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Title: Oral History Interview with George Simkins, April 6, 1997. Interview R-0018. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Simkins, George, interviewee
Interview conducted by Thomas, Karen Kruse
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Jennifer Joyner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2007
Size of electronic edition: 88 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2007.
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Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2007-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2007-10-08, Jennifer Joyner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with George Simkins, April 6, 1997. Interview R-0018. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series R. Special Research Projects. Southern Oral History Program Collection (R-0018)
Author: Karen Kruse Thomas
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with George Simkins, April 6, 1997. Interview R-0018. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series R. Special Research Projects. Southern Oral History Program Collection (R-0018)
Author: George Simkins
Description: 130 Mb
Description: 13 p.
Note: Interview conducted on April 6, 1997, by Karen Kruse Thomas; recorded in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Note: Transcribed by Karen Kruse Thomas.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series R. Special Research Projects, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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Interview with George Simkins, April 6, 1997.
Interview R-0018. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Simkins, George, interviewee


Interview Participants

    GEORGE SIMKINS, interviewee
    KAREN KRUSE THOMAS, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
Dr. Simkins, maybe you could give some of your background—your education, and when you started practicing in Greensboro?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
I was born here in Greensboro, in fact I was born here in this house I live in. I attended the elementary schools here in Greensboro, and Dudley High School. I went to Herzel Junior College in Chicago for two years, 1941 and '42, and went to Talladega College in Talladega, Alabama in '43 and '44, and to Meharry Dental College in Nashville, Tennessee, '44 to '48. I interned at Jersey City Medical Center from '48 to '49, and I've been back here in Greensboro ever since. I worked at the Health Department for about five years in public health dentistry. We had a trailer, and we would go from school to school, doing fillings, profies and extractions. That was '49 to '54. I started private practice in '55, and have been practicing general dentistry ever since. I'm still practicing.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
When you entered dentistry in 1949, what was your sense of the opportunities that were available for African-American health professionals? Did it seem like there were more opportunities opening up than there had been before?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
At that time, there were two dental schools that accepted blacks, Meharry and Howard, in Washington, DC. Some of the Northern schools would accept blacks, but no dental school in the South. There weren't many opportunities at that time.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
Were you aware of any attempts to encourage Southern schools to admit black students at that time, or was it accepted that those two schools would be the main places?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
At that time, everything was "separate but equal." I had no idea that these schools would later be integrated, because I thought it was going to stay the same.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
By the time the [Simkins v. Cone] case arose in 1962, why do you think you and the other plaintiffs chose that route to try to open access for blacks to better health care. Were there other options that you thought about at the time, or was a lawsuit agreed on as the best way to go about it?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
We first wrote letters to Moses Cone and Wesley Long Hospitals, asking them to admit black physicians and dentists on their staff. We just got the run-around on that. We wrote several letters, and they just denied us. After so many denials, it started like this. A patient came in my office, I think his name was Donald Lines, he was a student at A & T. He had a temperature of 103, and his jaw was swollen. I knew right then that this boy needed to be in the hospital, where he could get some attention. I called the black hospital, which was L. Richardson, and they told me they could not admit

