Rev. Wesley Sims Sr.

Rev. Wesley Sims Sr. came to Kansas in 1920 and to Lawrence in 1925. He and his wife had five children, who attended the integrated Cordley Grade School. He served as the state evangelist for his church, Disciples of Christ. His church in Lawrence was the Second Christian Church. Rev. Sims shares his pastoral perspective of people on welfare. He helped his wife's family move to Kansas in the Great Depression.

Reverend Wesley Simon Sims Sr.
June 16, 1977

Interview by Curtis Nether

MR. NETHER: What is your name?

REVEREND SIMS: Reverend Wesley Simon Sims Sr. I usually use just Reverend W. S. Sims Sr.

MR. NETHER: What's your marital status, Reverend Sims?

REVEREND SIMS: What's that?

MR. NETHER: Your marital status. Are you married?


MR. NETHER: What's your age?

REVEREND SIMS: Eighty-four.

MR. NETHER: Do you have any children?


MR. NETHER: What are their ages, starting from the youngest to the oldest?

REVEREND SIMS: We had better go from the oldest, come down, maybe.


REVEREND SIMS: My oldest kid was born in 1929 when we first came to the State of Kansas in 1920.

MR. NETHER: Be about fifty-six?

REVEREND SIMS: About fifty-seven. And they average about every two years to the next one, be about fifty-five and fifty-three on down, down. About two years between time.

MR. NETHER: That's a good way to remember. If you remember the oldest, you can remember the ages of the rest of them.


MR. NETHER: What were your parents' names?

REVEREND SIMS: My father's name was Simon Sims. Mother's name was Candace.

MR. NETHER: Where were they born?

REVEREND SIMS: They were born in the state of Arkansas.

MR. NETHER: When did you come to Douglas County, Reverend Sims?

REVEREND SIMS: In July of 1925.

MR. NETHER: Why did you?

REVEREND SIMS: That is to live. I had been here before. I used to pastor in Parsons, Kansas, when I first came here, and then Topeka, Kansas, and came here.

MR. NETHER: Why did you decide all of a sudden to come here and live?

REVEREND SIMS: I was serving the state?I was pastoring in Topeka, Kansas. Our work here was about to go down, about to lose our church property here, and I really came here to save the property in the church and so forth, and that we did.


REVEREND SIMS: You have seen the church, you know.

MR. NETHER: You mentioned that this was the first time that you actually came to live, but you had come other times to visit?

REVEREND SIMS: I mean because of the fact, as I said, when I was serving as state evangelist, I served all the churches in the state.

MR. NETHER: Is that the reason why you was visiting Lawrence every now and then?

REVEREND SIMS: Yes, and naturally that was the work of the evangelist, to visit the various churches, once in a while.

MR. NETHER: Do you have any acquaintances here, like relatives, cousins, uncles or aunts?

REVEREND SIMS: I had an uncle.

MR. NETHER: Reverend Sims, I want you to think back as far as you can. Think back to 1925? What was Lawrence like? What did it look like? How were the houses built? Were the roads paved or can you?

REVEREND SIMS: No, different than they are now. Most of the buildings was just frame buildings and things like that and just very small town.

MR. NETHER: What was [old] west Lawrence like?

REVEREND SIMS: West Lawrence?


REVEREND SIMS: West Lawrence was, I might say it was pretty fair because it was better situated as far as having houses and things like that than east Lawrence and some of the other places, north Lawrence.

MR. NETHER: What about south Lawrence? Did many black people live in south Lawrence?


MR. NETHER: In 1925?

REVEREND SIMS: We had not too many. There was only one family that I knew of that kind of had a business. That was the Gleeds. They had a little store and they had a place where they sold eggs and things like that and had a sign on there, "We know our eggs."

MR. NETHER: "We know our eggs?"

REVEREND SIMS: That was out here on Twenty-third Street at that time. Had a little store there.

MR. NETHER: Is that Twenty-third and Louisiana? Was Gleeds' store on Twenty-third and Louisiana?

