Simmons, Althea Thelma L. (1924–1990)


By: Tiana Wilson

Type: Biography

Published: July 26, 2022

Updated: July 26, 2022


Althea T. L. Simmons, civil rights activist, lawyer, and lobbyist, was born on April 17, 1924, in Shreveport, Louisiana, to Moses Mack Simmons and Lillian Elvira (Littleton) Simmons. Raised in Franklin Parish, Louisiana, she graduated with honors early from high school and earned her bachelor of arts with honors from Southern University and A&M College, a historically black university, in 1945. Simmons furthered her education and received a master’s degree in marketing from the University of Illinois in 1951 and her law degree from Howard University in 1956. By 1950 she had married George Robinson.

Prior to her graduation from Howard University, Simmons relocated to Dallas. By 1959 she was the head of the business department at Wiley Junior College, managing editor of the Dallas Star Post, and practicing law. While in Dallas, she also volunteered for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) local chapter and served as chair of the executive committee of the Dallas branch and executive secretary of the NAACP Texas State Conference. In 1960 Simmons, along with other Texas women inspired by the Greensboro sit-ins, protested a segregated bus station in downtown Dallas by sitting-in at the lunch counter for around six hours. That same year she led a demonstration against segregation at Fair Park. In the early 1960s Simmons served as the NAACP’s regional field secretary in Los Angeles. When Medgar Evers was assassinated in 1963, she helped Evers’s family relocate to California. Simmons led voter registration efforts in Mississippi in 1965. While leading field operations in the South, she changed rental cars every few days to avoid being tracked by the Ku Klux Klan.

In the mid-1960s Simmons moved to New York, where the NAACP’s headquarters was located, and was the director of association’s training department. In the 1970s she served as the national director of education and associate director of branch and field services for the organization. Her duties in the later position included supervising NAACP branches and field staff throughout the country, overseeing membership drives, and managing the association’s Youth and College Division. As director of the education department, Simmons developed curricula and programs for children. She was also sought as a public speaker throughout the country.

In 1979 Simmons became the director of the NAACP’s Washington, D.C. She successfully lobbied for the extension of the Voting Rights Act in 1982; the creation of a federal holiday honoring the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1983; a Congressional override of President Ronald Regan’s veto of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986; and the passage of the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987 and the Fair Housing Act of 1988. She also testified against the confirmation of Supreme Court nominees William Rehnquist and William Bork. Simmons was a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and the Asbury United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., and she chaired various committees of the United Methodist Church Board of Pensions.

On September 13, 1990, at Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C., Althea T. L. Simmons died of respiratory failure. She had been hospitalized for several months following hip surgery and continued to lead NAACP lobbying efforts from her hospital room. Her primary legislative focus during that time was the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1990, which President George H. W. Bush vetoed in October. Simmons was highly esteemed for her ability to build consensus across the political spectrum, commitment to equality, and indefatigable energy, and her death was widely mourned by members of the NAACP. She was awarded many honors throughout her life, including the President's Award of Washburn University, the Howard University Alumni Award for Postgraduate Achievement in Law and Public Service, the Gertrude E. Rush Award of the National Bar Association, the Patricia Roberts Harris Award of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, and the National Trends and Services Award of Links, Inc. Simmons was buried at Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

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Chillicothe Gazette, September 23, 1977. Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Mississippi), August 1, 1965. Nadine Cohodas, Strom Thurmond & the Politics of Southern Change (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1994). Congressional Record, 101st Congress, 2nd Session, September 17, 1990. The Crisis 97 (October 1990). Dallas Morning News, April 12, 1959. El Paso Herald-Post, May 24, 1960. Bruce A. Glasrud and Merline Pitre, eds., Black Women in Texas History (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2008). Jet, October 15, 1990. National Association for the Advance of Colored People Records, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. New York Times, September 17, 1990. Post-Standard (Syracuse), August 2, 1965. Washington Post, September 15, 1990.

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Tiana Wilson, “Simmons, Althea Thelma L.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 18, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/simmons-althea-thelma-l.

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July 26, 2022
July 26, 2022

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