In 1938, just days before her 39th birthday, Modjeska Simkins drew up plans for her own funeral. “For reasons known only to myself,” she wrote directives for a simple ceremony to be carried out “in the event of my demise.” It included a list of hymns and readings, and a note to the mortician to refuse floral arrangements.
We can only guess what prompted her to write the document, which USC history professor Dr. Bobby Donaldson shared at this year’s Modjeska party, an annual birthday celebration the SC Progressive Network holds at her Columbia home. He said it appears nobody ever read it, perhaps because it was buried in the piles of books and papers that filled her home.
This much is clear: there was much ado and flowers aplenty when Modjeska died in 1992. And for good reason.
“Fortunately for us,” Donaldson said, “Modjeska did not die in 1938. If she had, we would not have a SC NAACP, established in 1939. If she had died, we would not have had an extraordinary letter written in 1944 to the governor, Olin D. Johnston, demanding he debate the merits of white supremacy. If she had died in 1938, we would not have the Modjeska in 1946 who helps organize one of the most extraordinary youth gatherings in the history of this country.”
He ticked off a list of things that would not exist were not for Modjeska, including the Harbison Training Institute that taught progressive activists in the late 1940s (with a curriculum mirroring that of the Modjeska Simkins School for Human Rights) and the 1951 Briggs v Elliott case, a critical component of what would become Brown v Board in 1954.
Donaldson ended with a call to action. “The legacy of Ms. Simkins is not dead,” he said. “And if we ever needed a Modjeska Simkins movement inspired by her legacy, you look around this world; we need it now.”
As part of the Network’s commitment to educating and mobilizing that movement, we are preparing to reprint Network Communications Director Becci Robbins’ booklet Modjeska Monteith Simkins: A South Carolina Revolutionary. It will include a new section with historical details discovered since the original printing.
The booklet, published in 2014 through a grant from the Richland County Conservation Commission, has been circulated widely in the Midlands and at no cost to readers. We’d like to keep the booklet free. You can help make that possible.
To date, we have received a generous donation from Historic Columbia and a number of individual supporters, raising $1,700 of the $3,900 we need.
Please help us reach our goal by donating at our secure site or by calling our office at 803-808-3384.
To view more photos from this year’s party, see our album.
Listen to Modjeska Simkins School graduate Vikki Perry in this clip.