Page 2
him because they had a waiting period of two and three weeks, and that they just didn't have any beds available. You would go over there, and there would be beds in the hallways. You'd have to walk down a narrow path through the hallways without running into the beds, because it was so crowded. Later that same day, I called up Cone and Wesley Long hospitals, and they had beds available, but they would not accept him because of his race.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
So they didn't even have separate wards, they were both completely white hospitals?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
Wesley Long wouldn't accept you at all. Cone had a policy where if it was something that L. Richardson did not have, they would accept the patient, but he would lose his doctor—he would have to get a white doctor who was on the staff there to work on him. This case was nothing that L. Richardson couldn't handle, if they had room. The boy needed to be on antibiotics and hospitalized, but Cone would not accept him. So at that point, I called Jack Greenberg, who was the head of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund out of New York. I told Jack, "We really need to do something about these hospitals. They will not accept any black patient, and if Cone accepts them, they lose their doctor." He said, "George, if you can organize the black physicians, I will see what I can do." At this point, I knew that some of the younger fellows wanted to open up these hospitals, and some of the older fellows didn't. One of the reasons some of the older fellows didn't want to was because everybody was operating at L. Richardson. Whether you were qualified or not, you could operate over there. These fellows didn't want to lose their income from operating, and they knew if they had been admitting to Cone and Wesley Long, they would have to be board certified to do any operations, so they weren't too much for it. They also figured that if you opened up Cone and Wesley Long, it would hurt L. Richardson. Patients would stop going to L. Richardson. I went around with a petition, and got guys that I knew who would sign up—I put their names on there first. Then I would approach the older fellows, and those that were reluctant, when they saw all the younger fellows down there, some of them signed, and some of them wouldn't sign. So I got about 11 plaintiffs in all, some patients, the majority of dentists. Then Jack asked me to see if either of these hospitals had been built with federal Hill-Burton funds, because that was the way we had to go in court. If they had not been built with Hill-Burton funds, there was nothing we could do to open them up, because they were strictly private hospitals. I was elated to find that both hospitals had been built with Hill-Burton funds, and we preceded to attack them at that point, on the grounds that they had been built with Hill-Burton funds. I went around and got 50 dollars from each [plaintiff], so they could pay for the expense of the suit. I sent that to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and we hired a local lawyer. He never would file suit after we had done all the work, so I called Jack, and said, "Jack, I think we've got a scared lawyer on our hands. We need to get this thing filed." Because it was months and months, and it never was filed. He understood, and said he'd take care of it. So he called Conrad Pearson, who

Page 3
was an NAACP attorney in Durham, and Conrad came over the next day and filed the case. So that's how we got started. Of course, we lost it in Middle District Court, Judge Stanley ruled that the hospitals were private, and they had a right to discriminate if they wanted to. Then we appealed it to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, and we won a 3-2 decision. Then the hospitals appealed it to the United States Supreme Court, and they were denied. Bobby Kennedy was the Attorney General at the time, and he wrote a brief on our behalf to the Court to try to get the Court to open up these hospitals to everybody. That was about it.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
That's interesting that the first lawyer was so intimidated. I wonder why he accepted the case at all?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
I did too. But I guess the more he thought about it, he just didn't want to take any chance. At that particular time, it was hard to get any black lawyers to do anything in civil rights.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
Was there fear of violence, or professional problems?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
They feared that the courts would not look favorably upon them, and they just didn't want to risk their profession on cases that were not popular.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
It sounds like you had known Jack Greenberg previous to when you filed the suit. What was your relationship with him? Were you active in the NAACP?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
I had gotten involved in civil rights on December 7, 1955. The city had two golf courses. One was Gillespie, and the other was Nocho Park. We tried to get them to fix up Nocho, and they never would do it, yet they were slipping out and fixing up Gillespie. Of course, Gillespie was for whites, and Nocho was for blacks. The city leased Gillespie for a dollar to a white group, one of whom was chairman of the Greensboro Parks and Recreation Department, to keep blacks off of it. He set up rules that you had to be a member, or the invited guest of a member, to play out there.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
So he turned it into a private club, basically.
GEORGE SIMKINS:
Basically, but it really wasn't, because any white person could go out there, pay their money and play. But they told us that it was a private club.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
I'm surprised there was a public golf course for blacks at all.
GEORGE SIMKINS:
There was. We had a little nine-hole course out there. Six of us one Wednesday afternoon when I was off, we went out there to play. They arrested us for trespassing. We put our money down. They had the black policeman to come by that night and take us to jail. My father, who was a dentist, went our bail. We were found guilty in city court, and we appealed it to the next level. In the meantime, we went into federal court and got a declaratory judgment, and the federal judge was Johnson J. Hayes. He said that anybody who pays taxes and has to go out and fight for this country ought to be able to enjoy the recreational facilities provided by the city, and said as far as he was

