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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 >>

The NAACP, Martin Luther King Jr., and South Carolina's unique situation

Simkins discusses the changing nature of the civil rights movement from the mid-1950s into the 1960s. In particular, Simkins again addresses the changing leadership of the NAACP and its role within the movement. Here, she argues that the NAACP never fully embraced the broader shift in the movement as Martin Luther King Jr. became a discernible leader. In addition, she specifically addresses the situation in South Carolina, where there seemed to be less violence surrounding the movement. Overall, her comments here are revealing of differences within the movement and its leadership and regional variations within the South.

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:
How did the NAACP respond at the beginning of the sit-in movement? Did they support the students, or did they hold back? Was Hinton still…? When did Hinton go out?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
I don't remember, but he must have gone out in about 1960, I guess. I don't remember. We used to have huge mass meetings here about the sit-ins; NAACP inspired those, along with Citizens' Committee. Sometimes the local branch of NAACP—very seldom, but sometimes the Citizens' Committee would work up a community meeting, as a kind of coordination meeting where we would ask other groups to be co-sponsors. We always gave the NAACP invitations to do that, whether they did or not. But after I went out as secretary and this new gentleman I DeQuincey Newman was in, sometimes they didn't seem interested in any movement unless they started it. That's one of the characteristics of NAACP: if they can't spearhead a movement they just don't like to bother with it much, because they want the credit for everything that's done. I talked to Roy Wilkins after the—there's something there that I can't quite perhaps explain to you, but it would be found, I'm almost sure, in the Waring papers—that after the—first stage in the Clarendon case some other phase of that case was to be brought, some type of appeal or something or another step in that case. And the NAACP dragged its feet a long time during that period. Thurgood Marshall was apparently fighting hard to get on the federal court; it seems like he became obsessed with getting on the federal court. Now this was Waring's opinion, as I understood it on one occasion when I was visiting them. So he was so anxious to get on federal court that the NAACP didn't push this federal case as it should for finishing off the Clarendon picture. So I was in New York. If the situation is not exceptional I always go into Newark airport; I don't like to go into those big airports. So I was down at the Newark airport awaiting my plane, and I called Roy and told him that—this is the last conversation I ever had with Roy Wilkins… I told him, "Roy, you know and I know that we were taught in school that nature abhors a vacuum." I said, "Now you all have just about abandoned the people that were pressured in the Clarendon case, and people are losing faith in NAACP in South Carolina. Now if you don't watch out something is going to move in to fill this vacuum that you are creating, because if it can be felt in South Carolina I'm sure it's felt other places." I didn't get much of an answer out of him; we did talk for a good little while. And I begged him to kind of, you know, whip up the feeling again in connection with the Clarendon case, because everybody's attention was focused on Clarendon at that time. It didn't do any good; I know it didn't, because Roy doesn't listen to anybody. He's a man unto himself. So then the next thing we heard was the name of Martin Luther King. That was about 1960; I imagine that was 1959 or '60 I called Roy. But I do know that just after King was first heard of in Montgomery he was invited to Columbia by, I think, Mr. I.S. Leevy, a businessman here who worked early in the effort like I did to try to get the two party system, as I explained to you the other day. And Martin Luther King came through here and spoke in Columbia. He was just barely known at that time, but Mr. Leevyhad heard of him and he said, "I want that man to come to Columbia." And he invited him here and, I think, paid all his expenses. And he stopped up at the motel that I owned. The next thing we heard was the Martin Luther King movement. Now, you know NAACP never properly regarded and respected and loved Martin Luther King. They would get in the marches sometimes and go to the things he had, but they'd wait 'til everybody got stuck with the hot prods and dogs biting them and beat over the head and knocked in the what-you-call-them and all like that. Then they'd come and march in in the victory march, you see: that's the picture I have of it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I've wondered why. In the other Deep South states SOLC just moved into that vacuum.
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
They did.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why didn't it happen in South Carolina as much?
MODJESKA SIMKINS:
Well, as I told you the other day, this state is different. I told you the other day this state is very different—not the power structure. The power structure has a velvet-covered nailed fist, and I think they felt, you see… They did have the primary case in Texas, but it never got the hot fight that we had. You see, this thing got so hot here that Judge Waring told the Democratic Party on one occasion that he was going to jail them if they trespassed on his decision concerning participation in the party functions. His words were that he'd "put them in jail." And the power structure knew that we would move out towards the federal courts. We never had anybody whipped and shot at in this state except they shot in Hinton's house out here; they shot at his home. They shot in my motel. But now this widespread… I think when my sister was … running the case against Carolina they threw a bomb in my brother's yard. She said they used to put rotten eggs and body wastes in her mailbox. But they didn't start up the road to our home out in the country because they knew she had that .38 up there, and she didn't mind if… She'd shoot it off every now and then anyway. I asked her one day, I said, "Why do you…?" She said, "I shoot my. 38 off. I go up on the sleeping porch upstairs and shoot it off every now and then," she said. "And when I shoot it off, you can hear it echoing all around through the woods, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow." I said, "Rebecca, why do you do that?" "I want them to know I'm still up on this hill." They didn't start up. They didn't put one track through the field to start up to the house. But now this wholesale nightriding and all that mess, we didn't have it in South Carolina. Now the stuff is right down, it's right there under the surface a little bit, but they knew we would go to court. I remember sending out a directive to our branches when we first got to register. And some of them were talking about how they weren't going to do this and weren't going to do that on these little registration committees. I wrote this thing out, and then I put a P.S. on there and said, "Be sure you go to register. Take two people with you so that you will be prepared to make an affadavit"—and some other big-talking stuff I put on there. And then I sent a copy to each of the counties where the registration would take place, to the registration boards. And they knew we were ready to move, see. We were using Hitler's old fear technique too. We learned how to use that: you know, just get your bluff in first. A lot of it was bluff, but it worked. It's just like when a pack of them go to march on a home or something or other. If you shoot one of them they all run like a pack of dogs. They shot in our home in Eldorado, (Ark.) and my Daddy hit one of them and that was the end of that, see.