A biographer defined Francis Butler Simkins as “one of the most interesting intellectual forces of his generation.” As a scholar who questioned conventional thinking he “helped lay the foundation of the Civil Rights Movement. Yet, when these momentous events of the 1950s and 1960s challenged the traditional order in the American South, Simkins discovered much…that he believed should be conserved and [thus] became a spokesman for tradition.”
The Francis Butler Simkins that I knew from 1950 until his death in 1966 was a complex man, who enjoyed nothing more than questioning and offering a fresh look at the past. He delighted in ideas and unusual individuals; only dullness bored him. As a scholar, he stood ahead of most of his contemporaries, not just because of his perceptive views and insights, but because he wrote the kind if history that upset people–Northerners as well as Southerners.
Born in Edgefield, South Carolina, December 14, 1897, Simkins took his undergraduate degree in 1918 from the University of South Carolina, where he studied history with Professor Yates Snowden, and in 1920 received an M.A. and in 1926 a Ph.D from Columbia University.