Roscoe Conkling Simmons

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Roscoe Conkling “R. C.” Simmons, Sr.
Roscoe Conkling Simmons.jpg

Born June 20, 1881
Greenview, Mississippi
Died April 27, 1951
Chicago, Illinois
Political Party Republican
Spouse Althea Amaryllis Merchant

William Murray Simmons
Thomas Murray Simmons
Roscoe C. Simmons, Jr.

Religion Roman Catholic

Roscoe Conkling Simmons, Sr. (June 20, 1881 – April 27, 1951), also known as R. C. Simmons, was a journalist, orator, civic leader, and staunch Republican from Mississippi who was a leader among black-and-tan factions, pro-civil rights GOP delegations in the South.

A nephew of renowned black leader Booker T. Washington, Simmons' advocacy often shared the accommodationist tones similar to that of his uncle as well as Perry W. Howard, II, who he befriended and associated with.


Simmons was born on June 20, 1881 to Emory Peter Simmons and the former Willie Murray. He was named after New York representative and senator Roscoe Conkling, the leader of the congressional Stalwarts who resisted civil service reform in the late 1870s out of concern for the plight of Southern blacks.

Reared in a humble environment, Simmons was sent by his uncle at the age of twelve to live with Ohio Republican senator Mark Hanna,[1] an acolyte of President William McKinley. For a period of time, he also lived with Medill McCormick, a one-term U.S. senator from Illinois.

Political career

Simmons helped campaign for Theodore Roosevelt in 1910, where his brilliance in oratory was observed among Republicans.[1] Even populist Democrat leader William Jennings Bryan commented:

Tonight's speech by young Roscoe Simmons has assured him a place among the great orators of the world.

—William Jennings Bryan, 1910

Washington, the founder of Tuskegee Institute, at one point offered Simmons a job at the university; the latter humbly declined, stating:[1]

I have been called too, to teach, but the rostrum and the public hall will be my classroom.

—Roscoe Simmons

Friendship with R. R. Church

Once garnering fame and recognition for his skills as a journalist and orator, Simmons helped promote Washington's causes that emphasized uplifting oneself economically, in addition to seeking blacks in the South for potential enrollment into Tuskegee Institute.[1] He founded The Memphis Sun, which with financial backing from Robert R. Church, Jr. beamed in business for six months in providing success stories and advice for black farmers.[1]

Forming a friendship with Church, the latter played a crucial role in the organization of the Church's Lincoln League that pushed for the election of black Tennesseans in Memphis.[1] Although the effort was defeated by Jim Crow Democrats, there were enough votes polled to appoint Church to the national GOP advisory board.[2] In addition, a newly organized Lincoln League on the national level in 1919 elected Simmons to become its first president.

Illinois GOP politics

In the 1930 midterms, Simmons ran for United States House of Representatives from Illinois' 1st congressional district, challenging incumbent black Republican congressman Oscar De Priest for the party nomination. Receiving bare support from the local party organization,[2] he finished second in a field of five candidates, he polled around 5,000 votes to De Priest's 17,103.[3]

In the following 1932 elections, Simmons sought a state Senate seat based in Chicago and received support from the Second Ward Republican Club.[2] Although his oratory proved to be effective in drawing a massive crowd in a speech, he lost the race.

Simmons ran again for Congress from the 1st district in the 1938 midterms to race incumbent Democrat representative Arthur W. Mitchell, though lost in the Republican primary polling only 11% of the vote and finishing fourth place out of five GOP candidates.[4]

National politics

In the 1932 presidential election, Simmons seconded the party nomination of President Herbert Hoover at the Republican National Convention[2][5] in what was described as the biggest highlight of his career.[6] However, he criticized Hoover following the president's election defeat, asserting in a speech:[7]

Speak Mr. President, and tell us Lincoln is not dead. Speak and say there is no higher theme than liberty. Tell us again that our president loves justice and will do it.

Simmons similarly bolstered party efforts and seconded the nomination of Alfred M. Landon in the 1936 presidential election, an election cycle where the GOP accused of supposedly driving away Northern black voters.[2][note 1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Sewell, George Alexander; Dwight, Margaret L. Mississippi Black History Makers, p. 55. Google Books. Retrieved November 20, 2021.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Mississippi Black History Makers, p. 56.
  3. IL District 1 - R Primary Race - Apr 08, 1930. Our Campaigns. Retrieved November 20, 2021.
  4. IL District 1 - R Primary Race - Apr 12, 1938. Our Campaigns. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
  5. Simmons, Roscoe Conkling, 1881-1951. Social Networks and Archival Context. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
  6. Roscoe Conkling Simmons. Find a Grave. Retrieved November 20, 2021.
  7. Mississippi Black History Makers, p. 57.


  1. Nearly all Southern blacks were disenfranchised due to Jim Crow laws, and most were unable to register to vote until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Further reading

External links