JOurn.31 ofr in.n er.r.3du.3-1e --.earch
Oluiie 5, ii ue i':' - Lu ui,~tl 2ii:14
No One Knows Their Names: The Women of the Southern Regional Council
and the South Carolina Council on Human Relations
The structure of many civil rights organizations suggests that men dominated the Movement. "Men lead,
women organize" was the popular notion of the time. However, women were far from being a minority, except
in prominent, highly publicized positions of leadership. They showed up more often to mass meetings and took a
very active participatory role in ground-level activism like sit-ins and voter registration. Many look to women's
pre-existing and extensive social and kinship networks as well as their strong religious beliefs for an explanation.
(1) This presents an interesting juxtaposition as most churches, especially traditional Southern ones, are
male-centered and limit the participation of women, especially at the higher levels of organization. However,
women's participation was expected to include matters of community, family, and education, ideals central to the
civil rights movement.(2) Essentially, though contrary to what Executive Board rosters show, women played a
huge role in the day-to-day existence of the civil rights movement and filled the trenches with their family
and friends. They frequently played a role very similar to the typical domestic role of the 1960s: mobilizing
social networks to achieve a movement goal, passing on information, managing activities, and "creating
and sustaining good relations and solidarity among co-workers."(3) It appears as if the traditional definition
of "leadership" needs reconsideration; the Southern Regional Council and its state affiliate, the South Carolina
Council on Human Relations did just that.
Historian Belinda Robnett argues that an organization's ideology plays a large role in the shaping of its
organizational structures, which in turn determine women's leadership opportunities. An organization such as
the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, while still dominated by men, had a style much more like
a participatory democracy, which allowed women a voice.(4) However, the Southern Regional Council appears to
be one organization that gave many women leadership opportunities. It had a traditional, male-dominated
hierarchy and a great number of women in prominent and powerful positions, although it had no specific "ideology"
to merit such an uncommon lack of patriarchy. Robnett suggests that women acted as "bridge leaders" who kept
up ties between the community and the organizations and "were critical mobilizers of civil rights activity."(5)
It appears that the Southern Regional Council, and especially its South Carolina Council on Human
Relations, recognized this.
The Commission on Interracial Cooperation existed during the 1920s and 30s and, sensing its own demise,
sponsored a conference of black movement leaders in Durham, North Carolina, in 1942. A similar conference of
white leaders met in response to Durham, and in the late summer of 1943 the two met in Atlanta and organized
the Southern Regional Council (SRC). Its purpose was described as fightingn] racist propaganda and prepare
[ing] Southern opinion for gradual amelioration of black social conditions."(6) Regardless, they did not take a
solid, liberal position against segregation for several years. In trying to appease its more conservative,
typically white, members, the SRC adopted a policy of achieving the status of "separate but equal," calling for a
much more gradual dismantling of segregation.
In 1949 the Southern Regional Council adopted a more liberal, less gradual stance, calling for an end to
segregation. In the year ending edition of the Council's journal, New South, it asserted that legally
enforced segregation "in and of itself constitutes discrimination and inequality of treatment." The SRC declared
that "separate but equal" was a "constitutional anachronism."(7) The gradual approach to desegregation
disappeared, as did the more conservative members of the Southern Regional Council who disagreed with the
new position and left the organization.
In its early years, though not taking on large, public campaigns, the SRC revived the state chapters
formerly associated with the Council on Interracial Cooperation. The state chapter in South Carolina, the
South Carolina Council on Human Relations (SCCHR) established in 1919, saw the emergence of the new SRC
from the failed CIC in 1944 as the breath of fresh air needed to grow more active in the years that followed.
