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Modjeska Montieth Simkins Papers

"I can not be bought and will not be sold." Fighting discrimination and segregation on the local, state, and national levels, Mary Modjeska Monteith Simkins (1899-1992) vowed to "fight for anybody who is suffering." An important leader of the civil rights movement and a successful businesswoman, Simkins was born in 1899 in Columbia to Henry Clarence and Rachel Hull Monteith. She attended Benedict School and College, where she received her bachelor's degree in 1921, and taught at the Booker T. Washington School in Columbia from 1921 to 1929. From 1931 to 1941, Simkins directed the Negro Program for the South Carolina Tuberculosis Association. She received relevant graduate training at Columbia University and the University of Michigan.

"I believe in confrontation....I believe in raising sand for those who need it." Simkins "raised sand" with her work as the South Carolina State Secretary for the NAACP, 1941-1957; campaign director for the renovation of Good Samaritan-Waverly Hospital, 1944-1950; public relations director for the Richland County Citizens Committee, 1956-1988; and president of the Southern Conference Educational Fund, 1972-1974. She was a founder, in 1921, of the Victory Savings Bank of Columbia, which survives today as one of the oldest African-American owned banks in the country. At different times, Simkins worked at Victory as an assistant cashier, branch manager, and director of public relations.

As a voice of African-American leadership in the South, Simkins was routinely asked to use her influence in political campaigns. Although she helped many leaders win election, Simkins never attained elected office herself. She ran unsuccessfully for Columbia City Council in 1966 and 1984 and the S.C. House of Representatives in 1966.

At her funeral, William Gibson, chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors, characterized Simkins as a voice for the people. She was forever "impatient with injustice....If the cause was right, Mrs. Simkins was there....She had integrity that no money could buy, or position or appointment could influence....She ran a good race, a warrior's race, until she died."

Modjeska Simkins' papers consist of 6.25 linear feet, ca. 1913-1992, arranged in the following six series: Biographical Papers, General Papers, Topical Files, Photographs, Miscellany, and Clippings. Biographical papers include a 1976 oral history interview with Simkins by Jacquelyn Hall for the Southern Oral History Program, University of North Carolina, in which Simkins recounts the events of her early childhood and her civil rights activities over five decades.

General papers, 1913-1992, consist chiefly of correspondence with friends, relatives, colleagues, and politicians. Included are personal and business letters, invitations to social and political events, and requests for support and thank you notes from Jimmy Carter, Jesse Jackson, John F. Kennedy, Thurgood Marshall, George McGovern, and Robert Taft. Invitations to events at which Simkins spoke form the bulk of the file. Also of interest is a ledger from Simkins Liquor store, located in Columbia and run by Simkins' husband, Andrew.

Topical files, 1921-1992, form the bulk of the collection and primarily relate to committees on which Simkins served and organizations in which she participated. Valuable files exist on such topics as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), campaigns, "Fearless Women" (an essay based on interviews with Simkins), Good Samaritan-Waverly Hospital, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Richland County Citizens Committee, and the Victory Savings Bank. The ACLU file documents Simkins' service on the South Carolina ACLU board of directors in the 1980s and 1990s and includes economic reports, reports on activities within the state and nation, and minutes of meetings.

Campaign files include information on Simkins' own 1966 and 1984 political efforts as well as material from various other elections, 1952-1988. Included are press releases, appeals for support, scripts for advertisements, and information on citizen concerns. Of note is an appeal to the Board of State Canvassers for a re-vote in the 1966 City Council elections because of malfunctioning voting machines.

The "Fearless Women" topical file consists of an essay written by J. Elspeth Stucky. With backing from the Center for Research on Women, Stucky traveled the South interviewing "fearless" black women who taught in schools prior to desegregation. In addition to the essay written about Simkins, the file includes lectures delivered by Stucky (based on project interviews) and undated correspondence with Simkins.

Simkins was in charge of raising funds for renovations to Good Samaritan-Waverly Hospital of Columbia. The hospital file consists primarily of pledge letters, but also contains donor lists, expenditure reports, other correspondence, and information on fund-raising events.

As state secretary for the South Carolina branch of the NAACP, Simkins played an active role in its growth throughout the South. The file includes correspondence, printed materials, budgetary information, fund drive materials, membership lists, minutes of meetings, and press releases.

The largest topical file in the collection is that of the Richland County Citizens Committee. Simkins was a founder and its director of public relations. Included are transcripts of her weekly radio addresses, 1964-ca. 1980, correspondence, voting recommendations, and records of lawsuits against the City of Columbia and the Election Commission of the City of Columbia charging discrimination.

Records of the Victory Savings Bank date primarily from the 1980s and consist of correspondence, newsletters, and promotional materials. The file also includes a ledger, 1921-1934, that lists early shareholders and contains minutes of the board of directors. Other topical files of interest include speeches given by Simkins and papers documenting her early involvement in the Republican Party, 1938-1951.

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