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Oral History Interview with Modjeska Simkins, July 28, 1976. Interview G-0056-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).
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  • Abstract
    This is the second interview in a series of two with Modjeska Simkins, an African American activist from South Carolina. In the first interview (G-0056-1), Simkins briefly described her family background, her childhood, and spoke about her work with the South Carolina Commission on Interracial Cooperation, primarily during the 1920s and 1930s. Here, she elaborates on her family background and upbringing before describing in great detail her work with the NAACP and the Richland County Citizens Committee. Simkins begins by describing her childhood, spent primarily in Columbia, South Carolina, although there were times when her father's reputation as an accomplished bricklayer led them to other areas in the South, including Huntsville, Alabama. Simkins explains that her family was prosperous, and she emphasizes that her parents imbued her with a sense of responsibility to help those less advantaged. Simkins attended Benedict College for her primary through post-secondary education. Following her graduation with a bachelor's degree in 1921, Simkins taught at Benedict for a year before accepting a position teaching at Booker Washington High School in Columbia. She taught at Booker until 1929. Over the course of the 1920s, Simkins became more involved in social causes, primarily via her membership in the South Carolina Commission on Interracial Cooperation and the NAACP. She continued this work into the 1930s, during which time she was employed by the South Carolina Tuberculosis Association. Until 1942, Simkins worked for the TB Association, helping to educate people about health-related issues. Increasingly, however, Simkins lamented not being able to focus more explicitly on what she saw as more pressing issues for African Americans. In 1942, she took a position with the NAACP and served as the state secretary until 1956. Simkins describes in detail her role in the NAACP's shift towards direct legal action in taking on school segregation. In addition, she describes how she helped to organize a boycott in Orangeburg County around 1956 following the Brown decision and a white backlash against it in that community. Despite her support for the NAACP's legal work, however, Simkins was becoming alienated from the NAACP by the mid-1950s. She left the NAACP to become the public relations director for the Richland County Citizens Committee. At the time of the interview, Simkins was still serving in this capacity. She spends the final portion of the interview describing her work with the Richland County Citizens Committee, focusing on their involvement in state politics, their role in efforts to desegregate the Palmetto State Hospital in 1965, and with the integration of Columbia public schools. Throughout the interview, Simkins offers telling anecdotes about the nature of racial tensions and its consequences, the inner workings of civil rights organizations like the NAACP and the Richland County Citizens Committee, and relationships between leaders of the movement and their related organizations.
    Excerpts
  • Family story about grandmother's escape from slavery
  • Learning discipline and social justice in childhood
  • Benedict College and education of African Americans in Columbia, South Carolina
  • Responsibilities within the family while growing up
  • Challenges of working for the Tuberculosis Association
  • Intersection of race and politics with party affiliation
  • Efforts to thwart the political uniting of African Americans and poor whites
  • Offering an insider's perspective on NAACP legal deliberations prior to Brown
  • Changing nature of leadership in the NAACP and criticism of organized religion
  • Organizing a boycott in Orangeburg County, South Carolina
  • Effort to use NAACP as a relief organization
  • Functions of the Richland County Citizens' Committee
  • The NAACP, Martin Luther King Jr., and South Carolina's unique situation
  • Membership and supporters of the Richland County Citizens' Committee
  • Combating poor conditions for African American patients at Palmetto State Hospital
  • Thoughts on African American women activists
  • Working to integrate public schools and facing housing challenges
  • Learn More
  • Finding aid to the Southern Oral History Program Collection
  • Database of all Southern Oral History Program Collection interviews
  • Subjects
  • National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
  • School integration--South Carolina
  • Southern Regional Council
  • Southern Christian Leadership Conference
  • Women civil rights workers
  • African American women in civil rights movements--Southern States
  • The Southern Oral History Program transcripts presented here on Documenting the American South undergo an editorial process to remove transcription errors. Texts may differ from the original transcripts held by the Southern Historical Collection.

    Funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this title.