The SCCHR's letterhead bore the description "an organization of Southerners of both races working together in
the interest of all people of South Carolina"(8) One of the SCCHR's main objectives was to change Southern
white attitudes towards segregation, using primarily publications based on their own studies.(9) Unfortunately,
this pursuit of Southern white opinions forced the organization into a very "image conscious" position, which led to
a belief that those who were "controversial in the press...would better serve the purposes of the council...if they
were not on the Board of Directors..."(10) As a result, the SCCHR, much like its parent, the Southern
Regional Council, was not as dynamic, influential, and publicized as its contemporary civil rights organizations,
such as the NAACP, prior to the Brown decision. Despite this, the SCCHR was much bolder on another front: women.
The SCCHR employed many women as field workers, as did many civil rights organizations, but the SCCHR, as well
as its parent the SRC, placed many women in upper level leadership positions. Additionally, the SCCHR was bi-
racial during a time when white Southern men felt the biggest threat to their way of life and their virtuous
white women was black men. An organization where black men worked side by side with white women was landmark.
For much of the 1950s anywhere from one-third to one-half of the officers of the SCCHR were women, as well as
the nine to 11 members of the 26 member Executive Board. In October of 1954, Alice Spearman became the first
full time, paid Executive Director of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations, a position she held until
1967. Several of the local county chapter directors were women, including the Richland County Citizens
Committee, chaired by Mrs. Modjeska Simkins.(11) Though a prominent figure at both the local and state levels
in South Carolina, Modjeska Simkins is sometimes seen in the broader historiography of the civil rights
movement. She, similar to many of the unsung heroines of the Movement, held many key leadership positions
and throughout her lengthy activist career, took on many traditional as well as non-traditional female roles.
Modjeska Monteith Simkins was born in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1899 to a successful builder and
a schoolteacher. Hers was a close family, an economically prosperous one, with strong religious traditions that
placed a very strong emphasis on the importance of education. Before she married, she worked as a
schoolteacher like her mother.(12) The family she grew up in gave her a great many of the qualities she was so
often praised for: responsibility, practicality, integrity, and a realistic perspective on life.
Modjeska attended Benedict College and received her degree in 1921, and after teaching for several years,
married Andrew Simkins in 1929. An older man, prominent in the business community in Columbia, Simkins
attended the all black Durham Conference organized by the failing Commission on Interracial Cooperation and
later received a letter from the conference leader, Gordon Blaine Hancock, saying, "The sponsoring committee
is deeply grateful for your presence at Durham and for the fine help you rendered in making our conference one
of the truly noteworthy gatherings of history."(13) She went on to become a charter member of the
Southern Regional Council and participated in its South Carolina subsidiaries for many decades.
Despite her annoyance at the SRC's early stance on segregation, Modjeska served as the Vice President of
the Richland County chapter of the SCCHR and as Public Relations Director for the Richland County
Citizens Committee (RCCC). Her position as Public Relations Director afforded her the opportunity to voice
her opinions for 15 minutes every Wednesday evening on WOIC-Columbia, which she did for over 20
years. Appropriately enough, she titled the show, "Woke Up This Morning With My Mind Set on
Freedom."(14) Simkins was never one to soften anything she said, often being painfully blunt. To give such a
brutal mouth, especially a brutal female mouth, airtime seems odd; however, WOIC described itself in the mid-
1960s as having, "[felt] keenly the responsibility of aiding the Negro citizens in its listening area to progress to
the fulfillment of their desire to become 'first-class' citizens and enjoy the benefits and sharing the responsibilities
of that citizenship."(15) Modjeska Simkins was a fitting choice.
While each of these women, and the countless others like them, had a great deal in common-education,
religion, social awareness, and middle class social status-they shared several other important characteristics.
They were all strong, independent women; Modjeska Simkins once commented that "men have messed up the
world. A woman should be prepared to support herself."(16) All were near or in middle age at the height of both
their activism and the civil rights movement itself. Interestingly enough, this age range of thirty to fifty was the
time period of the largest participation gap between men and women; the women outnumbered the men three
to four times during the middle years.(17) Perhaps this was the time when a man's career was on the line and
civil rights activism was too risky. Many women worked only in the home and clearly the fear of losing that job
was not a common one. Organizations frequently turned to the more seasoned civil rights veterans who were at
the middle age of responsibility to act as leaders. Although men dominated the most public leadership positions,
the Southern Regional Council did not resign women to the philosophy of "men lead, women organize."
