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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 >>

Thoughts on African American women activists

Simkins offers her brief thoughts regarding the role of African American women activists. In particular, Simkins addresses how despite the fact that African American women were often more outspoken in their ideas about social justice, it was still men who received public recognition as leaders of the movement. Simkins suggests that religious ideology may have had some role in this discrepancy in recognizing African American women's work.

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

That reminds me of something I was wondering about. When we talked before you made the observation that women, black women have been able to speak out, in the early days especially, in places where men would have been lynched.
Perhaps lynched, yes.
But on the other hand, when you look… I mean, just as we've talked about the movement or when we look at what's been written about the movement, you see in the positions as public spokesman or publicly recognized leaders of the civil rights movement, almost all of them are men. How do you account for that?
Well, I account for it precisely that women have stood back and let men play the role, just like in a lot of church work. I don't know how close you all are to churches, but you know in the average church the leaders are men but the actual work is done by women. [Interruption]
Why have women taken a back seat in that way? Why have they been willing to do the work and not get the credit?
Well, in the first place the church always taught under the philosophy of Paul that the man is the head of the family as Christ is the head of the church. Paul said that man was the head of things, and they have taken that role or assumed that role and women have let them do it. The other thing is that I think it's one of the outcomes of slavery. We were and still are largely a maternalistic society, black society is. And it so happens that when one does decide she ain't going to take it any more she becomes prominent in her own right, like for instance in the case of the black abolitionist women. And there are a number of women who have taken roles in various parts of the country, like Mary Church Terrell and like that that not a whole lot has been written about. I guess if you just get down and write (or maybe it's written but we don't all know about it)… But you know the old saying in the South has been that the only free people in the South is the black woman and the white man, you see.