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Title: Oral History Interview with Modjeska Simkins, November 15, 1974. Interview G-0056-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Simkins, Modjeska, interviewee
Interview conducted by Hall, Jacquelyn
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Jennifer Joyner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2007
Size of electronic edition: 152 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2007.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2007-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2007-03-14, Jennifer Joyner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Modjeska Simkins, November 15, 1974. Interview G-0056-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series G. Southern Women. Southern Oral History Program Collection (G-0056-1)
Author: Jacquelyn Hall
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Modjeska Simkins, November 15, 1974. Interview G-0056-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series G. Southern Women. Southern Oral History Program Collection (G-0056-1)
Author: Modjeska Simkins
Description: 173 Mb
Description: 42 p.
Note: Interview conducted on November 15, 1974, by Jacquelyn Hall; recorded in Atlanta, Georgia.
Note: Transcribed by Joe Jaros.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series G. Southern Women, 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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An audio file with the interview complements this electronic edition.
The text has been entered using double-keying and verified against the original.
The text has been encoded using the recommendations for Level 4 of the TEI in Libraries Guidelines.
Original grammar and spelling have been preserved.
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Interview with Modjeska Simkins, November 15, 1974.
Interview G-0056-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Simkins, Modjeska, interviewee


Interview Participants

    MODJESKA SIMKINS, interviewee
    JACQUELYN HALL, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
JACQUELYN HALL:
I'll tell you generally what I am doing and then what I wanted to talk to you about. I'm director of the Oral History Program at the University of North Carolina. And we are collecting interviews with people, southerners involved in labor struggles, politics and women who were involved in various things, especially in the twenties and thirties. Secondly, I have been working on a study of Jesse Daniel Ames and the women's campaign against lynching. And as a part of that, I did some work on the very beginning of interracial cooperation between black and white women in the old Interracial Commission. And so, what I wanted to do … if I had time, I would like to get an overview of your whole life, some of the major things you have been involved in. But I would like to perhaps concentrate on your experiences and perceptions of the Interracial Commission in South Carolina. Does that sound o.k. to you?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, well… my reaction to the Interracial Commission as such in South Carolina [interruption] in South Carolina, the members were largely, I'm talking about the whites, now, they were mostly … I think that they thought they were well-meaning people, but for the most part, they were paternalistic. And as I said this afternoon, it was, as they say now, more "rhetoric" than anything else. And the point of lynching … I don't remember the point of lynching ever coming up in the meetings. We were thinking more about … they talked about playgrounds, there were no playgrounds for blacks, paved streets, the right to vote, which they were not doing in the manner to actually take any court action or anything like that. It finally had to be taken by the movement of blacks

Page 2
themselves. Although, I would always be the first to admit that there were always some very fine, well-wishing whites. More so in the background, that wanted to see things done and finally, some of them got up enough nerve relative the white primary, to make a public statement about what they thought of how blacks ought to be allowed to vote. Some of them said that the ones who were eligible were "qualified" blacks, but there weren't too many that said that type of thing, you know. Whenever it got right down to where we said, "Now, what action should we take?", usually, there was a back-out. Not only on the part of the paternalistic whites, but on the part of the blacks who called themselves those who wanted to do something.
Now, Alice Spearman Wright, that you met down here, she exemplified the bull in the china closet type. She never took back water about anything. And she and I have gone to meetings. Thirty years ago, she went over to Russia and worked in the factories and things like that, to get a look-see about the thing.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Now, when did you first know her?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Oh, I've known her since the 1920's, I guess.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Before we go on with this, I would like to kind of start at the beginning and ask you about your own background, where you grew up, what your parents did and how you got to be the kind of person that you are?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Well, my parents were fearless people. That's how I got the way I am.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Where were you born, Columbia, South Carolina?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
When were you born?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
1899, I'll be 75 in December.

Page 3
JACQUELYN HALL:
What did your parents do?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
My mother was a teacher before I was born and my father was a brick-layer who did a good deal of contract work, so that our family was always what you might call above the average, economically. My mother taught before I was born, but after she started having children and until the baby child got to where she was six or seven years old, she didn't teach or work away from home at all. And after that, she went back into teaching.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Had she gone to college?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
No, in those days, you didn't have to go to college to have to teach in any school, for that matter, black or white. But she finished the high school of that time, which in those days, they did have exceptional teachers. Even in the high schools. You see, a number of the black teachers … and this is something that the average person doesn't always realize, that a number of the black teachers were far better prepared, and I don't mean my mother, now, because she never went out of state to school, but she was taught by exceptional people, in those days when blacks could not go to the public colleges supported by the state, they had to go out of the state and so, many of them went to superior colleges and universities. So, many of the black teachers, even now, many of them are superior to the whites, a number of whites, because in those days, they went to the University of Ohio and the City College of New York and Oberlin and Chicago University, Columbia University. And they came back well prepared, far superior to a number of the white teachers who were getting twice as much pay as they were getting.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did your mother teach high school?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
No, she taught grade school. At that time, her school went to

Page 4
the seventh grade [unknown], and then they went to what they called high school.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You had brothers and sisters?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, there were eight of us. There are four of us still living. One of my brothers is a brick-layer, he took over the work from my father, and I have a sister who married a young man who was, for a long time, on the faculty of the University of Michigan. He's a bacteriologist. He worked for years with Dr. Hahn, who is a biologist up there, when they started this VD fight, you know, and they were studying that type of thing. And he is now working with the Catholic … they are Catholics … and he has some job with some Catholic organization up there. He received his doctorate in public health at the University of Wisconsin and then came down to the University of Michigan and got his doctorate, a doctorate of bacteriology and worked there in the department at Michigan for years. I lost a sister in '67, she died of cancer and she was quite a fighter in the civil rights movement. She taught in the Columbia schools until the year before her death. And she brought the suit that opened the University of South Carolina for blacks.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What was her name?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Her name was Rebecca [unknown] And my other brother is a physician and surgeon. In recent years, he was asked to head our bank at home, which is one of the outstanding black banks in the South, in the country. So, he is president of the bank and I have been working there since '56. I taught mathematics for a number of years. And then I did a good deal of newspaper work and carried on the public relations work for the organization that I worked with for eleven years, the TB association. And on the strength

Page 5
of it, my fund raising experience was gathered by trial and error. Although, I did take a course in newspaper writing at Columbia on one occasion [unknown] But on the virtue of my fund raising experience, which was gathered by trial and error in the Christmas Seal drives and the fact that I did have a background in mathematics, they asked me to come over as public relations person with the banking institution.
JACQUELYN HALL:
That's the … what is the name of that?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Victory. So, that's where I've been until now. And I work everyday and I got off today and will be off Monday and then Tuesday I go up to Charlotte for something, and then I will get back on the rat race.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You said that your parents were fearless people?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did that express itself as you were growing up. What kinds of things were they involved in?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
They weren't involved in movements, because movements weren't then as they are now.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What about during Reconstruction?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
No, they weren't old enough for that. You see, my father was born in 1870 and my mother was born in 1875.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What about their parents?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
They were slaves. My father's parents and my mother's parents were slaves. They were my grandparents, they were all slaves.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you know them?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I knew my great-grandmother on my father's side and my grandmother on my father's side. My mother's parents died when I was an infant.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were you influenced by them at all?

