to his Father but He didn't tell everyone around to go up there.
JOHN EGERTON:
After that meeting in Durham, the white people had a meeting in Atlanta to respond to that and then they sent delegates from that meeting and the Durham meeting up to Richmond and that's where they drew up the document that became the Southern Regional Council charter. Did you go to that Richmond meeting?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I went to Richmond.
JOHN EGERTON:
You did?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, the only one I missed was the one I told you a good while back that I missed because I was working. I was fortunate to have the kind of husband . . . . You know sometimes a woman is kind of curbed by her husband's thinking. I was just as free to follow my interests as if I had not been married. Then I never was pinched for income. He was in business and he gave me part of the business. If I was going he would ask if I had enough money. If not, go to the cash register and get what you want. That's the way I lived. I was able lots of times to help with these causes and I actually gave money to help the causes. Not a whole lot but a lot in the course of what some could give.
JOHN EGERTON:
What kind of work did he do?

Page 37
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
He ran a service station and then when Prohibition was out we had three markets and a liquor store. He gave me one of those stores. The income from that store [inaudible] that was mine. [inaudible] now what you make out of it that's yours. I could spend that like I wanted to do. I had high regards for him because sometimes a man will curb a woman interest, but I didn't have anything like that.
JOHN EGERTON:
And so, you went up to Richmond. Now that meeting was held in a big Episcopal church up there. Do you remember that?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, I remember.
JOHN EGERTON:
One of the curious things about it that I can't figure out there was nothing in the paper about it. It wasn't in the white papers and it wasn't in the black papers. They didn't say a word about that Richmond meeting. I just wonder if you can remember any conversation? That was just strange, it was like they decided ahead of time that they weren't going to tell anybody.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Well, that happens. That happens a lot of time with people. [inaudible] Sometimes they mention that and more times they didn't.
JOHN EGERTON:
Did you ever go to Nashville to a Southern Conference for Human Welfare meeting? Can you remember that?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I've been to Nashville but I don't remember what it was called. I've been to Highlander. I might have been to Nashville. I used to go there everyday, I just can't remember.

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JOHN EGERTON:
Another big debate that took place at that meeting in Durham was whether or not the blacks who came ought to include blacks from outside the South.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I don't remember that.
JOHN EGERTON:
You don't remember that? And it was decided not to invite any northern blacks. Everybody who was there was from the South and the reason for it was that Hancock said if bring the northern blacks in here it's just going to give all our white enemies a good excuse to say this is outside influence here and we need to show them that we're doing this on our own.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Negroes down here don't have sense enough to [inaudible] . [Laughter]
JOHN EGERTON:
Was that a wise idea?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I should think so. I think the people who were working for change in the South at that time, whether it was expressed in those words, I think it was generally believed that the problem was here. And we knew more about it than anybody else. The Southern Conference Human Welfare, the Southern Conference Educational Fund and even now, the Southern Organizing Committee, we have people from outside the area saying it's north of the Mason-Dixon Line. But they are not really thought of in the category as bonafide members, I mean as full membership. The picture that we always had, whether you're thinking of it or not, it would be the southeast. After we got a piece of the southeast we always had in mind that the hard core was South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, the hard core. You

Page 39
know, a long time ago North Carolina was more like a border state than even Virginia.
JOHN EGERTON:
It was more liberal, more progressive.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, you see they just about killed off that man they had head of the college up there at one time.
JOHN EGERTON:
Frank Porter Graham?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, they just tried to lynch him. I knew him well too.
JOHN EGERTON:
He was a good man, wasn't he?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
A good man, good man. There was a general feeling, whether it was expressed or not and there was no reason not to be expressed, but there was a tendency at that time to keep the southeastern division solid behind the problems that were uppermost, in high relief down in this area. It's just as bad some other places. During the first world war a lot of these people at the time we're talking about went up there to work and they carried this stuff right along with them. That's the reason they had those race riots up in those areas. Race riots while their country was at war.
JOHN EGERTON:
Right, in 1943. It was a real bad year. It sure was. And see that was just about the time this meeting was taking place in Richmond, summer of 1943. I think the riot in Detroit happened within two weeks of that meeting.
Miss Simkins, as you can tell from all the questions I'm asking you, my interest is primarily in that early time, 30's and 40's. I would be curious to know from the perspective of 1990 what you think has been accomplished.

