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Black History Month: Civil rights leader Modjeska Monteith Simkins

Modjeska Monteith Simkins (1899-1992) was a South Carolina Civil Rights leader who lived in Columbia. She attended local schools and graduated from Benedict College in 1921. For eight years, she taught at Booker T. Washington High School in Columbia. In 1929, she married Andrew Simkins. At the time, Columbia did not allow married women to teach so she had to leave her teaching position.

The Modjeska Simkins House is at the corner of Marion Street and Elmwood Ave
photo by author

In 1931, she began working for the South Carolina Tuberculosis Association as their director of Negro Work. A position she held until 1942. She was released due to her increasing activity with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People(NAACP). When the state conference of the NAACP was founded in 1939, Simkins was already on the board of the local chapter in Columbia and was elected secretary of the State Conference in 1941.

In 1950, Simkins was instrumental in the filing of the Briggs V. Elliott case. This case dealt with families in Clarendon County who asked for transportation to get their children to school. As the case made its way through the Federal Court System, it was merged with several others and we know it today as Brown v. Board of Education,the school desegregation decision of 1954.

During the McCarthy era of th1950s, Simkins was accused of subversive activities by the FBI and the House Un-American Activities Committee. In 1957, she was replaced as Secretary of the NAACP state conference.

Simkins lived in the same house for 60 years (1932-1992), the house, at the corner of Elmwood Avenue and Marion Street in Columbia served a unique role. During a time when blacks were excluded from city hotels, Simkins made her house available for lodging and as a meeting space for local and national civil rights leaders such as Thurgood Marshall. The house is currently administered by the Historic Columbia Foundation but is not open to the public.

Check the list for brief biographies of other Civil Rights leaders.

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