Downtown statue honors Simkins & his dedication to equalityBy Yasmine Regester / October 7, 2016
A statue honoring the civil rights endeavors of the late Dr. George Simkins was unveiled on Tuesday, Oct. 4, in downtown Greensboro. Members of Simkins’ family attended the ceremony honoring the longtime civil rights activist and Greensboro dentist, who served as the president of the Greensboro Branch NAACP from 1959 to 1984. The statue was presented by the Joseph M. Bryan Foundation and the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro.
The dedication service and unveiling of the statue took place on Tuesday, October 4 in front a gathering of family, friends, local dignitaries and community members. The statue sits on the corner of Eugene and West Market Street, facing the Old Guilford County Courthouse, where Simkins challenged many laws that discriminated against African Americans.
“My heart is filled with joy that my father’s work is being recognized in such a special way,” noted his son, Chris Simkins, who also pointed out that it was fitting that the statue faced the county courthouse.
“We’re honored and proud that people will be able to come and learn about the contributions he made to improve the lives of not only African Americans, but everyone,” said Chris Simkins. “He wanted the best for his community and to live together in peace and harmony. As I look around today, it is a much better community in part to him and others that fought for the rights of all people.”
In 1955, Simkins and several other Black men were arrested for trespassing after they played nine holes at the all-White, city-owned Gillespie Park Golf Course. He and the others appealed their convictions all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled against them by a 5 to 4 vote. N.C. Gov. Luther Hodges later commuted their sentences.The trespass charges were finally thrown out by the North Carolina State Supreme Court in June 1957. Rather than integrate Gillespie, the city closed the course. It reopened seven years later, but in the meantime nine of the original 18 holes were gone.
Simkins was also a lead plaintiff in court actions to desegregate Moses Cone and Wesley Long Community hospitals, the public libraries and the municipal tennis facilities. He was also among those whose lawsuit resulted in a federal judge ordering the Greensboro City Schools in 1971 to use busing to bring about total integration of the public schools system. George C. Simkins Jr. Elementary School on East Lee Street is named for him.
In 1964, Simkins helped start a movement in Greensboro to advocate that African Americans be considered for non-traditional jobs and on-the-job training on the basis of ability by organizing the picketing of Wachovia Bank to oppose job discrimination. The picketing began on April 28, 1964, and ended just 48 hours later with the hiring of two African American tellers.
Simkins died in November 2001.
“His (Simkins), is one of the greatest impacts we’ve had in Greensboro,” said longtime community volunteer Shirley Frye, of Dr. Simkins’ contributions to the community. “I’m overwhelmed and pleased the Bryan Foundation found it important to do this.”
Simkins attended Dudley High School in Greensboro. He attended Herzl Junior College in Chicago, and then Talladega College, from which he graduated. He earned a doctorate in dentistry from Meharry School of Dentistry in 1948 and completed his rotating internship at Jersey City Medical Center. Simkins opened a private dental practice upon returning to Greensboro and joined the Guilford County Health Department, becoming the first African American employed there.
Dr. Simkins’ work has also been memorialized at N.C. Agricultural &Technical State University through a collection of Simkins’ private papers, newspaper clippings, biographical information, family information, legal documents, and information on the work he did with integrating public facilities in Greensboro, all located in the F.D. Bluford Library on the A&T campus.
Grandson, Andrew Simkins Hollis said, “The statue is much more representative of not only how much the Simkins’ family had an impact on Greensboro, but how Greensboro had an impact on the Simkins’ family legacy. I’m truly grateful to see how the community felt so connected to him.”
Simkins’ daughter, Jeanne Simkins Hollis explained that growing up, it was hard to understand why her father couldn’t always be at home. After she grew older, she was able to recognize the sacrifices he made and realized that it was all worth it.
“It has been a long time coming. With everything that has been going on in North Carolina lately, it’s nice to have something positive like this, in particular, something that involves a Black man. We are excited for all my father did for Greensboro,” said Jeanne Simkins Hollis.