Page 6
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
By who, my grandparents?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Yes.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
No, my great-grandmother, I would say that she was a fearless old sister. In that period, there were certain things … you didn't talk back to white folks, you know. And nobody was supposed to call a white man a liar, or to say that he lied. And if a black person said that a white man lied, he was whipped. My old great-grandmother, although she was a slave, she didn't fear anybody. That was my father's grandmother and I remember her quite well. And she had a daughter, who I remember, and who helped to found one of the colleges in South Carolina, Morris College. And then my mother's sisters, both of them were professional women, they were employed as teachers, too. One of them married one of the first black physicians that came into the state, and the other one died just about five or six years ago.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did your parents fearlessness get impressed upon you?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Well, there were just certain things … I'm trying to remember, and I wish that I could remember when I first became conscious of the fact that I was black and supposed to be different so far as color went.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You can't remember that?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
No, I can't. I've often wished that I could remember that, because my mother … well, in the first place, my father was a mulatto. After freedom, his mother worked as a nursemaid in a white home there in Columbia. And she became pregnant by the father of this family and my father was a result of that union. And he never, although he should have, he never fully forgave his mother for that. The result was that my mother, who was the daughter-in-law, naturally, of his mother, she understood her better and my grandmother was devoted to my mother. My father never was abusive to her,

Page 7
but yet, he was cold. He was a man that had very high principles, clean-cut, honest, and very high principles. And he just, although the girl being a teen-ager was evidently the victim of circumstances, he never quite got over it. And so, although we were born in the city, my father early decided to take us into the … to buy some land on the outskirts of the city, which has now just about come into the city and is very valuable, you know, as the city has moved out. Because, at that time, he said that there was nothing for a young girl to do if she had to help the family out, except work as a nursemaid for white families. And he said that he wasn't going to have his daughters working in one of those homes. You see, that stayed with him. And so, he bought this farm land outside of Columbia and he said that he wanted his children to learn how to work and to know the value of a dollar, but he was not going to have them working in a white home. I've never thought that he hated whites, but this particular thing stayed in his mind. But, now, I knew his father, which was my white grandfather and I remember him well. Even though he had his white wife and his children, some of whom are lawyers at home there now … they own us, but we don't own them. Ever now and then, somebody says "Walter or … "I remember that once I was talking to a white lawyer there, who didn't own a car, and he said, "You know, I rode home with old Colin the other afternoon and we got to talking about politics and who was influential in politics in South Carolina. And old Colin says, ‘My cousin, Modjeska Simkins, has got more power in politics than anybody in South Carolina. If you are in a political campaign in this state, you had better at least be on the good side of her.’" I said, "Well, I don't want Colin owning me like that. I don't consider that any privilege or anything for me to be connected with Colin." There is nothing wrong with him, but I just never did …

Page 8
JACQUELYN HALL:
That's incredible. How did you know your grandfather? What kind of contact did you have with him?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
He would come to our home.
JACQUELYN HALL:
He would come to your home?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, and he …
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did your father feel about him?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Well, he didn't seem to … I don't remember him coming to the home while my father was there, although there was no reason why he shouldn't. He didn't slip in. You see, I told you that my father was a birck-layer that did a lot of contract work, and when the industrial revolution started in the South, as George was talking about on the picture tonight, he would travel to help build mills and jails all through South Carolina and Alabama and Mississippi, whenever these cotton mills were coming up. After the cotton revolution came on, you see. So, he was away from home a good bit. But I do know that when my brother was born, the one that I was telling you is a physician, he was very proud. I don't know whether he was proud of the first three ones, the three first were girls, but I do know that he was very proud of this boy. I remember one day that he was at home and he had my brother on his lap and my mother's name was Rachel … I don't know whether you know it or not, but older people used to, if a baby had a well rounded, shaped head, they used to say, "He's a fine child." And so, he looked at this baby and kind of rubbed his hand over his head and said, "Rachel, this boy has got a good head on him, he is going to make you proud someday." Of course, all of my mother's children were very fine, healthy specimens. Especially for the age in which they came up. Well, like I say, we were economically above

Page 9
the average. So, my father always called this man, "Old Man." His name was Walter.
He has a son named Walter there in Columbia now. And there is Colin, who I mentioned, he has a son who could pass for a twin of my sister, who is in Michigan. I mean, if you see them sitting together, you would declare that they are brother and sister. She has very fine, chiseled features. In fact, I would say that she is just a beautiful woman.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So, he didn't resent his father as much as he did his mother?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I never heard him … now, here is what he resented his mother more for: this old man had a daughter by another colored woman in Columbia … I don't think there were any more … and she, he gave money to educate both of these children. My father's mother, she was one of these church sisters, you know, one of those who believe everything the preacher says and gives everything to them, well, she was like that. So, the daughter of this other woman, who I called Aunt Madeline, she went to high school, she became a very fine typist and was at one time a court stenographer in Jacksonville. And she married a pharmacist in Jacksonville, Florida. Now, the money he gave … because he wanted my father to be educated, my grandmother used it in the church and gave him away to a white family in the lower part of the county … not gave him away, but let him stay with them, virtually gave him away. These people, by the name of Lightses, and another family named Patterson, until he was a good-sized boy, he stayed with them. And he never got through the third grade. So, that was really the root of the resentment.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And they took him in for what reason? Did he work for them?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, he worked for them, but it wasn't peonage or anything like that. They were very kind to him. And now, how that connection was made, I don't know. But I do know that his father gave the money for him to be educated just like he gave for this girl by this other woman. I know that. And I think

Page 10
that he, in a way, resented that more than he did this other. But he had a marvelous mind. He could study all kinds of blueprints, I was the oldest child and he would teach me to interpret blueprints and to count the bricks. And he could look at a blueprint and tell within, say, two or three thousand, how many bricks that thing would take. And then he tried to teach me how to count, how to make these calculations. And lots of times, even though I had been to school, I would always go to private school, because we lived out in the rural area and they didn't let rural children go to the city area schools, he could calculate faster than I. In fact, all the older ones of us went to private schools.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What school?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
We went to Benedict. In that day, they had from the colleges on down through the primary grades.
JACQUELYN HALL:
That is a Catholic … are you Catholic?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
No, I'm not Catholic. I'm not much of anything.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were your parents Catholic?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
No, my parents were Baptist. And all the children started off as Baptists. But these two went into the Catholic faith. I don't know why, the first one, the one that died of cancer, she had a good friend who was Catholic and she was finally proselyted into the Catholic church. The other lost a child, she came down to have these babies, she had twin babies, and one of them burned to death and the husband, Albert, was in Ann Arbor and she came down here with us to have the children. And Albert wasn't particularly interested in any church, but when this child died, he was up in Ann Arbor alone on his job and we were to go up there in about a month, because I was to ride up with them and take the children, my mother and I. And the only person connected with a church that went to see him was a Catholic priest. And my sister said that it didn't concern her what kind of a church that he joined and naturally, he became

