Remembering Modjeska Simkins

On Dec. 4, 2012, the SC Progressive Network honored human rights matriarch Modjeska Simkins on what would have been her 113th birthday. Friends gathered for an evening of fellowship and remembrance at her home, which now serves as the Network’s headquarters.

James Felder read from his recently released book, Civil Rights in South Carolina, from Peaceful Protest to Groundbreaking Rulings, the following passage:

On April 25, 1995, Modjeska Monteith Simkins’ portrait was unveiled at the statehouse. In my capacity as executive director of the NAACP at that time, I delivered a tribute to Ms. Simkins on that occasion.

It is only fitting and proper that a portrait of Mary Modjeska Monteith Smikins be unveiled here today in this statehouse in remembrance of her. I remember Modjeska for being one of the founding members of the SC Conference of Branches NAACP.

I remember Modjeska for serving as the first field secretary of the SC NAACP and receiving no pay for her work.

I remember Modjeska for discovering that white teachers were earning more than black teachers in 1943, and she pushed for litigation that led to Thompson v. Gibbes and the equalization fo teachers’ pay in South Carolina in 1945.

I remember Modjeska giving civil rights seminars to students from Allen University and Benedict College from behind the teller cage at Victory Savings Bank on Harden Street.

I remember Modjeska, who would drive alone to Clarendon County for a mass meeting and then would have the last word in the debate after the meeting in Billy Flemming’s house at his bar.

I remember Modjeska, who cranked out more press releases and letters to the editor than all of the civil rights groups in South Carolina combined.

I remember Modjeska, who had a great sense of humor and was quite a crowd pleaser, but she was a fierce warrior for preserving freedom for all of us.

I remember Modjeska, who was just at ease registering winos to vote on Read Street as she was entertaining Thurgood Marshall at her home on Marion Street.

And I will remember Modjeska as a legend in her own time. She was our Harriett Tubman and our Sojourner Truth. She was a woman who woke up every morning with freedom on her mind.

So after today, when you happen to be passing the statehouse one evening and the lights are flashing and the building is shaking, do not be alarmed, for that will just be Modjeska debating with Edgar Brown, Sol Blatt, Marion Gressette and Ben Tillman, and she will be winning the argument.

See more photos of the birthday party here.

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