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221 Modjeska Monteith Simkins I Cannot Be Bought and Will Not Be Sold Cherisse Jones-Branch • • • Mary Modjeska Monteith Simkins (1889–1992) was a leader, an activist, and a visionary. She was part of a cadre of African American leaders in South Carolina in the twentieth century who called the state to task as they pursued civil and political rights for all of its citizens. Her particular activism was part of an impetus to improve the political, educational, and physical lives of African Americans at a time when local and state governments resisted such attempts at every turn. In turn-of-the-century America, blacks confronted what historian Rayford Logan termed the “nadir” in race relations. African Americans had little hope of receiving equal treatment and as the century began faced the great challenge of defeating rampant and pervasive racism. In the late nineteenth century, virtually all access to the political arena had been wrested from South Carolina’s black citizens as the Democratic Party established its dominance and marginalized the Republican Party. Moreover, black South Carolinians’ civil rights were dealt a major blow in the Constitution of 1895, which legalized segregation and racial discrimination in virtually every aspect of life. Born during this grim era in Columbia, South Carolina, on December 5, 1899, Mary Modjeska Monteith was the oldest daughter of Henry Clarence and Rachel Hull Monteith. Her mother had been educated at the Howard Free School, the first school in South Carolina to provide secondary education for African Americans. She was an educator until she married Henry Monteith. Henry was an artisan who had worked at industrial sites throughout the South and a member of the predominantly black Bricklayers and Plasterers Union 5 in Columbia, an affiliate of the International Bricklayers Union.1 Modjeska Monteith Simkins Courtesy of South Carolina Political Collection, University of South Carolina Libraries, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C. Modjeska Monteith Simkins 223 Henry’s racial heritage reflected a common exploitative kind of relationship between black women and white men that dated back to the days of slavery. He was the offspring of a prosperous white attorney, Walter Monteith, and his domestic servant Mary Dobbins, a former slave.2 Mary had been hired by the Monteith family as a nursemaid for their children. She gave birth to Henry in 1870. Henry and Rachel Monteith’s family was fairly prosperous and economically independent, allowing them to enjoy a middle-class lifestyle that was atypical for black families of the time. The fact that the family was not dependent on whites for their economic well-being did not sit well with many whites in Columbia. But, as their daughter later recalled, Henry was a fearless man. At a time when a black man could be lynched for the slightest infraction of the law or custom whether real or imagined, he refused to be intimidated. On one occasion when he was “backing a chimney,” a white man came in and showed him a finger that had been cut off of a black man. Henry Monteith however, would not be moved; he “offered to fight” the man “with his trowel and hammer.” The man did not bother him again.3 Because their mother was an educator, the Monteith children were literate, unusual for black children in early twentieth-century South Carolina. Rachel Hull Monteith and her sisters encouraged reading among their children. Modjeska recalled that her mother’s sisters, who were also teachers, sent them Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, including The Little Match Girl, Gene Stratton-Porter’s A Girl of the Limberlost, and Bible stories. The children were expected to excel academically and were given the best private education available to blacks in South Carolina at that time. Modjeska later recalled that, growing up in a rural area, she and her siblings attended a Sunday school where most of the other black children and adults could not read. Because of the demands of tenant farm life, most black children attended school for only three months of the year. Modjeska was first formally educated at a private grade school at Benedict College in Columbia.4 Founded in 1870 as the Benedict Institute and affiliated with the Baptist Church, the Benedict College of Simkins’s time offered one of the finest educations for blacks from around the state and the nation. At the time most of the faculty were white missionaries from the North who were committed to providing quality education for recently freed African Americans...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780820343815
Related ISBN
9780820342146
MARC Record
OCLC
794555361
Pages
488
Launched on MUSE
2012-06-26
Language
English
Open Access
No
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