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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 >>

Experiences with segregation and efforts to confront it

Simkins addresses the issue of segregation. Recalling her work with the South Carolina Interracial Commission and the NAACP, Simkins explains that the segregation of playgrounds, the police force, and public schools were primary concerns. In the early 1940s, when the groups started working to push through court cases regarding segregation, Simkins argues that they lost a lot of members. She concludes the excerpt by offering some anecdotes regarding her own experiences with segregation while traveling through North Carolina. Researchers will find these anecdotes interesting for Simkins' emphasis on the murky nature of segregation by that time.

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

JACQUELYN HALL:
What about segregation? How did the South Carolina Interracial Commission deal with that issue? Did that come up in meetings, did people push to deal with that issue?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
They would send … there was something, I remember. The playgrounds were a segregation thing, because they had playgrounds for whites and drinking fountains for white and not for blacks. Part of it was trying to get some blacks on the police force, I remember. Toward the end, that was an issue I remember. I don't remember much being done about the schools, because Columbia was supposed to have had one of the best public school systems around. But when that NAACP fight … the NAACP today is very much different than in those years, they have gotten kind of washed out, too. You see, organizations grow old just like people and the fighting and revolutionary spirit that NAACP had in those years is no more. So, when we started these fights and going into federal courts and things like that, why that's when we lost most of those, men in particular.
JACQUELYN HALL:
When did that come?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
In the forties. We had the primary case in '42 o4 '43, somewhere in there. It must have been in '43. Because the special session of the legislature that pulled all the laws off the books about the primaries was i-'44. There were a number of people, as I said, a number of whites who wanted the thing different and when the court cases came up, it's just like this thing that a number of them didn't sanction of me riding up and down the road with maybe five hundred dollars in my pocket … which I never carried on me, but I always had enough to eat if I wanted … and not being able to get a hot meal. And a lot of whites didn't realize that it was that way. I drove up to Durham once and I was so hungry and I stopped at a little station up there and I told the guy, I said, "I'm very hungry and I wish that I could get something to eat." And so, the young man said, "You can get something right there. Right there at that door, a colored fellow works in there and you knock on that door and give him your order, he can give you a sandwich or something like that." I said, "Well, I don't want any food like that. I'll eat some cold boiled buzzard before I'll eat that. I don't want any food like that." And I went on to Durham. I was then right on the border, in Rocky Mount, somewhere like that over the border. So, when I was coming back, the manager of the station was there and he said, "I appreciate your stopping by." I said, "Yes, on the way up, I stopped here and bought some gas. I was so hungry that it looked like I was going to fold in two. I didn't think I was going to be able to get where I was going, I was so hungry." He said, "Well, I wish that I had been here, I would have seen that you got something to eat." I told him what the fellow told me. He said, "Well, now, anytime that you are back through here and you want something to eat, you let me know and you will have the best of anything that can be gotten. I don't like that kind of stuff." I don't think that he really realized it then, because I guess that the average colored person went on and had some lunch in a box or something. And then I was down in a town near Savannah, a town called Ridgeland. And my mother was with me, she's now dead. And I was hungry that day and I said to the fellow that put the gas in, "Where can I get something to eat around here?" He said, "Oh, the restaurant right there. There's one right there and that's one of the nicest ones in town." I said, "Have you looked at my face, yet?" He said, "What do you mean?" I said, "Do they serve Negroes in there?" They weren't saying "blacks" then. He said, "Oh, I'm so sorry. I am so sorry." So, a lot of them didn't realize it, you see.