Page 4
concerned, the city was still in the saddle, although they had leased this course. He said this course was to be integrated in three weeks. In about two weeks time, the clubhouse mysteriously burns down, the fire marshals come out and condemn the whole course, because the clubhouse was burned down. We had two lawyers, a man and wife team, and they had gone into federal court and got the declaratory judgment for us, where the federal judge gave us a strong declaratory judgment. But on the trespassing case, they forgot and left the declaratory judgment out of the record when we appealed it to the state Supreme Court. The state Supreme Court found us guilty, because the lawyers had made a mistake. I went up to Thurgood [Marshall, chief legal counsel of the NAACP], that's how I met Thurgood Marshall and Jack Greenberg. I went up to New York and asked Thurgood, "We need you, because I can't fight these lawyers, and the city and everybody by myself. I need the NAACP to help us." He looked at the record, and told me, "Your lawyers ought to be the ones to go to jail." At that time, we'd been given an active jail sentence. "They have screwed this case up. I'm not going to mess my record up by taking a case like this, because you cannot win. You're going to lose it by one vote, Tom Clark is going to vote against you in the Supreme Court. But I will pay for your printing costs." We went all the way to the [U.S.] Supreme Court, and sure enough, we lost by a 5-4 decision. Earl Warren was the Chief Justice, and he said, "I cannot understand how something so important could be left off the record. If this was on the record, there would be no question about whether you all are guilty or not." Because our lawyers messed up, we lost it by one vote.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
So this case went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
Yes, this was our golf case. Warren gave such a strong dissenting opinion that Luther Hodges, who was governor at the time, commuted our sentences. We had to pay a fine, and didn't go to jail. But that's how I had contact with Thurgood Marshall and Jack Greenberg and the lawyers at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
I didn't know golfing could be so dangerous!
GEORGE SIMKINS:
Everything was dangerous back then. Anything you tried to integrate was.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
After the golf case, did you participate in any other civil rights activity before the hospital case?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
We went to the swimming pool, and said, if you're not going to let us play golf, maybe you'll let us swim. So they had a swimming pool that was two years old, and we sent somebody out. They immediately closed it and made it for members only. They got mad and shut down the black pool at Nocho. The city said they were getting out of the recreational business, and they tried to sell Nocho Park swimming pool. They had just paid 250 thousand dollars for the white swimming pool, and they let it go for about 60. The man who bidded on it was from Mount Airy, and he was the wrong person, because they wanted somebody in the city to have it. They told him if he got it, they weren't going to zone it right for him, and he wouldn't be allowed to make

Page 5
any money at all from concessions. So he said, "Why would I want it, then?" So they had another bid, and the people from the city that they wanted to get it, got it. They kept it for a few years, and finally decided they couldn't make any money, and it was a bad investment. The city later took it back over on an integrated basis.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
Why didn't the city want the first guy to buy it?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
Because he wasn't the right person to own it. They wanted somebody from within the city of Greensboro.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
So he was an outsider.
GEORGE SIMKINS:
That's right.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
You said that some of the older black doctors were reluctant to try to integrate facilities. I've heard in some places that as there were new, increasingly high-tech facilities being built, do you think that a hospital like Richardson would have continued operating even if the other two hospitals hadn't been integrated?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
Yeah, definitely. Because the demand was there.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
It was kind of a sure thing for them?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
Blacks didn't have noplace to go but L. Richardson. There was a great demand for L. Richardson. No other hospital had a waiting list like that around here. With the large population in Greensboro, they were set. You knew it was an inferior facility, but at that point, there was nothing you could do.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
Because from what I've looked at, the gap between hospitals like Richardson and the newer white hospitals just kept getting bigger and bigger in terms of equipment and things like that.
GEORGE SIMKINS:
Oh, yes.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
Were a lot of black health professional community leaders, or did they take on any role outside being strictly doctors or dentists? Or did it depend on the individual?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
Some of them were on the Board of Education, some were on the Jury Commission, they took other roles. One of them was the first black on the City Council. They took part in the community, but none of them really pressed to get in these hospitals. It was because they were operating in L. Richardson, whether they were qualified or not. They didn't want to give that up.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
The state didn't try to pass any kind of regulations governing those hospitals?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
Back then, the state was part of the cause! They were segregating just like anybody else.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
But it sounds like they had different standards, like you said doctors had to be board certified to operate.
GEORGE SIMKINS:
At Cone Hospital, but they didn't care [at Richardson].
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
Do you know of any organized effort in Greensboro to build another black hospital? For instance, use Hill-Burton funds to either improve Richardson or build a new hospital?

