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Oral History Interview with Modjeska Simkins, November 15, 1974. Interview G-0056-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).
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  • Abstract
    Modjeska Simkins was born into a prosperous African American family in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1899. Simkins begins the interview by briefly describing her family background and her upbringing. The daughter of an educated African American woman and an accomplished bricklayer whose birth was the product of an interracial relationship during Reconstruction, Simkins describes growing up on a sizable farm and attending private school at Benedict College, where she completed her elementary, secondary, and collegiate education. In describing her childhood, Simkins focuses on describing what she calls her lack of "color consciousness" in relationship to her own racial heritage and her education. In addition, she emphasizes the impact of her parents' "fearlessness" and their determination to help those less fortunate. Simkins cites their example as particularly influential in her own decision to later become involved in the South Carolina Commission on Interracial Cooperation and similar organizations, including the NAACP and the Southern Negro Youth Conference. In the second interview in this series of two (G-0056-2), Simkins describes her involvement in various organizations in much more detail; however, here she focuses more specifically on her involvement in the Interracial Commission, especially during its formative years in the 1920s and its evolution into the 1930s and 1940s. In so doing, she addresses the work of the Interracial Commission in confronting segregation and lynching. Of particular interest to researchers is her discussion of the roles of women in leadership positions within social justice movements during the 1920s and her effort to differentiate between the unique capabilities that southern social hierarchies afforded African American women and white women. Finally, Simkins offers a number of illuminating anecdotes regarding racial tension throughout the interview.
    Excerpts
  • South Carolina Interracial Commission's early membership and activities
  • Family history and racial identity in childhood
  • Varying reactions to racial tensions
  • Thoughts on "consciousness of color" and racial identity
  • Unique positions of power for African American and white women in the South
  • Experiences with segregation and efforts to confront it
  • Racial tensions come to a head in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1946
  • 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
  • Women civil rights workers
  • Interracial Commission (S.C.)
  • 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.