Page 11
close to the priest, because that was the only one that came to him in this tragedy. So, then he joined the Catholic church and then my baby sister went on over.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was your father interested in educating you children?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Oh, yes. All of us finished high school. Well, one infant, the one next to me, died in infancy. And the next one finished college and was teaching in city schools and she died here of a ruptured appendix, peritonitis. And then, my two brothers … I had another brother that died and then my sister that died of cancer not long ago. But all of us finished college except my second brother.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You all finished college?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Where did you go to college?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I went to college at Benedict and then took additional work at Michigan and Columbia. And my sister finished at S. C. State college and my brother finished at Benedict and then went to medical school. He went to Rochester one year and then finished at Meharry.
JACQUELYN HALL:
When did you graduate?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
1921. That's when I got my A.B. degree. Then I taught at Benedict for a year and then I went into the city schools and that's when I taught mathematics for a number of years. Until I married and then they didn't let married teachers teach in the city schools at that time. So, then, I came out of that and I went to work with the state tuberculosis association and they sent me off to study at the University of Michigan and to Michigan State at Ypsilanti and so, I took work up there until '42 and before '56, I was just freelance, getting people's business and all the federal cases for transportation and teachers' salaries against the whites, all of those were

Page 12
virtually mapped in my home, the lawyers met there.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What was the first thing that you got involved in?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I don't remember.
JACQUELYN HALL:
When did you first get involved in the Interracial Commission?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
It must have been in the mid-twenties.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Do you remember the first meeting, or how you heard about it?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Somebody must have just invited me to a meeting, I guess. I don't know. But my mother and father were always interested in helping people. They were concerned when people's … we didn't call it "rights" then, but they were concerned when somebody was taken advantage of. And my mother was very sensitive to people's problems. I know that we would work in the fields, we had to work in the fields because that's where we made … although my father made good money, we had to work in the fields because we had to learn how to work, he said. And so, very often we would leave the fields and my mother would say, "Well, we'll have to go and see Mrs. So-and-So, she is sick." And we have to go over there and see her and then go see this or that person. I can remember those sick rooms, you know, they didn't have electricity, no electric fans and windows were made of wood. They didn't have any way to cool the people. They would have a sheet wrung out of water and hang it up over the bed and as that sheet would dry, it would cool them. And then she would say, "You go out there and get some leaves off that peach tree and beat them up so I can put them on Sister So-and-So's head," and that type of thing. And the men in the rural area in those days didn't think that a woman got through the week unless she got a whipping and so my mother anointed many of them in the back where they were whipped and all that type of thing. And then she was fearless when it came to any situation. My father kept very good guns

Page 13
all the time. Once the family was with him in Arkansas and they fired into the home down there because they didn't want to work under him as a black foreman, but he always had guns. Ever since I have known him, he had good guns. And so, when we moved to the country, the whites would just walk up to a house and insult a black woman or tell her to come go with them and the husband couldn't do anything about it and all that kind of thing. They didn't come up to our house, unless they were way down in the field and they would keep hailing and hailing until they knew that you heard them. Then they would come up to the house. But they didn't trust my mother or my father with those guns. I'm very different. I don't touch a gun. And one of my brothers doesn't bother with guns, but the other one, the physician, he keeps his guns. I had a friend that died and had a very nice gun, I gave it to him. Because I wasn't going to use it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What did your father say about the guns? You knew what they were for?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Well, he hunted a good bit. He never had a pistol, but he had a Winchester rifle, I think what they called a Sixteen Shooter, I know that it had a lot of cartridges in it. Then, he had a shotgun, a very fine one.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did he use them to protect your mother, to protect you all from being …
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
No, that was never said. That's what it was for if necessary. Because the night that that mob came to the house in Arkansas, one of them eventually was shot. I was quite a little girl, but I remember it just as though it happened last night. And when that one was struck, the crowd dispersed immediately. You don't have to hit but one of the fellows in a mob.
JACQUELYN HALL:
He was a brick-layer in Arkansas, a foreman?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yeah, he was working with a company out of Nashville. And

Page 14
they would go all over the South building these buildings. And so, on that particular case, he took the family with him. We went down to Alabama, in fact, my older brother was born in Huntsville.
JACQUELYN HALL:
He shot into the crowd and …
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, he shot into the crowd. He was inside the house but he was behind a wall, just like I would be behind that wall right there and this is the front door. And so, he was behind and he pushed the gun over this way, and when some guy shot into the house, he just leaned over and put his gun this way and shot out through that hole, and that's where he struck one.
JACQUELYN HALL:
When did that happen? Do you know?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
What year?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Yes.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Let's see … my brother was born in 1905, I guess it was.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And the sheriff didn't come for him?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
No. They threw a guard around the house and they put protection for him on the job. You see, this company out of Nashville was one of the most outstanding construction firms of that day1 and they were determined that they weren't going to let these people, what they called "rednecks," do what they did. So, they put a guard around him on the building and they put guards around our house. The house was in a beautiful grove. I remember them telling my mother that she needn't worry, she would be protected. It was in this grove, and they had these men on horses that rode around all day long. And so, they said, "If you don't see us, we will be whistling and you will know that we are here," that was night, you know. And so, my father sent us back to South Carolina. I awoke one night, she had these two or three big trunks that

Page 15
she carried clothes in, two big trunks. And she was just rolling clothes, you know, just rolling and rolling. And I said, "What are you doing?" And she said, "We are going back." My father's next engagement was at Spartanburg in South Carolina and we went there, from El Dorado. That was in El Dorado.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So, you had a sense of what kind of conditions people worked under, that some were worse off than you were?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes. All of my early teaching was done by Yankee teachers. A number of them came down right after Reconstruction and on up until about the twenties, they came down to educate the freedmen, you know, the freed slaves. And so, all of my teachers, I think that was one reason why I had never felt color. Now, naturally, when you are talking, you have to express it, you know. Because that is the only way in this type of society that we have to say something about black or white. But now, within me, I don't have that consciousness of color, because I didn't have it in my home and I didn't have it at the school, you see? And so, therefore, I have always been interested in the disadvantaged, no matter what their color was. Now, there was a program, they called it "Open Mike" at home, where people could call in and comment, you know? So, the question was asked me one night when I was on it … I told them that I was a crossbreed. So, then they asked me, "If you are a crossbreed, then what are you?" I guess that they thought I would say something about Indian being in me. I told them that I was part French, which was a lie. But anyway, some while afterwards, I was on the program a particular night, so when I came out of the studio, the manager of the station said, "There is somebody here who wants to talk to you." And I went there and it was a woman. And she said, "You said that you were a crossbreed and I have seen you on the t.v.," … I must have looked a lot