Page 6
GEORGE SIMKINS:
L. Richardson built a new hospital, I couldn't tell you when, but Vinkel bought it out. They have it now.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
According to the Hill-Burton Act, they were supposed to administer funds equally, even if the facilities were separate, but my guess is that not as many black facilities got funding, but I don't know for sure.
GEORGE SIMKINS:
That's probably rights.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
It would seem that even if the doctors wanted to keep a monopoly on one hospital, they might still try to get funds to improve it from Hill-Burton. So you say they did?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
They built a new hospital.
[Recorder is turned off and then back on.]
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
Once the lawsuit was decided, how did it work out in practical terms? How long was it before you could actually go to Moses Cone Hospital and admit a patient there?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
They invited the doctors who were not plaintiffs in the case to join. Those of us that were plaintiffs were the last ones to become members of the staff. One of the white doctors came to the office and told me, "George, there's a lot of difference between Cone and Wesley Long. In Wesley Long, you're probably going to have to have federal troops to get in there." Sure enough, they resisted and resisted. But finally, after six or seven months, they sent us applications and acted on them, and admitted us at Cone. At Wesley Long, I never was able to get in. They told me that I would have to be board certified as an oral surgeon to get in. I said, "To hell with it," I didn't even try.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
Would that have required membership in the state medical or dental society? I've run into some cases where in order to be certified, you had to be a member of the state medical society, which didn't admit blacks.
GEORGE SIMKINS:
That went on also, but you had to be trained in oral surgery, and have a board [certification] in it to join Wesley Long, so they said. None of us had our board in oral surgery, even though we did oral surgery. They denied the dentists on that grounds.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
So you would have had to find somewhere else that accepted blacks, and get that training, in addition to the training you already had, in order to get the board certification.
GEORGE SIMKINS:
Yes.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
So you probably would have had to go outside the South, unless you went to Meharry or Howard.
GEORGE SIMKINS:
Carolina, as far as I know, did not accept the first black in the dental school for 25 years.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
So Long required board certification, but Cone didn't?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
You could be on the staff at Cone without being board certified.

Page 7
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
So they basically used that as a loophole. How about the patients? Did those two hospitals begin to regularly accept black patients after that?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
I can only answer for Cone. Cone did, because they had accepted black patients before, but you had to change your doctor, and it had to be something that L. Richardson could not handle. Wesley Long had never accepted any blacks. They started to after that—Wesley Long I think took a longer period of time, but they did.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
I know for a lot of black patients, finances would have been a serious obstacle to getting better care, especially before Medicaid.
GEORGE SIMKINS:
But even if you had money, they would not accept you. You've got college professors over here with higher income, but it didn't matter how much money you had.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
But after 1963, they could get in?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
Right.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
I'd be interested in finding out what the admission policies were, whether you had to have insurance, or put down a downpayment. As far as the long term effects of this case—obviously, physicians and patients can now use the hospital without regard to race. Do you see any other, more subtle obstacles that still exist, even after the case was decided?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
Now you're going to have to talk to somebody who is directly involved. I never did use the hospital much. I was on the staff for a while, and I would take some of my fracture cases to L. Richardson, but have operated in the operating room [at Moses Cone]. These physicians could tell you, because they're constantly using the hospital.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
You mentioned that some lawyers were hesitant to get involved in civil rights cases. Did you ever suffer any repercussions from this case? Did anyone give you trouble afterward?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
I was president of the [Greensboro chapter of the] NAACP for 25 years here. I brought suit against the schools, the golf courses, the hospitals, the swimming pools and everything. I was constantly getting threats. At one point, we filed a suit to integrate Longview Golf Course. They would send a fleet of cabs here to pick up my party. They said it was my wife's birthday, and dozens of roses and new cars would be charged to me.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
Who was doing that?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
That right wing group out in California, I think it was the John Birch Society. I would answer the phone, and I wouldn't even say hello, I would just say, "I did not order anything." The phone was just ringing. You can't imagine all the stuff that they ordered, all to be charged here. Some of the guys got mad, because they said, "They're trying to hurt you, but they're hurting us." They would put me through all sorts of things like that. You find out that they use various governmental agencies like the IRS. When school integration was to take effect, one man called me and said, "If anything happens to my daughter, you are dead. Because we're going to kill you." It's like I'm going to have

