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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 >>

Offering an insider's perspective on NAACP legal deliberations prior to <cite>Brown</cite>

Simkins discusses her role in the legal efforts of the NAACP to challenge segregation in public schools. As the NAACP state secretary, Simkins offers an insider's perspective on the internal deliberations of the NAACP, focusing primarily on the role of the <cite>Clarendon</cite> case prior to the <cite>Brown</cite> decision of 1954. In addition, she offers an overview of the major points of contention in the case, focusing on the part of the case that sought to provide busing.

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

JACQUELYN HALL:
You said when we talked the first time that the NAACP court cases during this early period were mapped out in your home. Can you tell me about these major cases?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I wouldn't say they were mapped out there. What we did on this end was handled there. You see, naturally a deal of that work sofar as laying the legal groundwork was done in the legal offices at NAACP. But there were some things that had to be done on the local scale. And then they had to come in maybe and contact people who had had experiences with these inequities and take their depositions and stuff like that. You know, there are a lot of things you don't learn in lawbooks. A lot of law is common sense, which a lot of lawyers don't have a lot of common sense. But a lot of law itself is just basic common sense. And so they had to come into the area where these things were happening and talk to a number of people. Of course, on this end the lawyers, Thurgood always stayed in my home. Thurgood Marshall always stayed in my home, as did the others as far as my home could accommodate. We had two extra bedrooms; some lawyers stayed there and the others stayed across the street from me. But they would have their meals and jam sessions around the table in my home.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And what were the major cases that the Association was pursuing?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Well, they pursued the Clarendon case against segregation in schools; that was a landmark case against school segregation. The 1954 decision grew out of that.
JACQUELYN HALL:
The Briggs vs. Elliott case?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes. And then there was the Elmore case against the primary (Elmore vs. Baskin), and then the Brown vs. somebody. You see, after we got the ballot, got the right to vote in the primary under the [J. Waties] Waring decision, then they said that we could vote in the primary but we could not participate in party or club activities. And that's when Waring had to go back and pass out this decision, you know, where you could go in at the precinct level. Blacks could belong to precinct organizations and move on up to the state convention. Then there was a teachers' salary case that was done at that time—and some smaller cases, but those were the four major ones. Transportation case: there was a transportation case.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What was that about? I don't remember that.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
But transportation. All this you hear raised about busing now, well white people had been fussing all the time—I mean when I say all the time, from the time they had buses they'd had it. And they used to come along… I've known times, I've heard my mother talk about how they'd come by and deliberately run you in mud puddles and splash the water and mud on her children, and she'd have to dry them off when they got to school, and spit at them out of the windows and all like that. But they were riding the buses and riding past the no-good black schools to get to the white schools that were better than the black schools. They didn't worry about that; they didn't worry about bussing then. All this mess they're talking about bussing is a bunch of junk. They just don't want them there. They're concerned about integration in the schools, but busing!
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was there a court case around the issue for blacks?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
A court case to make them provide buses for black children.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What case was that, do you know?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
That came out of Clarendon too. Yes, that came out of Clarendon, because there were buses. You see, some counties had a few buses. I remember in the Clarendon case, when they won that bus case coming out of Clarendon then they sent some buses down to Clarendon, some new buses. And they gave the old buses to the Negroes and took the new buses that were sent down as a result of this case for the whites. And the Negroes made them take them back; they were not going to have them. They were going to have the new buses that were sent down here. So that case, that bus case, as I remember it, had its initiation in Clarendon County.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What was your role exactly in all this?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Well, I knew conditions in various parts of the state because I traveled all over the state at that time. And then in the case of the—well, with the primary case, there was no precedent on which to base the voting case in this state. And they had a slew of law students and lawyers trying to find something on which to hook the primary case, because, you see, in 1944 Olin D. Johnston (then the governor) called the special session of the legislature and fine-combed the code of laws to take out anything that they felt would be a point on which they could hang the primary case. And so in that case we just had to start from scratch. I can remember on one or two occasions when we went to federal court Thurgood would say, "Well, you come up here and sit right by this rail" (you know the rail that divides the lawyers from the observers). He'd say, "You sit right up at the rail, because there might be something we'll have to ask, something about somebody. We might need you right here." Well now, it wouldn't mean I was a lawyer; it'd mean there might be some point that they couldn't get that maybe a lawyer wouldn't think about, but it would have its effect. Sometimes a lawyer could ask a question which, even if the court says it must be withdrawn it's already had its effect, you see.