Modjeska Simkins: South Carolina Revolutionary

Modjeska_2.jpg
Modjeska Simkins

By Becci Robbins

"The movement rises up when the pressure comes down," is one of the many sayings of Modjeska Simkins to be found in a new booklet on her life published by the South Carolina Progressive Network. Modjeska was born in Jim Crow's early days in 1899 in Columbia South Carolina and passed away, after an extraordinary life, at 92 years of age. 

Modjeska bridled at being called a "civil rights" activist and insisted that the fight for human rights was "not just for black people," she said, "but for all mankind." She graduated from Benedict College in 1921 and taught algebra at Booker T. Washington School. They wanted her to teach South Carolina history, but she refused to use what she called a "racist textbook.” Thus began her lifelong habit of afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted.

In 1931, Modjeska became the state's only statewide public health worker as the director of Negro work for the South Carolina Anti-Tuberculosis Association. One of the most devastating effects of Jim Crow was the ill health of black people caused by poverty, poor living conditions and a lack of health care. She lost the job when she wouldn’t quit the NAACP.

Modjeska was a founder of the South Carolina Conference of the NAACP and served as the state secretary from 1941 through 1957, the only woman to hold statewide office during the organization’s most productive years.

She led the fight to end the white-only Democratic primaries in 1944. The South Carolina legislature, all white and Democratic at the time, met in special session to deem the party a private club so they could continue to exclude blacks. "Even though the Supreme Court had given us the right, these cats started making up new rules that you couldn't vote,"  Modjeska said.

Modjeska's home at 2025 Marion St. provided a meeting place and accommodations for state and national leaders in the long fight for equality. In 1950, Modjeska worked at her kitchen table with Thurgood Marshall to develop the Briggs v. Elliott federal court case that eventually merged with the case of Brown v. Board of Education that ended the "separate but equal" doctrine in 1954.

Modjeska left the Republican Party in the late 1940's, considering them more racist than the Democrats. In 1957, she was kicked out of the NAACP for working with communists and in 1966, Gov. McNair asked her to leave the Democratic Party because of her friendship with Herbert Aptheker, New York professor of Marxist history.

As the civil rights struggle wound down, Modjeska kept up the fight for human rights. She spoke out against the Vietnam war, worked for equal rights for women and labor rights for workers, and marched against South African apartheid and US wars in Central America. She continued to help anyone who knocked on her door.

In 1976, Modjeska became a mentor for the Grass Roots Organizing Workshop in Columbia (GROW). GROW founded the South Carolina Progressive Network in 1995 that carries on Modjeska's work and has their office in her historic home in downtown Columbia.

Vilified by generations of politicians who served in the legislature, Modjeska's contributions to our state were finally recognized with the Order of the Palmetto, the state’s highest award, in 1990, and her portrait now hangs in the State House lobby.

The Progressive Network is organizing the Modjeska Simkins School for Human Rights to insure that her lessons are learned by new generations of social justice activists and organizers. The new biography: Modjeska Monteith Simkins, a South Carolina Revolutionary, was researched and written by Becci Robbins, the Communications Director for the Progressive Network, and paid for by a grant from the Richland County Conservation Commission. The 42-page booklet can be downloaded here.

For information about the Progressive Network and the Modjeska school go to: www.scpronet.com. Inquires can be addressed, and hard copies of the book ordered, by contacting Becci@scpronet.com, or by calling 803-808-3384.

Becci Robbins is a graphic designer at Harbinger Publications, owner of Green Bein’ Studio in Lexington, SC, and communications director for the South Carolina Progressive Network.


Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.

 

 

 

Film Discussion: When Abortion Was Illegal

March 26, 2017
· 11 rsvps

Directed by Dorothy Fadiman, When Abortion Was Illegal (1992, nominated for an Academy Award, Best Documentary Short Subject) reveals through first-person accounts the experiences of women seeking abortion before the Supreme Court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade in 1973. We are one Supreme Court nominee away from a return in many states to back-alley abortions. Join Amanda Williams, Executive Director of the Lilith Fund, to discuss challenges to reproductive justice and abortion access. (Lilith Fund funds abortions for women in need in the Central and South Texas area.) Learn about how to participate in April Bowl-A-Thons to raise funds for low-income women. View the film here for free before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

DSA New Member Orientation Call

March 30, 2017
· 25 rsvps

You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  9:30 PM ET; 8:30 PM CT; 7:30 PM MT; 6:30 PM PT.

LGBT Activism: A Brief History with Thoughts about the Future

April 01, 2017
· 50 rsvps

Historian John D'Emilio's presentation will do 3 things: Provide a brief explanation of how sexual and gender identities have emerged; provide an overview of the progression of LGBT activism since its origins in the 1950s, highlighting key moments of change; and, finally, suggest what issues, from a democratic socialist perspective, deserve prioritizing now. John co-authored Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America, which was quoted by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision that ruled state sodomy laws unconstitutional. 1 pm ET; 12 pm CT; 11 am MT; 10 am PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have headphones (preferred) or speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Peg Strobel, peg.strobel@sbcglobal.net.
  5. If you have technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt, schmittaj@gmail.com, 608-355-6568.

Film Discussion: Documentaries of People's History in Texas

April 02, 2017
· 29 rsvps

Join DSA members Glenn Scott and Richard Croxdale to discuss videos produced by People’s History in Texas (PHIT), a project that brings to life the stories of ordinary people in significant socio-political movements in Texas. They will discuss The Rag, their newest documentary, which tells the story of an influential underground paper based in Austin, Texas, from 1966-77. Click here to view Part I (the early years as an all-volunteer paper covering the student, anti-Vietnam and Civil Rights movements), Part II (the impact of Women’s Liberation on the paper) and Part III (building community: covering local politics, nukes, co-ops, feminist institutions). But also check out the video on the Stand-Ins about a group of university students who led a movement to desegregate Austin’s movie theaters in 1961. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT. Here's a blog post about PHIT.

Introduction to Democratic Socialism

April 04, 2017
· 52 rsvps

Join Rahel Biru, NYC DSA co-chair, and Joseph Schwartz, DSA Vice-Chair, on this webinar for an overview of what we in Democratic Socialists of America mean when we talk about "socialism," "capitalism" and the goals of the socialist movement.  9 PM ET; 8 PM CT; 7 PM MT; 6 PM PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have headphones (preferred) or speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Joseph Schwartz, schwartzjoem@gmail.com.
  5. If you have technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt, schmittaj@gmail.com, 608-355-6568.

Feminist Working Group

April 12, 2017
· 13 rsvps

People of all genders are welcome to join this call to discuss DSA's work on women's and LGBTQ issues, especially in light of the new political reality that we face after the elections.  9 pm ET; 8 pm CT; 7 pm MT; 6 pm PT.

DSA New Member Orientation Call

April 16, 2017
· 6 rsvps

You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  8 pm ET; 7 pm CT; 6 pm MT; 5 pm PT.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 9 rsvps

Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.