Page 8
something to do with whatever happens to his daughter. It ends up in court, to give you an example. I had a piece of land out on Guilford-Jamestown Road, and I was going to develop it for HUD [Housing and Urban Development] for a public housing project. This white architect came to me and asked to do the work. I said, "As long as you take it on a contingency basis, you can do it." His name was Kabotnik. He was from Czechoslovakia, and he'd been here about two years. He took the work, and the Housing Authority was changing the plans on us. He said, "I need some money, because I'm doing this work, and HUD hasn't paid me yet." So I knew the man was doing work, and I told him I'd give him $7,700, and when HUD pays you, you're to pay me back. He agreed to it, I had legal papers drawn up. The builder finished building the project, HUD paid him, but they held back the $7,700 from his pay. He got about $65,000 for the project, which was 110 units, I think. The man sued me for the $7,700. The lawyers get an all-white jury.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
He sued you for the $7,700 he owed you?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
He sued me because the contractor had held back the $7,700 so that I could get my money back. The judge said, "I want the jury to answer three questions. Did Kabotnik have a contract with Simkins?" We'd made copies and showed each member of the jury the contract, so the jury said yes. "Did Kabotnik renege on the contract with Simkins" The jury said yes. "How much money should Simkins get?" The jury said zip. The judge said, "Wait a minute. This is not right." This was about quarter of five in the afternoon. "You all are going to come back tomorrow and rule on this thing, and answer these questions correctly." So they came back the next morning, and the first question, "Did Kabotnik have a contract with Simkins?" the jury said no. The judge threw the case out. So I said the hell with it, and just gave him the money, and I wasn't going back in court. But I have had a bad experience in court, I'm sure because of my civil rights activity. This case was much later than the hospital case, in the '70s.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
As someone who's real active in the civil rights movement, a lot of people have said that health care just wasn't a major concern, especially at first. Education was really the primary focus.
GEORGE SIMKINS:
Integrating the schools. That's true.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
Why do you think that was so? Because earlier, in the '30s and '40s, it seems like health care had been a very important issue, and there was a lot of activism and philanthropies going out. It seems to have somewhat faded by the late '40s, and I was wondering if you could suggest why that was?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
They were just concentrating on the schools. If they could get the schools desegregated, some of the other stuff would follow. These segregated schools, where you were educating people—or half educating them, or not educating them at all, really—it would be better to get the schools first, then concentrate on other things like recreation and hospitals. They had filed the Brown suit years ago.

Page 9
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
Do you think that people thought that desegregating hospitals would be more difficult than desegregating schools?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
I don't think they even gave it a thought.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
Like you said earlier, those two hospitals had to have been receiving Hill-Burton funds for the case to have a chance, so before a lot of federal involvement. . .
GEORGE SIMKINS:
At that point, we didn't even know what Hill-Burton funds were. We had no idea, we just never thought about integrating these hospitals. All the doctors were happy—they were operating, and they had all the patients they wanted, and the income was good. They weren't really interested in integrating the hospitals.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
So it sounds like for a long time, black physicians had admitting rights only at black hospitals, and had a place for themselves there. Why do you think the younger physicians started challenging that? Why weren't they content to continue the way things had been?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
They had been trained better than the older physicians. A lot of them had gone to integrated hospitals throughout the country to do their interns and residents. Some of them were board members.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
So for the younger ones, there were some improvements in training opportunities?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
Oh, yeah. When they came here, some of them were already board members. None of these older fellows were board certified. I got involved because I had been treated so badly with this golf case. I had never seen anything like it in my life. They would get up and lie. Two members of the jury in the golf case, we put them on the stand. They were trying to find out whether we were guilty or not, but we put them on the stand, because we saw their name on the roster of people who had played at the golf course. We asked them, "Are you a member?" They said no. "Were you the invited guest of a member?" No. They paid their money just like we did. Yet they found us guilty of trespassing. I was just incensed. I'd never been in court before, and this was a new experience. The judges and the solicitor were laughing, and they were treating you just like you were not human.

