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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 >>

Organizing a boycott in Orangeburg County, South Carolina

Simkins describes how she helped to organized a boycott in Orangeburg County, South Carolina, sometime around 1956. The boycott occurred shortly after the Supreme Court handed down the <cite>Brown</cite> decision. In response to desegregation orders, the White Citizens' Council in Orangeburg had put an economic squeeze on the community's African Americans. Simkins, as state secretary of the NAACP, helped Orangeburg respond with an economic squeeze of their own. In particular, she describes how Coca Cola became a high profile target in the boycott.

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:
After the '54 decision came down, the Orangeburg and Elloree parents petitioned the school board to try to integrate the schools, and economic pressure was brought on them, and a boycott was organized, and so on. Were you involved in that?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I organized the boycott.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You organized the boycott?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Tell me how that all came about.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I'll have to show you some literature on that. I'm too tired to tell you about it now. But anyway, we did organize … we didn't call it a boycott. You know, there's a law against boycotting in the state. We called it a restricted buying campaign. But then finally after the White Citizens' Council were organizing that area for the purpose of putting an economic squeeze on the Negroes and publicly announced it and boasted that they were going to do it. Then we said, if they can put on a squeeze, we can put on a boycott. So then we just used the boycott term openly. And more than that, we asked the people who were trading in Orangeburg as far as possible to buy as little as possible, and as far as possible to go outside of the Orangeburg trading area. This was as it came up toward Christmas when the squeeze was on. It came up during the latter part of the year, as I remember. We asked the people to go either to Augusta, or Charleston, or Columbia and do their shopping, go in car pools, and like that. We did that. That was one thing we did. I ran across the other day the list that we had, the boycott list. I remember another thing we did was to list articles that we wanted the people not to buy. I mimeographed them on my machine, and we cut them in little strips about like this, and we stuck them under all the windshields at the big football games down at Orangeburg. Then too, we knew that people had to trade somewhere. So then we boycotted certain products. For instance, we'd say … well, you see, the person who had the Coca Cola franchise in Orangeburg refused to sell Coca Cola to blacks or to service the Coca Cola vending machines in black businesses. So then we boycotted Coca Cola. The national representative, black representative of Coca Cola, Moss Kendrick, was sent in here to try to placate us. And it was about that time—you were too young to remember—but Coca Cola just outshone Pepsi Cola everywhere.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Oh yes, yes.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
But about that time, we got a picture in Jet magazine of a Coca Cola machine, brand-new vending machine, sitting unused in an outstanding Exxon station … it was not Exxon, Standard Oil station in Orangeburg, not being able to make any money on it because this franchise wouldn't sell to them. So that got all over the country, and Negroes everywhere started to boycott Coca Cola. It was at that time that Pepsi Cola really caught a foothold and moved out from that point. I don't think that it's nationally recognized, but I know that it did. And then we boycotted certain products. For instance, say for instance, if they had National Biscuit Peanut Wafers and Tom's Peanut Wafers, we would just take one, you know? And then tell them to leave the other on the shelf. Or if it was a certain type of bread, we would say, buy this bread and not that bread. And maybe we'd take the type of bread that was sold principally in some of the main grocery stores because we knew people had to buy bread. We knew they had to have milk. So the man in Orangeburg who had the Coca Cola franchise had the franchise for Sunbeam bread. He also had the franchise for Paradise ice cream. So we boycotted those three things. We knew people wanted ice cream, they wanted bread, they needed milk for their children, so we just made them on the list to boycott. So it was a lot of strategic action.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How effective was the boycott?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Most effective, child. We closed one big apparel store down there. Those people were glad through that area when that thing let up, when they found out they couldn't just take those people's property and couldn't just bring them to their knees. A lot of those colored people that were pressured had been … if you were reared on a farm, you know about the lien thing where you buy things altogether, and your crop comes in, and you pay. And there wasn't anything wrong with their credit record, but they just cut 'em off—dap! You don't get fertilizer, you don't get seeds, you know, that type of thing. But we sent in fertilizer; we fixed it so we could get seed. After about two years of that, the banks and the merchants down there were glad to come back in.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How was it settled finally?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
It was settled by them just telling one or two, why, everything's all right. You know, well, we got back in, kind of like you and your husband have a fuss. And every now and then, he'll say, "Well baby, I didn't mean it." You say, "You did mean it." And after a while, he says, "Well, I'm not going to tell you anything else. You can keep on loving me if you want," or something like that. They just kind of made love and got back together, you know. I saw a truck farmer come in … he raised butter beans and snap beans, I remember that, down in the Elloree area. I saw that man come in one afternoon and pay $4,000 truck farm money to Victory bank at one time. Well now, you know, if many of them pull that out, pulled that kind of trade out of one of those little white banks down there, they felt it, you see? Now he was just one. I saw that. And he was proud as he could be 'cause in the spring when he came in, he thought he was going to lose his farm. Had good land—plenty of them around here have rich, rolling land. And I guess a lot of those fellows thought, well, we'll bring them to their knees and they'll lose their land. But none of them lost their properties.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Who worked with you to organized that boycott?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
The director of NAACP, executive director. You see, I was still state secretary of NAACP.