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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Modjeska Simkins, July 28, 1976. Interview G-0056-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Membership and supporters of the Richland County Citizens' Committee

Simkins talks about how the Richland County Citizens' Committee enjoyed widespread support. Although the Committee did not have an official membership, Simkins argues that the Committee generally enjoyed the support of the masses, who were primarily poor and hard-working. In addition, Simkins describes how community members often turned to the Committee for help in times of legal crisis, although they lacked the kind of legal aid that the NAACP could offer. As a result, they worked closely with a number of white attorneys who were supportive of civil rights issues.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Modjeska Simkins, July 28, 1976. Interview G-0056-2. 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

What individuals have worked with you most closely?
Well, the main individuals—and that's about scarce as hen's teeth… Sometimes it's a case, you just get in a situation where if you don't carry the ball yourself it's hard to carry. But, now our membership is a very, very poor, hard-working people. They don't have the money to give to a movement, but they're always thoroughly cooperative. And it is known whenever we get ready for a committee action or something like that, I mean they're a fearless group. They've been inspired to be fearless. But now, there are a number of people who say, "Oh, I like what the Citizens' Committee is doing; it's doing a wonderful work," and they come in with problems, various problems that should be actually carried to the NAACP officers. But they'll tell you… For instance, we had a man killed by a highway patrolman. And I was called one night about eleven thirty saying, "Come out here. Some highway patrolman has killed a man by the name of Hall." And about ten minutes after that I got a call from a man, and he said about the same thing: "We need somebody to come out." So I said, "Well, did you call Reverend Bowman?"—Reverend Bowman at that time was president of NAACP. He said, "I called him, and he told me to call Ike Williams, who was NAACP state executive director." I don't know which called first. But he said, "I called them, but they ain't going to do nothing, and that's the reason I'm calling you all at the Citizens' Committee." So I said, "Well, we'll try to get you some assistance out there." So then I called Tom Broadwater (he's an attorney here) and told him. He said, "Well, I tell you, I had come in and kind of pulled off, and I've just got on trunks." I said, "Well, get something on (trunks or anything), and get on out there to Newcastle and do whatever you can." So he did. But that gives you an example that they call us atuomatically first where any problem is. Now we are at a great disadvantage because we do not have legal aid— I mean when I say paid legal aid like NAACP has. We have legal aid set-ups in town, but they're OEO. But we do not have attorneys as NAACP has, where they can move in with legal action, and we do not have the money that can be made available to NAACP through their memberships. But we are able to direct people to sources. Our powers of referral and our knowledge of referrals are good. And then there are certain people that do work closely in the political movement that will say, "If there's any assistance that I can give at any time for you or your people just let me know." And I have at least two—well, three white attorneys here that our organization has seen the value of supporting in campaigns that we can call for either advice or assistance. At least we had one case of a young child that a white mother and her children claimed these children were rocked in the yard. And she said that her children said they didn't, and she didn't believe they did because they were not the kind of children that would have the nerve to throw things in white people's yards. So I called one of these attorneys and told him that these people did not have money. I said, "I'm calling on you now; I'm calling in my rain check." I said, "They don't have money." I said, "Now the next thing I want to tell you about this is that it's a civil liberties case." I said, "Now you know you might be running for office next time the election comes around, so I don't want you to jeopardize yourself in any way." He said, "Well, that's all right; that's all right about it having the earmarks of a civil liberties or civil rights case. You just tell me about it and tell the people to come down here and I'll handle it." So he did handle it, and the case was thrown out. And we sent somebody out there to listen in on the case (I've forgotten now who it was). But the person came back and reported that the old lady said, "You mean to say they're going to turn them niggers loose?" But he went out there and won that case. So we do have that type of cooperation from certain people.
How many members do you have?
We don't have a definite membership from the standpoint of … Our membership is one where they're not members unless they're registered to vote. We do not have a membership fee, so we can't say how many members we have. It's a loose membership. But we do have the cooperation of the mass. I mean, if a problem arises, say … well, just say a brutality case or some other thing where they need community action we can call a meeting and have a highly appreciative audience.