Page 16
whiter then than I do now, because she said, "As fair as you are, it's hard to tell that you are actually a Negro. For that reason, why is it that you are always so concerned about the plight of the black people instead of the plight of the white people when you are just about as white as you are black. Or more so?" I said, "I can't answer that but one way. It's just that the black blood is more precious. It doesn't take but one drop of black blood to make a Negro, but it takes a hundred drops of white blood to make a white man. It's just that the black blood is so much more precious." Oh, boy!
JACQUELYN HALL:
I want to know a little more about the Interracial Commission. Who else was involved in the Interracial Commission in those early days?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Well, there was a Mr. Cuppleman, who was an attorney in Columbia and a man by the name of R. Beverley Herbert. He was out of Virginia, but he emigrated to South Carolina some years back. And there was a spinster by the name of Miss Minahan, who always … she had good intentions but she was one of these people that when she is talking to you, she is looking above you, you know and if you got to be on a certain point where it looked like you were going to apply some pressure, she was quick to turn that …
JACQUELYN HALL:
How many people were involved?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Oh, well, there were at least twenty or thirty and about half and half.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Half black and half white?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes. I can't remember them all now. There were some school people, you know, college professors and preachers and white lawyers and professors at the University of South Carolina. It was mostly a professional thing, they weren't doing like they said down there today, pringing in the

Page 17
people of what you might call a lower socio-economic status.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was there a separate women's committee?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
No. They all worked together.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How many women in proportion to men were there?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I guess that there were about one-third that were women. At least that.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, how did it operate? They met once …
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
They met once a month and they had an agenda.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Where did you meet?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
They met at … well, at one time we met at what they called a USO. Of course, that was after the second World War and they would meet in schoolrooms.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Black schools?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes. For awhile, I know that we met in the lecture room of the colored wing of the hospital.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Now, were you involved all the way through the twenties, the thirties, on up until after World War II, with the Interracial Commission?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, you see, after the Southern Regional was organized, it eventually wove itself into the Southern Regional. But I was one of the founders of Southern Regional, you see.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So, you were in on it the whole time.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Then, I became a little disillusioned at one time with Southern Regional, because it had this kind of a reticence that I had noticed in the Interracial Commission. I don't know why some of those people were like that, except that they hadn't been close to … well, I guess that very few blacks had had the experience that I had encountered, with the parents that I had. And

Page 18
then too, to come into contact early with people like Mrs. [M.E.] Tilly, who was a fairly different kind of person, and the people that surrounded her, you know?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Yes.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
But anyway, I became a little disillusioned with the Southern Regional, because the Southern Conference for Human Welfare had the more dynamic and fearless beginning. And so, when the Southern Conference Educational Fund came over, it was the same thing. I've never understood quite … I mean, I've forgotten about it. I might have to ask Myles Horton about that. Anyway, I remember once that I became so disillusioned with the Southern Regional until I threatened to break all contact with it. And I was talking to Alice Spearman Wright about it and she said, "Well, sometimes I feel like that myself. But I'll tell you, there is a place in Southern Regional for people who want to do something, but don't want to go as far as people like ourselves want to go." So, she said, "There is a place for Southern Regional and I hope that you get that idea out of your mind." We have always been close, we could just talk anytime.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was she in the Interracial Commission in South Carolina in the thirties?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I don't remember her having been there. You see, she didn't come from Columbia.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did you know her, then?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
As I remember, I came into contact with her … I don't remember ever being at an Interracial meeting there, but I think that it was during ERA … not the ERA we have now, but during the Roosevelt Administration, economic recovery period. And I think that is when I first came to know Alice. The thing that I remember first about her, that I

Page 19
recall, was … I think that she had just come back from abroad and we were in a meeting where they were … you know, during the ERA, they arranged jobs for laboring classes and all like that and then they moved into where they said that there were a lot of professional people out of work and they wanted to make some provision for them. And then they got a project in South Carolina … I don't know what they did in other states, but I guess that they were similar, but they worked out a project where they go into these various areas and … well, someplaces they had teachers who were out of jobs and they sent them into communities kind of as tutors for illiterates. And they would set up groups of illiterates and teach them. We called those ERA teachers. And then, we were at a meeting in Columbia where they decided to put on a history project, I believe it was, it was to go into history and art, something like that. It was to go particularly into the islands into what we call the Gullah district, where there were a lot of direct descendants of slaves and many of them hadn't even moved out of the area at all, they hadn't even traveled much. And so, we were in that meeting and I remember what they were to do. They were trying to arrange these jobs. They had the money to put these high echelons of teachers there were some teachers that hadn't gone far and so, they kind of fell into the category of teaching these people out in the rural areas that couldn't read and write, that type of thing. And then, we had some others that were out of school and were college graduates, but didn't have work. And so, there was a tendency in that meeting to steer that to where only whites would do that particular thing. Well, Alice and I were in that meeting and there was a physician there by the name of Robert Mance, he and I used to parallel our activities in that if we went into a meeting and they tried to do thus-and-so, "let's get on them."

Page 20
My reaction was always, "If it comes to that, I'm going to say this. What do you think about it?" "Well, if I say it, I want you to back me up and we'll just take it to a fight." We would always say," All right," to each other. So, this particular day, Mance and I were getting up and Alice was in there and she had the same idea that Mance and I had about these black professionals. And so, they just about had that thing cut and dried. They were going to set up that thing, but none of these Negro teachers and all those out of jobs, they were just going to take it and give it all to whites. So, things got hot in there that day. And Alice was in there and that was where I first remember her. Because she and Mance and I got in this huddle. They had the meeting almost over and they were about to move to adjourn and we said, "No, you can't adjourn yet, this thing has got to be straightened out." And this friend of mine, a colored nurse who was there, she said, "I declare, you are the devil. Some people are thinking of going home and you are starting the meeting again." And so, we have done that a lot, Alice and I and other folks. By the time that they think that have got their point carried as far as they can, then we say, "By the way, thus-and-so, let's look at it this way and …"
JACQUELYN HALL:
Tell me about how that happened with the Interracial Commission? I am sure that same kind of thing went on there, didn't it?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What were some of the …
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]

Page 21
JACQUELYN HALL:
Now, the white primary … not in the twenties and thirties?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Oh, yes. People were talking about wanting to vote. But they couldn't vote in anything but the general election every four years and in the city elections at home. Although naturally, we were taxed without representation and if we didn't pay taxes, they would take our homes. And so, just like now to a great extent, many people are taxed without representation. Not technically, either, but wide open. And the issue of playgrounds and recreation and police burtality, they did a lot along that line. Police brutality and transportation to various areas that weren't properly serviced for blacks. Most of the problems that they fought were … well, at that time, they didn't think that the whites had any problems, but they did have some, because they had a superiority complex, that's about as big a problem as anybody could have. So, we would get committees that would go to the white primary officials and try to get them to let us vote.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did the South Carolina Interracial Commission take a public stand against the white primaries? How did they try to get rid of them?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
No, that was done absolutely by blacks themselves, although I will try to make available to you a statement that was signed by a number of these people who were. I have some xeroxed copies of it. Some of them did sign a statement in favor of blacks voting, a number of these people who were on the Interracial Commission.
JACQUELYN HALL:
When?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
That was when we were working against the white primary, let's see … we broke the white primary in … that must have been about 1944.
JACQUELYN HALL:
It was about '44 that they signed the statement?