The historiography of the civil rights movement is finally catching on to the idea of women as central to its
success. Women are being recognized individually, as well as en masse, for their contributions both large and
small to the fight for freedom. Additionally, with a newly formed interest in the Southern Regional Council, a quiet,
bi-racial organization with a supremely advanced philosophy on women, the truth about women's participation
is becoming apparent. Delving into the active state chapters of the SRC, such as the South Carolina Council
on Human Relations, reveals a host of people, many of them women, who are not known, except by those
whose lives they touched. Perhaps one day, a woman like Modjeska Simkins will be as readily available
to schoolchildren as is Rosa Parks--simply another local activist trying to make a difference in the world.
1. Charles Payne, "Men Led, but Women Organized: Movement Participation of Women in the Mississippi Delta,"
in Women in the Civil Rights Movement: Trailblazers and Torchbearers, eds. Vicki L. Crawford, Jacqueline
Anne Rouse, and Barbara Woods (Brooklyn: Carlson Publishing, Inc., 1990): 5.
2. Belinda Robnett, "Women in the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee: Ideology, Organizational
Structure, and Leadership," in Gender in the Civil Rights Movement, eds., Peter J. Ling and Sharon Monrteith
(New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1999): 137 - 138.
3. Robnett, 137.
4. Robnett, 131.
5. Robnett, 141.
6. David Chappell, Inside Agitators: White Southerners in the Civil Rights Movement (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins
Press, 1994), 46.
7. Morton Sosna, In Search of the Silent South (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977), 163.
8. Letter from J.M. Dabbs to Mr. Paul Rilling, 11 March 1960, Papers of the Southern Regional Council, Reel 146,
Folder 416, Frame 0423.
9. Jones, 3.
10. "Memorandum on South Carolina Meeting," November 21, 1954 in Greenville, South Carolina. Papers of the
Southern Regional Council, Reel 29, Folder 974, Frames 1487 - 1488.
11. Data compiled from 3 letters in which the stationary lists board members, officers, and directors, as well as two
lists of newly installed officers. "Southern Regional Council Affiliated Organizations, South Carolina Council on
Human Relations, 29 September 1955; Reel 146, Folder 408, Frame 299. "South Carolina Council on
Human Relations: Board of Directors, December 1957; Reel 146, Folder 408, Frame 0286. "SCCHR: 1966
Local Council Presidents;" Reel 146, Folder 409, Frame 0326. "Letter from Alice Spearman to Mr. George S.
Mitchell of Southern Regional Council," 19 October 1954; Reel 147, Folder 431, Frames 0176 - 0179. "Letter
from Alice Spearman to Anna Holden," 24 November 1954; Reel 147, Folder 431, Frame 0189. All from the Papers
of the Southern Regional Council.
12. Barbara Woods Aba-Mecha, "Black Woman Activist in Twentieth Century South Carolina: Modjeska
Monteith Simkins," (Ph.D diss., University of South Carolina, 1978), 24.
13. Gordon Blaine Hancock to Modjeska Simkins, 4 November 1942, from the Modjeska Monteith Simkins Papers,
South Carolina Modern Political Collection, University of South Carolina, Reel 4678, Biographical Papers -
14. Funeral Program of Mary Modjeska Monteith Simkins, 9 April 1992, from the Modjeska Monteith Simkins
Papers, South Carolina Modern Political Collection, University of South Carolina, Reel 4678, Biographical Papers
- General 1963.
15. WOIC, Application for Renewal of Broadcast Station License, August 1, 1966, Exhibit V, Accession #173-77-24,
Box 35, FCC, National Archives II, College Park. Reference provided by Brian Ward.
