The National Park Service has awarded a $49,500 grant to Historic Columbia to turn Modjeska Monteith Simkins’ home into a museum honoring the life and legacy of the woman known as the “matriarch of civil rights activists in South Carolina.”
“With this second grant from the National Parks Service, we are able to provide access to the unique and inspirational story of Modjeska Monteith Simkins,” said Historic Columbia Executive Director Robin Waites. “This house was once a center for engagement around key issues from access to health education to civil rights to environmental advocacy. We look forward to returning it to that dynamic state.”
Until her death in 1992, Modjeska Monteith Simkins was unrelenting in the fight for racial and social equality in Jim Crow South Carolina, and her tenacity and leadership helped dismantle racist legal policies throughout the South, including the landmark US Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education. Self-styled as “an advocate for the people,” Simkins’ civic engagement extended to health care, women’s rights, and the environment. Over the course of her 92 years, she displayed a courage and perseverance that many argue was unmatched.
Slated to be completed in 2020, this project is supported through a grant from the African American Civil Rights program as administered by the National Park Service, Department of Interior. Over the last year, a similar grant from the National Park Service funded a comprehensive, museum-grade rehabilitation that brought the site up to code, repaired original windows and plaster, and made the house ADA accessible with a new ramp in the rear of the house.
For Simkins’ former home to realize its full potential, Historic Columbia is embracing a holistic interpretation of Simkins’ life and the South Carolina civil rights movement with the help of this grant, as well as funds raised through its annual campaign, support from the Richland County Conservation Commission, the State of South Carolina and other generous supporters.
The site’s new exhibits, which will highlight Simkins’ role in navigating discrimination and oppression of the Jim Crow period while organizing black South Carolinians to fight for — and win — equality on multiple fronts, will show that black citizens brought American democracy closer to the ideals espoused by the founding fathers than at any other point in the country’s history. A new dynamic classroom and maker-space activities, as well as public programming, will allow visitors to explore themes of citizenship and aspects of activism that connect our shared past with contemporary human rights issues.
From 1934 until her death in 1992, Simkins’ home at 2025 Marion Street in downtown Columbia served as a central space for civil rights and social justice activities. Historic Columbia took over the stewardship of the site in 2006 and utilized the home for educational tours and public meeting space until September 2018.