Page 10
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
GEORGE SIMKINS:
So I was fighting for equal rights, and trying to open up some of this stuff. I guess I've paid a price, too.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
What kind of things do you think still need to be done? What do you think activism in the future will address?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
I think now, you're still fighting for things you fought for 30 and 40 years ago. These schools, for instance. People are talking about neighborhood schools now, and going back to segregation. A lot of blacks want neighborhood schools, because they claim it's unfair for their kids to be bused all the way to a white school, and a lot of the white teachers are not treating them the way they should. Some of them are segregated in the classroom. It's not good. I talked to a federal judge about a month ago, and he said there's more segregation in the schools now than there was before the Brown decision. I was really amazed at that. But it's going like that all over the country.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
When I read over the opinions on your case, the thing that really struck me was this whole debate over what's public and what's private. What kind of rights do private institutions have, versus how should the public interest be defined?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
They've got private hospitals now, and it's not only blacks that they won't accept, they won't accept white qualified physicians. An example is down at Hilton Head. I had one of my buddies who's an OB/GYN, board certified. He moved from Chicago to Hilton Head, and tried to get on the staff of the hospital, and they just refused him.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
Did they give any reason why?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
They don't have to give any reason why. They just turned down his application, even though he's certified. But no Hill-Burton funds were used to build it, and they can turn anybody down they want to.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
For so long, lot of the previous cases had ruled, "This is a private institution," and the Hill-Burton Act specifically said that the act did not constitute authority of the federal government to control the facility, that it's just a grant. So it seems like that case was a real turning point, where that idea changed, at least for a while. But I think it's kind of gone back to giving private interests the upper hand.
GEORGE SIMKINS:
And you've got a Supreme Court that's not sympathetic at all with integration. You've got a black man on there, Clarence Thomas, that has ruled any time a black issue comes up, he's ruled against blacks. For example, they had this prisoner who was handcuffed, shackled, and the sheriff was beating him and beating him. The man sued and said it was undue force. The majority of the Supreme Court agreed that it was undue force. Clarence Thomas said no, it was not undue force. You really don't have a chance now. I think Reagan moved in when he was president, and started things going in reverse.

Page 11
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
It's not exactly the same, but if you were refused admitting rights to Moses Cone Hospital today, how do you think you would go about trying to change that? Would you still file a lawsuit?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
Oh, yeah. Definitely. Let me tell you this. Thurgood Marshall, when I told him that we had gone out to the golf course and put our money on the table, and went on and played. We tried to sign the book and the man snatched the book from us, and we went on and played. He gave me a fit about that, he said, "You did it the wrong way. You should have gotten an injunction to prevent them from doing this. I don't like the way you did this." At that time, I didn't know what an injunction was.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
You had to learn the ropes.
GEORGE SIMKINS:
I learned more about the legal point of view when I became involved in this golf case, and legal terms.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
I hadn't realized until you said so today that you'd been involved in public health. Did a lot of black health professionals do both public health work and have a private practice?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
My daddy was a dentist here. When I first came out, he didn't want me to open up right away, especially not right next to him. I was living here with him, and I just took this job to save money to get started. That's how I started in public health.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
Some of the things I've read in the late '40s, about when you went into public health, indicated that some people wanted to see public health cooperate a lot more with hospitals and private practitioners, and create a more complete system of health care, rather than having a strict division between public and private health. Do you remember that being the case when you started?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
When I started, everything was segregated. The schools were segregated, so I only went to the [black] schools. I only worked on black patients. Never on a white patient. I never knew anything about what you're saying.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
When I say integrated, I don't necessarily mean racially, but getting the public health system to cooperate with the private. It seems there wasn't always a strict division between public health and private, for-profit health care. Did you work with many white public health professionals during that period?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
They had a white dentist who worked at the white schools, and I would work at the black schools. I had a trailer, and he had a trailer. I'd stay there until school closed, go there about 8:30 or 9 in the morning, and stay til 3 or 3:30. That was it.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
Did you ever join the Old North State Medical and Dental Society?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
Yes.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
Did they take the lead in working for integration here? I get kind of mixed signals sometimes from what I've read about them. In some cases, it seems they're kind of hesitant to take a strong