16. Excerpt from "Modjeska," POINT, May 1992, from the Modjeska Monteith Simkins Papers, South Carolina
Modern Political Collection, University of South Carolina, Reel 4678, Biographical Papers - General 1963.
17. Payne, 2.
1. Primary Sources
"Papers of the Southern Regional Council," Smathers Library, University of Florida.
2. Simkins, Modjeska Monteith. Interview by Jacqueline Dowd Hall, 28 - 31 July 1976. Southern Oral History
Program Collection of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
3. __ _. "Modjeska Monteith Simkins Papers," South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.
1. Barnard, Hollinger F. Outside the Magic Circle: The Autobiography of Virginia Foster Durr. Tuscaloosa: The
University of Alabama Press, 1985.
2. Braden, Anne. The Wall Between. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1958.
3. Chappell, David L. Inside Agitators: White Southerners in the Civil Rights Movement. Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1994.
4. Cook, Robert. Sweet Land of Liberty? The African American Freedom Struggle for Civil Rights in the
Twentieth Century. London: Addison Wesley Longman, 1998.
5. Dykeman, Wilma and James Stokely. Seeds of Southern Change: The Life of Will Alexander. New York: W.W.
Norton and Company, Inc., 1962.
6. Egerton, John. Speak Now Against the Day: The Generation Before the Civil Rights Movement in the South.
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.
7. Evan, Sara. Personal Politics: The Roots of Women's Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement and the New Left.
New York: Vintage Books, 1980.
8. Fleming, Cynthia Griggs. Soon We Will Not Cry: The Liberation of Ruby Doris Smith Robinson. Lanham: Rowman
and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1998.
9. Grantham, Dewey W. Southern Progressivism: The Reconciliation of Progress and Tradition. Knoxville: The
University of Tennessee Press, 1982.
10. Hall, Jacqueline Dowd. Revolt Against Chivalry: Jessie Daniel Ames and the Women's Campaign Against
Lynching. New York: Columbia University Press, 1974.
11. Krueger, Thomas A. And Promises to Keep: The Southern Conference for Human Welfare, 1938 - 1948.
Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1967.
12. Loveland, Anne C. Lillian Smith, A Southerner Confronting the South: A Biography. Baton Rouge: Louisiana
State University Press, 1986.
13. Mills, Kay. This Little Light of Mine: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer. New York: Dutton, 1993.
14. Newby, I.A. Black Carolinians: A History of Blacks in South Carolina from 1895 - 1968. Columbia: The University
of South Carolina Press, 1973.
15. Olson, Lynne. Freedom's Daughters: The Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement from 1830 to 1970.
London: Scribner, 2001.
16. Reed, Linda. Simple Decency and Common Sense: The Southern Conference Movement, 1938 - 1963.
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991.
17. Scott, Anne Firor. The Southern Lady: From Pedestal to Politics, 1830 - 1930. Chicago: The University of
Chicago Press, 1970.
18. Sosna, Morton. In Search of the Silent South. New York: Columbia University Press, 1977.
19. Tindall, George Brown. The Emergence of the New South, 1913 - 1945. New York: Columbia University Press, 1967.
20. Watters, Pat and Reese Cleghorn. Climbing Jacobs Ladder: The Arrival of Negroes in Southern Politics. New
York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1967.
Essays within Edited Volumes
1. Curry, Constance. "Wild Geese to the Past," in Deep in Our Hearts: Nine White Women in the Freedom
Movement. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2000.
Payne, Charles. "Men Led, but Women Organized: Movement Participation of Women in the Mississippi Delta,"
in Women in the Civil Rights Movement: Trailblazers and Torchbearers, eds. Vicki L. Crawford, Jacqueline
Anne Rouse, and Barbara Woods. Brooklyn: Carlson Publishing, Inc., 1990.
