"...America's greatest platform orator, statesman, and philosopher..."
Roscoe Conkling Simmons, 1878-1951, was born in Mississippi, the son of an educator and a nephew of Booker T. Washington. A graduate of Tuskegee Institute in 1899, Simmons embarked on a nearly half-century of work in politics, public speaking, journalism, and civic activism.
Simmons was deeply connected to the Republican party and to Booker T. Washington's philosophy of self-help over government assistance. He was a major force for the Republican party’s African American vote from just before World War I until the Great Depression, seconding the presidential nomination of Herbert Hoover in 1932. Even throughout and after the Great Depression and World War II, as African Americans largely left the G.O.P. in support of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs, Simmons remained a steadfast Republican loyalist, achieving a final G.O.P. victory shortly before his death as a major supporter and speaker for the U.S. Senate candidacy of John M. Butler in Maryland.
The Simmons papers held by the Harvard University Archives document Simmons's leadership role in many civic and business circles as well as the wide range of activism, business, politics, and journalism that connected Simmons to the African-American community in the first half of the twentieth century. Records, correspondence, and photographs in the collection document the work of many influential and noteworthy African Americans, including newspaperman Robert Abbot, Mary McLeod Bethune, George Washington Carver, Wendell P. Dabney, W.C. Handy and Booker T. Washington as well as activities of the Republican National Committee and scores of African-American businesses, schools, cultural and civic organizations, newspapers, and churches.
The Simmons Papers are open for research use; a collection inventory is linked from the catalog record. Please contact the Archives reference staff for more information about access to the Simmons Papers.
Related materials include the Roscoe Conkling Simmons Collection, also held by the Archives, and the Roscoe Conkling Simmons Family Papers at the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History in Atlanta, Georgia.
Please scroll down to see selected images from the collection, including a currently unidentified panoramic photograph.
selected images from the simmons collection
Simmons was a well-known orator in the African American community during World War I and subsequent decades. He founded the Lincoln League of America, dedicated to the passage of anti-lynching legislation and served as the director of the Republication National Committee's "Colored Speakers Bureau," traveling widely throughout the American South and Midwest to speak on political and social affairs affecting the African American community.
Unidentified photograph - any information welcomed!
Simmons maintained extensive connections to the African American civic, business, cultural, and political communities throughout his life, especially in the American South and Midwest. Reproduced below is a panoramic photograph, circa 1930, found among the Simmons papers (click on the image for a larger view.) While Simmons is recognizable, the identity of the group and location pictured is unknown. Any information is welcomed - please contact the Archives at firstname.lastname@example.org.