Supper Table Spotlight: Candace Wiley Honors Modjeska Simkins and Matilda Evans

We’re featuring the artists from the Supper Table project throughout the summer. This is the 8th in our series on Supper Table Artists

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Candace G. Wiley is the co-founding director of The Watering Hole, a non-profit organization that brings a hint of Harlem-Renaissance to the modern South. She is a South Carolina native who graduated with her B.A from Bowie State University, her MA from Clemson University, and her MFA from the University of South Carolina where she graduated as a Dickey Fellow.


Wiley’s writings create striking imagery and invoke imagination, and she frequently writes in the style of Afrofuturism, introducing themes from mutants to mermaids. Whether fiction or non-fiction, she always brings her raw imagining of individuals’ lives to the table. She is a Vermont Studio Center Fellow, Lighthouse Works Center Fellow, Fine Arts Work Center Fellow and Callaloo Fellow.


Wiley joins our Supper Table team as one of our literary artists, where she has done incredible work honoring not just one, but two different women, each with their own essay: Modjeska Monteith Simkins and Matilda Evans.


Modjeska Simkins was a matriarch of civil rights in South Carolina and a leader in African-American public health and social reform, specifically in Columbia. Simkins referred to herself as a human rights activist, and that she was.


The following is an excerpt from Wiley’s essay on Simkins:

Throughout her career, Modjeska helped launch the multi-racial Southern Negro Youth Congress (SYNC). The organization’s pact starts, “We, Negro and White young people, one thousand strong, do hereby declare our common purpose, to build a new and democratic South.” Modjeska ran for office; raised funding for renovations to the Good Samaritan-Waverly Hospital, Columbia’s Black hospital; hosted a weekly Civil Rights radio show called, “I woke up this morning with my mind set on freedom,” which she paid for out of pocket; equalized white collar jobs for Black WPA workers; and rectified the gross mistreatment of Black mental health patients. In Columbia’s segregated Black mental institution, female patients weren’t provided shoes, underwear, or gowns; were housed in leaky, dirty, unscreened buildings; had no psychiatrists; and Black female patients were forced to bathe and help dress the White patients at the White mental institution, while Black male patients worked the yard.


After Judge Waring was forced to retire and leave the state, he invited Modjeska to his New York home. Public sentiment had turned on him when he left his first wife of thirty years, who was Charleston aristocracy, and married his second wife, a Yankee matron who turned him against all forms of discrimination. 


“So you’re still in Carolina? You haven’t had any trouble?” He asked Modjeska.


“Well they shot up my hotel a few times, bombed my brother’s yard, called the house with threats. I belonged to all kind of organizations that were labeled communist fronts, so I've been Red-Smeared up and down South Carolina.” Modjeska tossed her hands.


“Not bad, huh?”


“Not bad.”


Like Simkins, Matilda Evans was a prominent human rights activist. The state’s second licensed black female doctor, she took care of not only black patients who could not receive care from white doctors, but also of white patients who came to her because of caring, open-minded spirit.


The following is Wiley’s imagining of Evans in her own essay:


Imagine Matilda reaching out to her powerful contacts. Taking tea in some fancy living room, the ice tinkles the glass when she tilts it forward for a kiss. Affable as always, she’d assert, "You, sir, have truly been an honest blessing from the Lord. It’s people like you who could even make heaven a better place." Just a little butter over bread. "Even the way you threw your resources into furnishing St. Luke’s, you are a man of action."

"What really concerns me is your beautiful family." His face would have frozen. His eyebrow perched. Was it a warning? A threat? "Jenny, Katie, and Davey, they are so happy and innocent, but I’ve seen illness firsthand." He would have tilted his head to the side, hesitant to ask for more information.

"I don’t know how the health of Negro children isn’t a concern to all of us. What infects the child infects the mother. Then the mother, in her infinite sense of responsibility, returns to her domestic employ, cooking for a wonderful White family like yours, dressing the children, grooming the mistress of the house, and the epidemic spreads through sheer love. Isn’t it awful?" It wasn’t a threat. There was kindness in her eyes. Her manners were impeccable. The way she might’ve tinked the spoon around her glass, in sweet tea that didn’t need stirring. There was no hint of anger or frustration.

"It’s a conundrum really. Germs know no color line." Matilda would’ve sat comfortably, occasionally lifting her eyes from her glass. She wouldn’t mention the specific cases of ringworm or scabies she’d seen. He would be well aware that Tuberculosis was ravaging Black Columbians.

He would’ve leaned back in his chair and smirked, amused at how she’d so easily played his emotions, yet interested in her solution.

You can find the completed versions of these essays, as well as the other 10 essays by our wonderful literary artists, in our upcoming book Setting the Supper Table. Early access to copies of this book are included in several of our premiums on our Kickstarter, along with other opportunities such as being listed as the executive producer on one of our films or sponsoring a place-setting honoring one of our 12 women at the table.

If you’re interested in one of our premiums, act fast. Half of the place-settings have already been sponsored, and the campaign only has four days left. You can secure your seat at the table here: