Biography

Dr. C.O. Simpkins, Sr., is a dentist, civic leader, and hero in the Civil Rights movement in the United States. Beginning in the 1950s, Dr. Simpkins focused on injustices facing people of color, with an emphasis on securing voting rights. To that end, he was founder of the United Christian Conference on Registration and Voting which helped him to support his efforts. He was also a founding member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, serving with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Early Life

Cuthbert Ormond Simpkins was born in Mansfield, Louisiana, on January 13, 1925 and was reared in that community, the son of Dr. Oscar Simpkins, a dentist, and Olivia Gardner Simpkins. He had one sister, Marguerite.

Education

Following high school, the young C.O. attended Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, and Tennessee State University, where he received his undergraduate degrees. He later enrolled at Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry in Nashville where he earned a Doctorate of Dental Surgery degree.

Military Service

C.O. joined the U.S. Air Force, serving as a captain at Sampson Air Force Base in upstate New York. He was honorably discharged in 1951 and returned to Louisiana to practice dentistry in Shreveport.

Family

Dr. Simpkins is married to Elaine Shoemaker Simpkins, Ph.D., a biochemist. He is the father of five children:

  • Cuthbert Ormond Simpkins II, MD, of Shreveport, Louisiana, a trauma surgeon
  • Deborah Simpkins-Savage, of California, a translator
  • Eric Simpkins of Washington, DC, a computer analyst
  • Cheri Simpkins Gardner of Washington, DC, an assistant district attorney
  • Alicia Ritchens of Australia

Dental Career

A dentist by profession, Dr. Simpkins first practiced with his father upon returning to Louisiana. He later opened his own dental practice and became successful in his field. When not practicing dentistry, Dr. Simpkins used his free time to address the injustices faced by Black Americans, concentrating on voting rights.

Early Life in Shreveport

The atmosphere in Shreveport, Louisiana, as in many cities in the South, was not a welcoming one, particularly for educated African-Americans who had lived outside the segregated South. In a clear effort to segregate people of color from white citizens, African-Americans were barred from the restaurants, restrooms, hotels and even water fountains used by the white population. They were also disenfranchised through voter tests used to discourage and to suppress their participation in society. Harassment by racist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and even by law enforcement officials was commonplace. Men and women of color engaged in the professions and trades were badgered and professional licenses were often denied. Though activities in Shreveport may not have risen to the level of national attention as did activities in Selma, Montgomery and Birmingham, the city presented many of the same challenges.

Leaving Shreveport

Dr. Simpkins participated in civil rights activities and was closely associated with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He invited Dr. King to visit Shreveport to draw attention to the cause. This and his other activities created hostility and harassment from many elected officials, law enforcement and racist organizations.

His home was firebombed as was his office, and Dr. Simpkins was prominently featured on a death list created by local racist organizations. Fearing for the safety of his family and neighbors and unable to secure insurance for his home and dental practice, he made a difficult decision to leave Shreveport, settling in New York.

Time in New York

Dr. Simpkins and his family moved to New York where he could continue his civil right activities without fear of retribution. In addition to establishing a dental practice on Long Island, he continued his civil rights advocacy and also became involved in community activities. Using the organizational and civic leadership skills he had honed in Shreveport, he was active in the formation and establishment of the York College of the City University of New York which is located in Jamaica, Queens. York College has provides urban residents with greatly improved access to higher education resources since its founding in 1966 and today includes over 8000 students on a modern 50-acre campus.

Return to Shreveport

After 26 years of self-imposed exile in New York and with a feeling of hope for the future, Dr. Simpkins returned to Shreveport. Shortly afterwards, he ran for mayor, winning the primary but losing the run-off in a very tight race. Undeterred, he subsequently campaigned for a seat in the Louisiana House of Representatives, representing District 4 from 1992 to 1996. During his term he introduced important legislation and was known for his ability to work with colleagues across the aisle.

He continues to meet with groups of high school students across Caddo Parish, impressing upon them the need for community activism and expanding their awareness of local history against the backdrop of the struggle for civil rights in America.

Dr. Simpkins retired from dentistry in 2011. He continues to be a strong community advocate, generously giving of his time and his resources. For example, he and his wife donated land for a community clinic to address health in an underserved neighborhood, and that donation was the stimulus for additional clinics to support healthcare in other underserved neighborhoods. He also speaks to students to educate new generations about the history of the turbulent Civil Rights movement.

Professional Affiliations and Membership

  • National Society of Dental Practitioners
  • National Dental Association
  • Academy of General Dentistry
  • American Analgesic Society
  • American Dental Association
  • Queens County Dental Society
  • Queens Clinical Society
  • Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity
  • Institute of Continuing Education of the Eleventh District (Charter Member)
  • Sigma Pi Phi
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