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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Modjeska Simkins, November 15, 1974. Interview G-0056-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Thoughts on "consciousness of color" and racial identity

Simkins briefly addresses how she perceived her racial heritage in relationship to her racial identity. Earlier in the interview, Simkins describes how she had a white grandfather and she also explains how as a child she had had little awareness of her racial identity. Simkins attributes this in part to her education at Benedict College, a school founded by white northerners for African Americans during Reconstruction, where children were not taught to feel "consciousness of color." She goes on to offer an anecdote regarding her thoughts on racial identity in relationship to her desire to help disadvantaged people, regardless of race.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Modjeska Simkins, November 15, 1974. Interview G-0056-1. 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

So, you had a sense of what kind of conditions people worked under, that some were worse off than you were?
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 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!