Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Modjeska Simkins, May 11, 1990. Interview A-0356. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Involvement with southern civic groups

Simkins describes her accelerating interest in social causes, beginning with her involvement with the South Carolina Tuberculosis Association and moving to her work for the NAACP. Simkins wanted to address sexually transmitted diseases, but ran into the social mores of the time.

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

MODJESKA SIM KINS:
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 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 SIM KINS:
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 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.
MODJESKA SIM KINS:
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 SIM KINS:
I stayed for awhile.
JOHN EGERTON:
But that was effectively the end of your work for them?
MODJESKA SIM KINS:
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?