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MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I think we're in the valley now. We went way up there and then we got Reagan in there. The Reagan administration just about rubbed out what we had done. Teddy Kennedy, he's still around here, the remnants of that family. All they have is about half a dozen up there in that Congress that's worth half a damn. We're in a bad fix.
JOHN EGERTON:
I think we are in a bad fix. I think race relations have gotten worse.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
They've gotten worse. They are worse in a way than they were before the fights started. They expected them to be that way then. A false sense of security came and like the people along with me that helped make that fight are gone.
JOHN EGERTON:
It's past the time for you to be able to. . . .
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I go all the time. I got calls already this morning. I'm going out tomorrow. I guess I'll stay up in Greenville and then tomorrow, some organization here connected with the schools has organized something forming seminars for teachers to learn more about Negro history and the contributions of Negroes. The white students and the black students don't know anything about this.
JOHN EGERTON:
They don't know any of this. All this stuff we've been talking about here today nobody knows anything about this anymore.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
No, and a lot of the whites never knew. You see before we got these TV's and radios, you have salespeople going all through the countries selling books about blacks and black history. They would sit and read it as best they could.

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Sometimes they could not read well, I mean the old folks, but as soon as a child got so he could read a little bit then they would let the children read to them. Now, a lot of them don't know about the blacks that made great contributions.
JOHN EGERTON:
Like Gordon Hancock, for example.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
[inaudible] .
JOHN EGERTON:
Tell me about your mother. . . Where was your mother from? Where did she grow up?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Right here in Columbia.
JOHN EGERTON:
She did?
JOHN EGERTON:
She was born here in Columbia. Her father was a slave in Athens, Georgia. Now why he came this far I don't know. I don't know anything about his slavery, except that he was born and reared in Athens, Georgia. Now my mother's mother was a Turk. Sometime during that period of time they brought some Turks here and tried to enslave them. They took them over . . . you know where Columbia is now is the capitol wasn't the original site. The original site they called it statesburg, between here and Sumter. They dropped those Turks in the woods around Statesburg. My mother's mother came from that crowd. She somehow became enslaved. I don't know whether they went out there and caught some of them and then enslaved them but anyway that's the way they dropped them over there in the woods after they couldn't enslave them. You never know in the ways of time how people get married from one end of the world to the other, you know. But he came from Athens, Georgia, and she came from Turkey. Somehow or other her father was a slave owner and

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evidently he cohabited one of these Turk women and got the baby, or something like that. Brought the baby in [inaudible] . Social status among slaves like they had among free people. A good-looking slave, were the ones they had around the house, house slaves. The black good, hard-working worker, were the people they didn't mind showing as company came in. My grandmother on my mother's side ran away. She was coming to Columbia through the Sumter swamps. You can't get a picture of the Sumter swamps since they put the high bridges up over [highway] 76. But years ago when the high rains would come in the summer you couldn't go to Sumter by going through the swamps, you would have to go to Camden. If you were going to Georgetown you couldn't go out here and catch 521, you would have to go up over there and catch 521. So she was going along that highway to her mother who was enslaved in Sumter. She saw some men and ran in the woods. They called here out and they were Yankee soldiers. She was afraid. Some of them escaped from around [inaudible] . They told her to get on the highway and walk on, she was as free as they were. Many of those slave owners had emancipated their slaves at once [inaudible] . The news got around. She came on to Columbia because she had heard that her grandmother was here as a free person so she was trying to find her grandmother. Her mother was still enslaved over there where she was.
JOHN EGERTON:
So how did she meet your father?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Met him here in Columbia.
JOHN EGERTON:
He was the bricklayer? And they got married here?

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MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, in Columbia. You're talking about my grandmother. My grandmother met George Hull as he came out of Athens, Georgia. Then George and Sarah Hull's daughter, Rachael, married Henry Monteith, my daddy, who was the son of old lawyer Monteith, a white and a lawyer here. That's where I got the Monteith name. He never disowned us and the last time I remember seeing him he had my brother on his back, infant brother. Back then so many people were malnourished. It would take a long time for them to move their heads. I was five years older than my brother. I remember that I was down by him on the chair and he had the baby on his lap and he told my mother, you know they are doing a lot babies heads being well-shaped in those days because so many of them were malnourished. He told my mother, this boy will make you cry some day, he's got a good shaped head. But that didn't do him any favor. He had a good shaped head because my daddy said he did. Anyway, now many of them disowned their black children but he never did. He gave money to educate my daddy and my grandmammy gave it to the church. He gave money to educate my aunt, by another black woman. She eventually went to school.
JOHN EGERTON:
Did you and your husband have children?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
No. Well, he had five children, and I helped raise them and all. His son lives here.
JOHN EGERTON:
So you do have a stepson that lives here.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, he's in business here.
JOHN EGERTON:
You've got somebody to look in on you.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Oh, yes. He's very careful with me. My own blood couldn't be better. He was raised that way. I don't know

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whether you know, but sometimes when men marry and have children they don't make them respect their stepmother. But he had them to understand that she's the mistress of this house. If you can't except that [inaudible] . He's as close to me as he can get. There's never a day that he doesn't call or come by or bring me something.
END OF INTERVIEW