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 >>

Welcoming whites into the civil rights movement

While Simkins does not remember debate within southern civil rights organizations over whether or not to admit northern members, she thinks including activists from the North was a good idea. She remembers the contributions of Frank Porter Graham and laments the work that Ronald Reagan did to undo the progress made by the civil rights movement.

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:
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 SIM KINS:
Negroes down here don't have sense enough to inaudible . [Laughter]
JOHN EGERTON:
Was that a wise idea?
MODJESKA SIM KINS:
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 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 SIM KINS:
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 SIM KINS:
Yes, they just tried to lynch him. I knew him well too.
JOHN EGERTON:
He was a good man, wasn't he?
MODJESKA SIM KINS:
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 Simpkins, 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.
MODJESKA SIM KINS:
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 SIM KINS:
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.