Page 22
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Before that, they wouldn't? The white members of the Interracial Commission.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Oh, yes. They would take public stands on something that was what you might call milk and water. But now, so far as taking a direct open fighting stand, I don't remember any of the men that did it, but now, sometimes, those women could get pretty rough. There was old Mrs. Stackhouse, Mrs. T.B. Stackhouse, who is now quite old. She is with a sister of hers up in Batcave, North Carolina. Now, Mrs. Stackhouse was just like a fire horse. There were one or two old sisters out of Charleston. Most of …
JACQUELYN HALL:
Kate Davis?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
No, I didn't know her.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Have you heard of her?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Where did she live?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Charleston.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
No, I don't know her. I don't remember her. I mean, I never met her. I know, because I have a pretty good memory. There was an old lady down there named Cornelia Dabney Tucker that worked some with us down there. But she was a paternalist, too. You know, they would be in favor of certain extra classes in school if they were classes like laundering and brick-laying and carpentry and things like that. But now, we didn't know what was going on in the white high schools, they were teaching them with … well, they didn't have computers then, but they were teaching them with machines where they could go to work in banks and things like that. But none of that was in the black schools.

Page 23
JACQUELYN HALL:
There were a few white women who took stronger stands than the men did? Do you think that the women were stronger than the men?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I think that's true. And I think that it's true even among the blacks today.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Among both white women and black women?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, I think even today. I've always believed that if we had more women in government … well, you know, the men have made a mess out of government all over the world and there is no place that they haven't made a mess out of. So, I … well, I may be wrong, because maybe in Switzerland they haven't and up in Sweden and up in those places, but wherever else they have been, they have made a mess out of it. And ordinarily, when you get these people speaking out, you get women speaking out …
JACQUELYN HALL:
How do you account for that?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Well, when it comes to black women, you know, it has always been said in the South that the only two classes of people free in the South are white men and black women. I know that you have heard that statement. And the mother instinct in them is one thing. You know, a cat or a bird or anything like that will fight for its children and the other is that ordinarily, in very few instances have Negro women been lynched. They lynched black men. And so, very often, the woman got away with the things that a man wouldn't have gotten away with saying or doing. And I think that the social structure had something to do with that in that the number of the better conditions of the white homes … I mean better conditions financially, they had black servants that just about ran those homes, raised the children and all, you know. This is in Gone With the Wind, which I guess you've seen. Well, the fine manners as to how the girls should behave when they went somewhere and all of that, and just how they should express themselves and all, those fine niceties, were

Page 24
often transmitted to them by slave women, many of them were wet nursed by black women, before they had all these baby foods and things. I had a man tell me one day that one of the biggest fights he was ever in was because one day one of the boys told him that he had wet nursed at a black woman. And he said, "I loved my wet nurse like I did my mother." So, many times there was that carry over that- they maybe didn't realize. I'm talking about where they had trusted and beloved black servants, you see? Many of those people were buried in their cemeteries. There are many black servants buried right on the square, the cemetery square, with the people that they worked with for years. And sometimes these situations are far more involved than you would dream, just looking at it on the surface. But you take the case of Rosa Parks. If that had been a Negro man, they would have thrown him out on his can. Don't you know they would have? Out of that bus. And they put her in jail, but they certainly didn't abuse her. And take Hayward down there in Mississippi. If they were whipped a thousand times, I should have been in South Carolina. I've never had one weight laid on me and I've never even had someone give me any big talk and I have done enough big talking to be put in jail fifteen times myself. But I guess that sometimes they marked me up as a fool, they'd say, "Well, that woman is crazy, but …" [Laughter]
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, how do you account for white women being more outspoken than white men?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I don't know, except that they realize, as the women in the old Interracial realized, that … you see, back there, when they first started that Interracial, it was not only against lynching, but fundamentally it was against the white men telling that lie all the time that they had to protect their women just as though the women didn't know when to say no and when to say yes.

Page 25
JACQUELYN HALL:
And that came up in the meetings?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, that was understood. That's one of the things, if you look back into the establishment of the old interracial movement here in Atlanta and some white women in other places … you see, white men always said that they were protecting white womanhood and they wanted to keep them pure. And they cloistered their women. Even in slavery, they would cloister their women, but they would go out and have babies by the slaves. And then, often these men in these prominent white families had their black paramours that their families knew about, because they didn't want to violate these young white women that were in those families. And even during slavery, some of the most beautiful black slaves, mulattos, were sold into the slave markets of New Orleans where they were bought to be mistresses of a number of sons of these masters. And of the masters themselves. And Thomas Jefferson had two or three daughters sold down there as slaves.
JACQUELYN HALL:
In the meetings of the Interracial Commission, did the white women talk about this situation?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
No, it was known. They didn't talk about that. I don't remember that coming up, but I do know that when you look back into the history of it, that's what started it. They became incensed because the men were always talking about them just like they were helpless, you know, snivelings. And they knew that a lot of times, they were lying. And then, some of them felt that it was a reflection on their intelligence. And then, a number of them knew that their men were lying. Many times, when they did this and were going on like that, they realized that … although I never heard this said in a meeting, I've had it expressed to me otherwise, that a lot of this thing

Page 26
that men were talking about protecting them from black men was because they knew how they were violating black women and they just thought that the shoe would turn the other way.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you have that expressed to you in private conversations?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Just talking like we are now, or maybe two or three people together. And very often, as in the case that I told you about my grandfather, it was known by the whites around there that he was going with these black women. And at the same time, they wanted to kill a black man that went with a white woman. And although prior to, I think it was 1895, when Ben Tillman started … with Ben Tillman's regime in South Carolina, there was no Jim Crow on the trains. Blacks and whites went to dances together. I've had an old white woman tell me that she had been to dances many nights where Negroes were with whites. They would visit each other's homes out on the plantation like that during Reconstruction and after Reconstruction. And then, they brought in these Black Codes. They took back the government and then they put in all these laws and that created this particular thing that we have had to fight all these hundred years.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you work more closely with white women than you did with white men in your career?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
No, I don't think so. I've worked a lot with white men in connection with our political … you know, in elections.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were you involved in the NAACP at the same time that you were involved in the Interracial Commission?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes. I belonged to the Columbia branch of the NAACP. It was organized in 1916. I didn't belong to it in '16, but the movement prior to the NAACP, which was called the Niagara Movement, perhaps you have read about

