Monday, January 3, 2011

Roscoe Conkling Simmons family papers

Pictured above is Anita Martin of the Archives Division as she processes the Roscoe Conkling Simmons family papers. AARL Archives recently acquired the collection and would like to ring in the New Year by giving our blog readers a preview. Roscoe Conkling Simmons (1881-1951) was born in Mississippi and died in Illinois. Simmons was well known during his life as an African American orator, journalist, and political figure. He was a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, making him the first African American columnist working for a daily newspaper in Chicago. His oratorical skills were often employed by the Republican Party, of which he was a devoted member. When needed, the GOP called on Simmons to marshal black votes to support its causes. He was also the nephew of Booker T. Washington, whose third wife was his aunt. He married Althea Merchant Simmons and had three sons, William Murray Simmons, Thomas Murray Simmons, and Roscoe Conkling Simmons Jr (by a former marriage).

The Roscoe Conkling Simmons family papers consist of a variety of documents and materials. One of the largest segments of the collection is the correspondence, which contains approximately 645 letters, cards and telegrams. Many of the letters were authored by William and Thomas and sent to their mother, Althea, between 1952-1962. Coinciding with the Civil Rights Movement, they were written while the sons were at college and when William served as a captain in the United States Air Force. Another significant portion of the collection is the approximately 600 photographs, which date from the 1860s through the 1950s. About 100 of the photos document Althea’s college years at the University of Illinois. In addition to the many photographs and letters, the Roscoe Conkling Simmons family papers also contain eight books from his personal library, thirty pieces of historical ephemera, a 1916 diary written by Althea during her freshman year of college, as well as a painting of her.

The Archives Division is very excited about the opportunities this collection will offer researchers and historians. While it's currently unavailable for use, the Division hopes to announce its opening very soon. Those interested should note that the Harvard University Archives also has a Roscoe Conkling Simmons collection.


Boulware, Marcus H. The Oratory of Negro Leaders, 1900-1968. Negro Universities Press, 1969.

Lentz-Smith, Adriane Dannette. Freedom Struggles: African Americans and World War I. Harvard University Press, 2009.

Posted by Nicole Carmolingo, AARL Archives Intern

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