2. Robnett, Belinda. "Women in the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee: Ideology, Organizational
Structure, and Leadership," in Gender in the Civil Rights Movement, eds. Peter J. Ling and Sharon Monteith.
New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1999.
3. Woods, Barbara. "Modjeska Simkins and the South Carolina Conference of the NAACP," in Women in the Civil
Rights Movement: Trailblazers and Torchbearers, eds. Vicki L. Crawford, Jacqueline Anne Rouse, and Barbara
Woods. Brooklyn: Carlson Publishing, Inc., 1990.
1. Barnett, Bernice McNair. "Invisible Southern Black Women Leaders in the Civil Rights Movement: The
Triple Constraints of Gender, Race, and Class." Gender and Society 7 (June 1993): 162 - 182.
2. Hall, Jacqueline Dowd. "You Must Remember This: Autobiography as Social Critique." The Journal of American
History 85 (September 1998): 439 - 465.
3. Hamlet, Janice D. "Fannie Lou Hamer: The Unquenchable Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement." Journal of
Black Studies 26 (May 1996): 560 - 576.
4. Irons, Jenny. "The Shaping of Activist Recruitment and Participation: A Study of Women in the Mississippi Civil
Rights Movement." Gender and Society 12 (December 1998): 692 - 709.
5. Scott, Anne Firor. "After Suffrage: Southern Women in the Twenties." The Journal of Southern History 30
(August 1964): 298 - 318.
6. . "Most Invisible of All: Black Women's Voluntary Actions." The Journal of Southern History 56
(February 1990): 3 - 22.
1. Chappell, David. "Southern Liberalism and Constitutional Equality." The Southern Regional Council and the
Civil Rights Movement Conference, October 2003.
2. Jones, J. Wayne. "The Legal Justice Program of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations." The
Citadel Conference on Civil Rights in South Carolina, March 2003.
3. Kirk, John. "Facilitating Change: The Arkansas Council on Human Relations and the Civil Rights Movement
in Arkansas, 1954 - 1964." The Southern Regional Council and the Civil Rights Movement Conference, October 2003.
4. Lassiter, Matthew. "The Open Schools Revolt: The Southern Regional Council and the Construction of the
Moderate South." The Southern Regional Council and the Civil Rights Movement Conference, October 2003.
5. Minchin, Timothy. "The SRC and the Struggle for Equal Employment." The Southern Regional Council and the
Civil Rights Movement Conference, October 2003.
6. Nichols, Kimberly. "Service for All Citizens: The SRC's Operation Opportunity and the Civil Rights Act of 1964."
The Southern Regional Council and the Civil Rights Movement Conference, October 2003.
7. Norrell, Robert J. "Triangles of Change: The Southern Regional Council in the Civil Rights Movement." The
Southern Regional Council and the Civil Rights Movement Conference, October 2003.
8. Smith, J. Douglas. "The Ordeal of Virginius Dabney: A Southern Liberal, the SRC, and the Limits of Managed
Race Relations." The Southern Regional Council and the Civil Rights Movement Conference, October 2003.
9. Sosna, Morton. "World War II, Democracy, and the South: The Birth of the SRC." The Southern Regional Council
and the Civil Rights Movement Conference, October 2003.
10. Synnott, Marcia G. "Feminists or Maternalists? White Women Civil Rights Activists in South Carolina: Alice
N. Spearman, Eunice Ford Stackhouse, and Clarice T. Campbell." The Citadel Conference on Civil Rights in
South Carolina, March 2003.
1. Aba-Mecha, Barbara Woods. "Black Woman Activist in Twentieth Century South Carolina: Modjeska
Monteith Simkins." Ph.D. diss., University of South Carolina, 1978.
Back to the Journal of Undergraduate Research
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences I University Scholars Program I University of Florida I
UP| UNIVERSITY of
The H'mlnifulsow fw h or F,. '.T'--o
ï¿½ University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611; (352) 846-2032.