Page 27
it? My mother made me a member of that when I was a toddler, an infant. And the Niagara Movement was a forerunner of the NAACP that was organized in 1909.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Your parents were involved in the Niagara Movement?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
My mother knew about it and she took membership in it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Which was larger, the local NAACP or the Interracial Commission?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
They were about the same.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And why did you put your energies into both organizations instead of just one?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Because, I guess that I had … well, you see, my mother had started me off in NAACP and I guess that I just went because my friends were there and it was interested in social problems and I don't know why I got hooked up in that Interracial thing. I don't remember that. It's been forty years.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I was just wondering whether one was a lot stronger and more outspoken than the other?
The NAACP was … they were about the same, because you see, at that time, there wasn't really much that the NAACP could do, because we couldn't do much at all until we got the ballot. All you could deal was appeal, write letters and name a commitee to go talk to the mayor, or go talk to Mr. So-and-So who was over at the playground, maybe he'll do something, and all that kind of crap. So, they were just about the same. And in other states, too, they all had organizations that were interested in improvement and action. But you don't get any real action until you get that ballot, you see? And let some of those cats know that come election day, you are going to meet me at the box. I had a row, and when I say a row, I mean one, because sometimes you don't get anything unless you run roughshod. I remember telling a man once that

Page 28
I … it was a mayor of our city, I said, "I'm not begging you anymore. I've been begging you all these years and I'm not begging anymore. I've got the vote now. I'll see you at the ballot box." That's the way that we've had to do.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did you know Mrs. Tilly? Did you go to the meetings in Atlanta?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, I have. I saw her at Atlanta and then she came to Columbia to the Interracial there. And then Miss Tilly was living when the Southern Regional was organized. The first regular meeting of the Southern Regional was held in Atlanta. I'm not talking about the organizational meeting, that was held in Durham. Dr. Hancock2 called that in Durham up in North Carolina.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you know Mrs. Tilly in the thirties?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I wonder, Mrs. Ames was the director of women's work and …
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I may have known her, but it just doesn't register with me.
JACQUELYN HALL:
But Mrs. Tilly made more of an impression with you?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes. I very likely knew this other lady, but there was just something about Mrs. Tilly that was highly dramatic.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Is that right? What was she like?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Well, she was …
JACQUELYN HALL:
What was it about her?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Well, I don't know, just the way that she expressed herself, I guess. But the last time I heard Mrs. Tilly speak, as I remember, she had organized something here called the Fellowship of the Concerned, as I remember. Something like that. But then, she was urging the people to go into the courts as spectators to see how these people were treated in courts. I think that's the last thing I remember. I am almost sure that I am correct in that. They would go to the Recorder's Courts and the Magistrates Courts and get

Page 29
reports on maybe how unequally treated the people were by race. And go out to wreck sites and things like that, you know, listen in and see how the cop at a wreck was going to react racially. I think that was called the Fellowship of the Concerned. The last talk that I heard her make was in connection with that.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What about segregation? How did the South Carolina Interracial Commission deal with that issue? Did that come up in meetings, did people push to deal with that issue?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
They would send … there was something, I remember. The playgrounds were a segregation thing, because they had playgrounds for whites and drinking fountains for white and not for blacks. Part of it was trying to get some blacks on the police force, I remember. Toward the end, that was an issue I remember. I don't remember much being done about the schools, because Columbia was supposed to have had one of the best public school systems around. But when that NAACP fight … the NAACP today is very much different than in those years, they have gotten kind of washed out, too. You see, organizations grow old just like people and the fighting and revolutionary spirit that NAACP had in those years is no more. So, when we started these fights and going into federal courts and things like that, why that's when we lost most of those, men in particular.
JACQUELYN HALL:
When did that come?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
In the forties. We had the primary case in '42 o4 '43, somewhere in there. It must have been in '43. Because the special session of the legislature that pulled all the laws off the books about the primaries was i-'44. There were a number of people, as I said, a number of whites who wanted

Page 30
the thing different and when the court cases came up, it's just like this thing that a number of them didn't sanction of me riding up and down the road with maybe five hundred dollars in my pocket … which I never carried on me, but I always had enough to eat if I wanted … and not being able to get a hot meal. And a lot of whites didn't realize that it was that way. I drove up to Durham once and I was so hungry and I stopped at a little station up there and I told the guy, I said, "I'm very hungry and I wish that I could get something to eat." And so, the young man said, "You can get something right there. Right there at that door, a colored fellow works in there and you knock on that door and give him your order, he can give you a sandwich or something like that." I said, "Well, I don't want any food like that. I'll eat some cold boiled buzzard before I'll eat that. I don't want any food like that." And I went on to Durham. I was then right on the border, in Rocky Mount, somewhere like that over the border. So, when I was coming back, the manager of the station was there and he said, "I appreciate your stopping by." I said, "Yes, on the way up, I stopped here and bought some gas. I was so hungry that it looked like I was going to fold in two. I didn't think I was going to be able to get where I was going, I was so hungry." He said, "Well, I wish that I had been here, I would have seen that you got something to eat." I told him what the fellow told me. He said, "Well, now, anytime that you are back through here and you want something to eat, you let me know and you will have the best of anything that can be gotten. I don't like that kind of stuff." I don't think that he really realized it then, because I guess that the average colored person went on and had some lunch in a box or something. And then I was down in a town near Savannah, a town called Ridgeland. And my mother was with me, she's now dead. And I was hungry that day and I said to the fellow that put the gas in, "Where can I get something to eat around here?" He said,

Page 31
"Oh, the restaurant right there. There's one right there and that's one of the nicest ones in town." I said, "Have you looked at my face, yet?" He said, "What do you mean?" I said, "Do they serve Negroes in there?" They weren't saying "blacks" then. He said, "Oh, I'm so sorry. I am so sorry." So, a lot of them didn't realize it, you see.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Before I forget, did you know Mrs. John Hope, Charlotte Hawkins Brown?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Those women were very involved in the beginning of women's involvement in the Interracial Commission. Did you work with them?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I met them in meetings. I knew Charlotte Hawkins Brown well. She and my brother-in-law in Greensboro were very good friends. When I say my brother-in-law, I mean him and his wife.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You came to Atlanta then, to meetings of the women's division of the Interracial Commission. Did you come to meetings that were all women?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I don't remember that. I just don't quite remember.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I'm wondering what kind of relationship those women had with the white women of the Interracial Commission?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I think that it was all amiable. I'm most sure that it was. Mrs. Bethune … I don't remember whether she was connected with the Southern Regional or not. I know that she wasn't at the first meeting that we had. But she was once on the board of the Southern Conference for Human Welfare, I know that.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, in the research that I did, I came across a couple of different conflicts that were going on at the very beginning of the Commission,

