Modjeska Simkins

Modjeska Simkins

Modjeska Monteith was born on 5th December, 1899. She attended Benedict College, South Carolina and after graduating in 1921 became a schoolteacher at the Booker T. Washington School in Columbia. When she married Andrew Simkins, a prosperous African American businessman, she was forced to resign as the local public school system did not allow married women to teach.

In 1931 Simkins found employment with the South Carolina Tuberculosis Association. Her role was to raise funds and assist in health education among African Americans. Shocked by the poverty she witnessed, Simkins became more concerned with politics and joined the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP).

Simkins established clinics for tuberculosis testing at churches, schools and cotton mills. She also published a newsletter and arranged for annual meetings with other African American leaders. The South Carolina Tuberculosis Association became concerned about her political activities and in 1941 she was told that she would have to leave the NAACP. When Simkins refused she was fired.

A popular lecturer on civil rights, in 1942 Simkins was appointed secretary of the South Carolina Conference of the NAACP. In this post she undertook lawsuits on behalf of African Americans. Her campaign to force South Carolina to remove racial differences in teachers salaries achieved success in 1944. Simkins next campaign was to persuade the South Carolina Democratic Party to reform its voting system.

In December, 1947, Simkins was one of the fifty-one African American leaders who urged Henry Wallace to run for president as the Progressive Party candidate. The following year Simkins played a prominent role in Wallace's failed attempt to become president. She was also active in the campaign to persuade Congress to pass an Anti-Lynching bill.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s Simkins supported her friends, Benjamin Davis, Paul Robeson and Eslanda Goode in their struggle with the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).

In 1949 Simkins began her campaign to end segregation in public schools. Her efforts resulted in the Supreme Court ruling in 1952 that separate schools were acceptable as long as they were "separate and equal". It was not too difficult for the NAACP to provide information to show that black and white schools in the South were not equal. In 1954 the Supreme Court announced that separate schools were not equal and ruled that they were therefore unconstitutional.

In November, 1957, Simkins was removed as state secretary of the NAACP. The main reason for this was that some people objected to Simkins close relationship with the American Communist Party. Although she never joined the party, she was willing to work with its members and had been vocal in her support of those blacklisted during the McCarthy Era.

Simkins continued to campaign for desegregation and in 1963 helped her niece to become the first African American student since reconstruction to enter the University of South Carolina. Modjeska Monteith Simkins died in 1992.

Primary Sources

(1) Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz (1947)

Last spring the Germans had constructed huge tents in an open space in the Lager. For the whole of the good season each of them had catered for over 1,000 men: now the tents had been taken down, and an excess 2,000 guests crowded our huts. We old prisoners knew that the Germans did not like these irregularities and that something would soon happen to reduce our number.