SC State’s Womanist Scholar Presents at Prestigious Oxford Roundtable

Monday, October 3, 2011

Dr. WoodsMany marvel at Dr. Barbara A. Woods' stories on women and civil rights.  A full professor of history at SC State University, Woods is distinct, not because she transcribes her stories from a book, but because she retrieves her history by visiting the source.

“I have traveled many places to interview many women,” says Woods.  However, through her travels, a woman who stands out for her was close to home, South Carolina civil rights leader, Modjeska Simkins. “She was secretary of the S.C. Conference of Branches of the NAACP for almost 20 years,” recalls Woods.  She was fired from her full-time job as director of Negro work for the South Carolina Tuberculosis Association because she was doing NAACP work, and she told them she wouldn't stop working with the NAACP.”  According to Woods, Simkins also assisted the national office, hosting in her home attorneys such as Thurgood Marshall and Robert Carter who would come to S.C. to work on cases like Briggs v. Elliott, which was the first of the five U. S. Supreme Court cases that were decided together as Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.  Woods and Simkins became so close that Woods had a room in Simkins' home for several years. That residence, located in Columbia, S. C., is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Woods recently fascinated professors from Poland, Nigeria, Italy, Ireland, Taiwan, Canada, Mexico, England and the West Coast with stories like these during the Oxford Roundtable at Oxford University in Oxford, England. The interdisciplinary roundtable was created 23 years ago to promote education, art, science, religion and charity by means of academic conferences and publication of scholarly papers. Woods was selected to attend the roundtable to engage in scholarly discussion and to present a paper on this year's theme, Traits of Women in Power:  A View from History. 

During the 10-day visit this summer, Woods was among great academic minds from colleges and universities across the world. “Oh, my goodness, it was wonderful,” says Woods.  “It was such a marvelous experience because there was so much diversity among the participants and the topics of discussion.  We looked at European women such as Queen Elizabeth I, Marie Curie, Margaret Thatcher and Simone de Beauvoir.  Among the range of American women were Pearl Buck, Angelina and Sarah Grimke and my topic.”

The Gadsden, S.C. native also wowed members of the roundtable with her presentation:  Three American Civil Rights Heroes-Coretta Scott King, Fannie Lou Townsend Hamer and Modjeska Monteith Simkins.  Woods strove to paint a portrait of three women in civil rights who often worked in the background, all leaving their jobs to participate full-time in a movement that would affect generations.  “My purpose was to tell their stories, and also to generalize and try to find out what made these women choose to have civil rights as a public career.  My interest was in finding out what were the factors causing them to make such a sacrifice for the good of their race.”

According to Woods, most participants at the Oxford Roundtable were not acquainted with the stories of Simkins or grassroots activist Hamer, who popularized the phrase, “I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired.”  “They hadn't heard this,” says Woods.  “They were very excited and I received all types of praise.”
Praise should be given to Woods.  The scholar received a Bachelor of Arts in English at Emory University, a Master of Arts from Cornell University and a Ph.D. in American studies at Emory University. Her research has also included further study in counseling at Columbia University and Candler School of Theology at Emory University, as well as Bible studies at Ft. Clark Biblical Institute.

Woods, who also has 20 years of experience in English with a specialty in American literature, has co-authored several books, including: “Women in the Civil Rights Movement: Trailblazers and Torchbearers,”  “The Legacy of African-American Leadership for the Present and the Future,”  “Black History Learning Resource Package” and “Assessment of Potential for Leadership: Development of the Measures.”  Most recently, she completed a chapter in a university-press book, “Southern Women in the Twenty-First Century: A Historical Perspective for a New Millennium,” and she completed an article on Coretta Scott King in the book, “The African American National Biography.”  Woods also won a national award, the Letitia W. Brown Award, for one of her publications, an article on Modjeska Monteith Simkins.

She has held several postdoctoral fellowships at the following institutions: The Center for Research on Women at Duke-UNC at Chapel Hill, The National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution, The Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History, the Institute for Southern Studies at the University of South Carolina and the Center for Black Women in Church and Society at the Interdenominational Theological Center. Woods has also studied overseas in Kuwait and Syria as a Joseph J. Malone Faculty Fellow in Middle Eastern Studies.

Woods' excitement about her participation in the Oxford Roundtable and her love of history are evident. “I always speak at various churches on women's contributions to American culture,” says Woods. “And, guess what, at the Oxford Roundtable, I opened up the panel discussion on the first day as lead commentator for the discussion on European women; I gave my paper on Wednesday, and on Thursday, the last day of our presentations, they selected me to lead the discussion to close it out too.”

For additional information on the Oxford Roundtable, visit their website at