Page 32
which you wouldn't have been involved in, at the early meetings. But at the Memphis meeting in 1920, the black women, Mrs. Hope, Mrs. Booker T. Washington, Mrs. Moton, a number of those women that were in the National Council of Negro Women's Clubs, drew up a statement, a platform of what the women's organization should be dedicated to. And the white women were not, they didn't want to say that blacks should have the right to vote, they didn't want to make as strong a stand. Then, later on, I came across some conflict when the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching wouldn't endorse federal anti-lynching legislation and Mrs. Hope and Mrs. Bethune came to their meeting and tried to talk them into doing that and they wouldn't listen. Do you remember any of that kind of thing, black women pushing white women to take a stronger stand?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Well, I think that we probably did it quite often at home. You see, very often I would become disgusted with this business of going in there and setting up a whole meeting and asking why they didn't do this or that and they would set up a committee and say that on such-and-such a date when the city council was meeting, they would go before them and then, you would get this kickback. Now, I'm not a compatriot of … you see, those women were older than I and they were never together down here. You see, Atlanta early became a melting pot for that type of thing, because you see, the big Atlanta riot caused such a commotion that a lot of people got together after that and of course, they were closer here. And then, those that were older than I.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did you see yourself as different or alike that generation that was older than you?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I don't know as I was like them very much. I was always kind of

Page 33
a renegade. I think that I was more roughshod in a way. You see, Mrs. Bethune and Charlotte Hawkins Brown … I never knew Mrs. Booker T. Washington, but they were women that were more like what you would call the dowager or the ladylike type of thing. Mrs. Bethune was just as polished as a diamond, you know. And then, being like my mother and father, well, to give you an idea of how my father was, he said something on the job where he was working once, and one of the white fellows said, "Oh man, you had better mind what you are saying, the Klu Klux Klan might visit you tonight." And at that time, you know, that was supposed to strike terror in the heart of a black. And he said, "Well, they can come on when they get ready. They are made out of meat just like I am." I know what he meant by that, they were going to be shot. But now, that's just the way he was. He was just brusque. I have inherited that, I don't have that fineness that some people have. Just like some people say … just like Alice says sometimes, "I know that when you speak, you are going to get down to the nitty-gritty." But I have never known this thing of being nice.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Ladylike?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes. I don't believe in hurting anybody's feelings, but yet I think that if the truth is going to hurt you, just let it hurt.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What was Charlotte Hawkins Brown like?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Well, you know, she was the president of that school at Sedalia. Highly professional, very proud of herself.
JACQUELYN HALL:
That was an arts school, or a finishing school.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Finishing school, yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Her purpose was to raise …
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Ladies. Exactly. I think that boys and girls both went there. Because my brother-in-law's children went there. I'm almost sure they both went

Page 34
there. But I've met her many times in meetings. I think I met her some at the Southern Regional, as I remember. I'm almost sure that I did. But I knew her more from when I would go up to North Carolina to see my relatives. Because Sedalia isn't far from Greensboro. But I'm sure that I saw them both here.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How would you describe the kind of social change that she was trying to bring about in comparison with what you wanted? Was it just a different style, or were there real differences in …
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I don't know if …
JACQUELYN HALL:
Different politics …
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
There weren't many politics then, because …
JACQUELYN HALL:
Different ideologies?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I don't know … I don't think that either of them would have taken the stands that I have taken and in the way that I have taken them. Because I have never stayed off the power structure, even as late as this election in South Carolina. And there are times that people want change and they will speak for change, but if it comes to the point where they have got to get nasty, so to speak, to let their positions be known, then they are not willing to go that far, you know. They kind of want to be a lady, you know, something like that. Now, I think that Charlotte Hawkins Brown would have been more like that than Mrs. Bethune. Because I remember the last time that I heard Mrs. Bethune speak here, she made this statement, she said that she was in a Pullman car and some man called her "Auntie." And she said, "Which one of my brother's children are you?" Now, how did she say that?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Right, "How am I related to you?", in other words.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Well, she made it this way, she made it so that … you see, they had been willing to accept this where the father was white and the mother was black. But she turned it around to where she said, she worked it to where

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he had been born of a white woman by a black man. You see?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Right.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
So, she was a highly saracastic old soul when she wanted to carry her point.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What about Mrs. John Hope? Did you know her?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I didn't know her. Well, I couldn't say that I knew her in that way. Now, I knew Mrs. Hope and I knew Dr. Hope and I knew both sons.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I had an impression in my research of Mrs. Hope being a little bit more militant on the Interracial Commission …
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I didn't know her that way at all. The only way that I knew Mrs. Hope, I was over here at Morehouse one summer at school, and I knew her there. I would see her at the school, but I never knew her at any meetings.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You were involved in the Southern Conference for Human Welfare from the beginning?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You went to the Birmingham meeting and …
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I wasn't at the Birmingham meeting, I couldn't get there, but I sent a representative from Columbia and I knew all the things that happened.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you stay with it all the way through the red-baiting?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What do you think caused its downfall?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I don't know. I do know that it was viciously fought. In fact, all the Roosevelt programs were red smeared. The NYA and Au rey Williams and Clifford Durr, who was editing and Audrey, who is now dead. They were all victimized by the Un-American Activities people. And Clark Foreman was, too. Mrs. Foreman was saying to me the other day that Clark has always felt near to

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me because they could feel that I understood the positions he took no matter how much he was red-baited. Well, I was red-baited, too. I was red-baited in South Carolina, but I never paid any attention. I have told the newspapers sometimes, "Well, if you put a statement in the paper, you call me immediately and if you don't, don't put it in there." And they have called me. I remember that I went to a meeting in Washington once, called … some kind of peace thing, I've forgotten. But anyway, when I got back home, the bishop of the AME church was up there, too. Crusade for Peace, I believe it was called … anyway they were running to pieces in South Carolina because we had been to this thing. I know that when I got to Washington that morning, there were a lot of policemen out in front of the railway station on horses and every once in awhile they would pull people out and there was horses prancing and all going on. I heard one of the redcaps say to another, "What are all them horses doing out there? What are all them police doing out there?" And the other one said, "Man, don't you know them peace people are coming in here today?" So, if you worked for peace, you were supposed to be Communist. And so, I always told them when they called me a Communist, I said, "Well, if the Communists do all the good things that you all say they do, it looks like to me that it would be good to be one. If they want peace, there is nothing wrong with that." So, they never were able, although they did all kinds of things, they never were able to faze me, I didn't pay any attention to them. But I do remember that when they found me and said that this report had come back from Washington that I was up there for the Peace Crusade and they said, "Bishop Reid was up there too." I said, "yes, Bishop Reid was up there." So, they said that a statement had come down about it from the Un-American Activities Committee in Washington. I said, "I don't care what statement came down, but if you put anything in the paper about me, you had better