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stand. And also, a lot of black professionals didn't belong to the society. I was wondering if you could tell me anything about the society and its role in health care desegregation.
GEORGE SIMKINS:
Have you read Dr. Eaton's book?
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
Every Man Should Try. I'm reading it right now.
GEORGE SIMKINS:
He took an active role, and he tried to sue the hospital down in Wilmington.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
Walker vs. Eaton.
GEORGE SIMKINS:
They threw that case out. Why, I don't know.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
They decided the same way the court first decided in your case, that even though they'd gotten government funds, that didn't constitute state action. That was back in '57, so it was a little earlier.
GEORGE SIMKINS:
He did some work with the Old North State in trying to open up the North Carolina Medical Society. Have you interviewed Reginald Hawkins? He's a dentist who used to practice in Charlotte. He brought suit against the North Carolina Dental Society, because we couldn't belong to the American Dental Association, because you had to belong to the [state] society. The North Carolina Dental Society wouldn't take us because of our race. Some of the members, Dr. Rand, got a scientific membership in the North Carolina Medical Society. Of course, he was criticized severely by a lot of the blacks for taking this type of membership.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
They wouldn't let you go to social functions.
GEORGE SIMKINS:
They didn't want you to dance with their wives or whatever. They just didn't want to accept you. So they gave him a scientific membership.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
When did the North Carolina Medical Society stop having scientific membership, and begin offering full membership?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
Have you met Dr. Phillips? You need to talk to him. He's a white retired neurosurgeon here. He's written some books and done a lot of research on the Greensboro and North Carolina Medical societies. He could really help you.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
I did a lot of research on Wilson County, in the east. They built a desegregated hospital in 1964 with Hill-Burton funds, and a lot of blacks in Wilson felt that opportunities for black professionals in Wilson actually decreased after 1964 because, as we were discussing earlier, even though it admitted black patients, it didn't give black professionals admitting rights.
GEORGE SIMKINS:
Even in 1964?
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
The doctors who had practiced at the old black hospital, Mercy, were brought on the new staff after Mercy closed. But they were all older, and they retired or died not too long after that. The new black professionals who tried to get admitting rights couldn't, for one reason or another. So I was going to try to talk to people in Greensboro to see if something similar happened. Because it seems like Greensboro is different in a lot of ways

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from Wilson, that there's a lot stronger tradition of activism, and of course there's A & T and Bennett [historically black colleges] nearby. It seems to me that opportunities declined in Wilson, and I'm wondering what happened here.
GEORGE SIMKINS:
You're talking about A & T—back then, they wouldn't allow Thurgood Marshall to even come on the campus, they were so conservative. I had Martin Luther King come in and speak to our branch at a public meeting. None of the churches would allow him to come in. We finally had to have it at Bennett College. They allowed us to have it at the auditorium. A & T wouldn't let him come over there, and the churches all said they weren't large enough.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
So a lot of the black institutions were fairly conservative.
GEORGE SIMKINS:
Very.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
So as the new, younger professionals got board certified and got better training—as they came in, they were able to get admitting rights wherever they wanted in Greensboro?
GEORGE SIMKINS:
Yes, after 1964. But I don't know, you need to talk to some of the younger fellows to see what's going on now. And I believe there's something going on in them.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
I think there is too. People were so excited at the time that they'd really won a victory, and I think they had, but then some people got really disillusioned afterward that things didn't work out the way they thought they would. Sometimes it's hard to put your finger on just why.
GEORGE SIMKINS:
There's a heart specialist, Harold Nichols. He can't even go out of town, because nobody will take his cases. I've heard that.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
I've also heard it's been hard to get into group practices, and hardly anyone practices solo, at least in medicine. It's different in dentistry.
GEORGE SIMKINS:
They think they're going to be left out of the HMOs that are taking over. The cost of forming your own HMO is just huge.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
The more expensive it got, and the more specialization that was required, the more that hurt black physicians. And yet there were a lot more opportunities to get specialized training. That's all my questions. Did you have anything to add?
END OF INTERVIEW