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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Modjeska Simkins, May 11, 1990. Interview A-0356. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Racism in word and deed in the segregated South

Simkins believes that poor whites were in worse shape than African Americans under segregation. She describes some of the perjorative terms for poor whites, such as "potacky" and "buckra." As she does so, she ruminates on history and recalls the horrors of lynching.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Modjeska Simkins, May 11, 1990. Interview A-0356. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

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 unalteribly 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 SIM KINS:
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 SIM KINS:
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 SIM KINS:
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 SIM KINS:
Yes. Do you know the derivation of the word buckr? 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 SIM KINS:
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 SIM KINS:
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 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 .