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damn well call me and read it to me and when I read it in the paper, it had better be like you read it." So, they called back and read it. But you see, Mrs. Bethune and Miss Hawkins, they wouldn't have talked like that to them. They would have been very ladylike. I have always been kind of rough like that, I get my bluff in first.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How were you involved in the Southern Negro Youth Conference?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I was on the board.
JACQUELYN HALL:
When and where was that organized?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
It was organized in Birmingham. A number of highly and very fine intelligent people. If that organization could have gone for five or six years, to say nothing about ten years, the South would have been a far different place. Because the youth of the country were hounded and the police would come in … I don't know if you ever heard of Bull Connor? Well, old Bull was in there even then and the Klan was in there. You see, they had this law in Alabama that the whites and blacks couldn't be meeting and … well, the same thing that took place when they had the meeting of the Southern Conference for Human Welfare. The law in Alabama at that time was and it is still on the books, but they never use it, the law was that whites and blacks couldn't be in the same meeting hall unless they were separated by physical barriers. So, we were down there at this meeting in '46 and we were to have met in the Masonic Temple, but Bull Connor scared the Master Mason and scared everybody else in the big churches and all like that, so we went to a little off-brand church and the cops came through there almost stepping on your feet and if they had, they wouldn't have cared. And they finally hauled Jim Dombrowski and Jim Davis and the minister of the church and one or two others and put them in the Birmingham jail. And then they

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arrested Glenn Taylor who was running for vice-president on the Henry Wallace ticket. I was standing this close to Glenn when he was arrested. And then they would walk all around the place just like they did during the peace movement in Washington and Birmingham and Montgomery. I know that one night we were at a church in Birmingham, it wasn't a rally, they were just having a meeting on Monday night, and those rascals would come out there … this church was on a corner, and they would come out there and be about six or eight abreast on motorcycles and they would line up … just like this was the street and this was the church and they would line up out here from one side of the street to the other, about eight abreast and when they would start, they would start in unison and they would go racing up that street and just to terrorize the folks, you know. And then they would come and stand in the church and walk through the church. I remember that there was a big thing down there, kind of a lunchroom …
JACQUELYN HALL:
You are talking now about …
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Birmingham, when we had the meetings. Now, this wasn't in the sixties, this was in 1946. We were having an annual meeting, they had bi-annual meetings of the Southern Negro Youth Conference. I went down there to the meeting and after all this stuff with Bull Connor came up, I didn't go back home, I stayed down there two weeks, I believe. And that town was hot, my goodness it was hot. You might look back anytime and see that the police were walking behind or one of their stooges, pimps or something. You always felt like somebody was walking behind you. Sometimes, if a colored person wanted to say something and there were whites there, they would say, "Well, you walk down such and such a street and I'll pass by you and you can tell me …" or something like that. And they were having the NAACP membership drive there at

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that same time and they would just go in and jerk the membership buttons off the people, when they would see one on somebody, they would just jerk it off. They just walked all through black properties like that. And I remember one of the Sundays that I was down there, well, in fact, a bunch of us went up to Bull Connors office to say something about the way that we were treated. And as we went in, I guess that about thirteen white men were coming out as we went in …
JACQUELYN HALL:
This is in 1946?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes, this is '46. And we went on in there to see old Bull. And he gave us no satisfaction. He said, "You see those folks that just walked out of here? That's a leader from the Klan and they assured me that they would give me all the help I need." And that little church was on the edge of the public square in Birmingham and you could see them sitting all around, like a low wall around the courthouse or capitol, whatever it was. That was the type of thing that went on. So, the following Sunday, they had a meeting, some of the women had some kind of house down there … I mean, it was a place where they had some kind of a center. So, they went down there on Sunday and they had a prayer meeting. I remember, I will never forget all those women on their knees, they were terrorized to death. And they asked me to talk to them, they didn't know what to do. I said …
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were these women that were involved in the Congress or …
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
No, they were women of Birmingham and a cross section of women. Doctors' and dentists' wives and lawyers' wives and all like that. And they had this meeting and I remember that in the meeting I said, "You all will have to hold solid against this thing or you will never have any more peace in Birmingham." I remember that one of the women said, "Well, that's

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easy for you to say, because you will soon be gone to South Carolina, but we will be right here." I said, "That's the reason why you must hold the line." And they couldn't understand why I wasn't terror-stricken. Of course, I guess that I just never have been afraid, I just never have been like I've seen some people. But those women, they were on their knees and weeping.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was it the Southern Negro Youth Congress that was calling down all this repression? Why were the Birmingham police and the Klan in such an uproar?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
It's that same thing as … it had been labeled Communistic by the Un-American Activities Committee … I believe that it was a fellow named Woods who did that. And so, they were calling it Communist for the simple reason that they wanted to destroy any influence that it might have.
You see, they had already met in Chattanooga and that's where so many of the youth from the mines and the tenant farms and the textile mills and all, they met in Chattanooga in '44 and …
JACQUELYN HALL:
They were working class people as well as college kids?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes. That's the first time that I ever went to a meeting where I saw … you know, people used to dress to go to meetings where I usually was, but up in there, they had on brogans and sunhats and all kinds of things. What to the power structure was a motley crew. So, then two years later, when they met here … you see, we worked here after Chattanooga, where they had their first meeting. So, they were ready for them when they came here.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Birmingham, you mean?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yeah. Birmingham isn't too far from Chattanooga. I meant Birmingham. So, the night that they arrested Glenn Taylor … because when

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Glenn came, he was to speak that night and a number of students from the University of Alabama were there, a number of white students who had dared to come on over … well, there wasn't a dare in it, it was just a public meeting, but it happened that it didn't have a … the little place wasn't much bigger than this room and another room like this behind. It was kind of a three-room house being used for a church. And one little place for the pastor's study or something like that. So, there were a number of those students there and they were singing songs and these people walked in and Jim Dombrowski was there and … I can't remember who else. I know the pastor. The wife was pregnant, she was all torn up that night. So, the press didn't get it right away, but I was there when the press came. There was a church nearby, almost within sight on the other side of the street and this man's name was Ware, the Reverend Mr. Ware. And he said, he came over there as I was coming out and he said, "I want to take you home." He knew where I was staying. "I'm going to take you home, you shouldn't be out here." I said, "Well, everything is all right, I was in there talking to the press people and the others have been carried to jail." And so, when I got home, my landlady almost shouted, she said, "Oh, I'm so glad you are here, I didn't know what had happened to you." She had heard about it, I guess and she thought that I should have been home in the next ten or fifteen minutes, but it was an hour before I got there. And she was so happy when the Reverend Mr. Ware took me up to the door and said that he had brought me home, she didn't know what to do. She wept, she thought that something had happened to me.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why did you see so much hope in the Negro Youth Conference?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I've always had hope in young people, and then they were highly intelligent people. I've always had hope in young people and I've always worked with them. I don't work much with old folks because I've always said that if

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God let me be God for an hour and a half, I would pick me out about 150,000 old devils and I would straighten this thing out. There is little hope for change in old folks.
END OF INTERVIEW
1. Owned by T. C. Thompson, brother of Norbulle Fenn.
2. Gordon Blaine Hancock.