REVEREND SIMS: Yes, Twenty-third and Louisiana.

MR. NETHER: And that's the only black family you knew that was?

REVEREND SIMS: We had a barber shop here. Man had a barber shop by the name of?can't think of his first name, but his last name was Jackson and he was the only colored barber in town. He had a barber shop at that time.

MR. NETHER: Was there any place in particular that most blacks lived in 1925 when you came?

REVEREND SIMS: They were kind of scattered, you might say, here and there. I don't think it's too many of them living on, you might say, better streets and things like that.

MR. NETHER: Could a black during this time build a house or move into a house anywhere in Lawrence, you think?

REVEREND SIMS: As far as I know, I am not positive about them building and so forth. I bought soon after I got here, bought my own home place, and in fact I was here about ten years before I bought my own home. And of course there was other colored people here who had homes alright. But there wasn't too much of homes at that particular time.

MR. NETHER: Again, Reverend Sims, I want you to think back to your earliest times in Lawrence. How did white people and black people relate to each other? Did you have a lot of discrimination, a lot of separatism? What in general was it like, the relationship? What in general was the relationship like between white and blacks?

REVEREND SIMS: Really, it was fair, you might say, but not up to par where it ought to have been because there was discrimination, and we had to kind of fight for those things, in theaters, things of that sort. We had to fight for those things for admission to the theater up here on Massachusetts. My oldest son, he used to go there and they would kind of discriminate him, didn't want him to sit certain places. Had to go certain places, and we had to almost have a lawsuit about that kind of stuff. Finally got to the place where colored could sit any place he wanted to sit in the theaters.

MR. NETHER: When you came here, Reverend Sims, you came to pastor a church, to serve in a church here in Lawrence?

REVEREND SIMS: Yes, minister a church and save the property.

MR. NETHER: What was the name of the church?

REVEREND SIMS: Second Christian Church, Disciples of Christ.

MR. NETHER: Where was it located?

REVEREND SIMS: At that time it was located on Nineteenth and Tennessee Streets. Had a little church there, little frame building, and they was about to lose it and they began to pave the streets and things, Lawrence began to build up, put a paved street down through Nineteenth on out there. There was kind of a big bill come up against the church, so to speak, and they wasn't able to pay that part of it, and we just had to really get rid of that and try to get some place else, so we did have service in our home, until we got a chance to buy a little store front out here on Thirteenth and New Jersey Street, and we remained in there for about four or five years, got that paid for and then we got a chance to buy the property that we have now.

MR. NETHER: How many members did you have in your church when you first came?

REVEREND SIMS: To be frank about it, about three families, and wasn't very many in the family, maybe two or three in the family, that was really, you might say, trying to carry on the work.

MR. NETHER: How many do you have now?

REVEREND SIMS: We have about a hundred sixty or seventy colored people. Most of them is what you call Baptists or Methodists or something else.

MR. NETHER: Reverend Sims, do you see any major changes in the black church since you have been here in Lawrence compared to today with 1925?

REVEREND SIMS: Very much so, quite a change.

MR. NETHER: What type of changes have there been?

REVEREND SIMS: There's been a change to the extent that we have better buildings and better cooperation on the part with the white folks and things of that sort. For instance, each year now we have service together, the church down here on New Hampshire Street, Trinity Lutheran church, we have a union service every year. First Christian Church and our church cooperate very well.

MR. NETHER: Did whites and blacks worship together when you first came to Lawrence?

REVEREND SIMS: Very few of them did.

MR. NETHER: To kind of change to another subject here, I am going to ask you what you can recall about certain periods in history. Lots of these instances in history happened before you came, but maybe you heard something about them. And if you can't answer, if you just don't remember anything about the period, just say, "Well, I don't remember."

Reverend Sims, do you remember anything about the Civil War and how the Civil War related to black people here in Lawrence?

REVEREND SIMS: I don't know exactly what the situation was here at that time.

MR. NETHER: Have you ever heard any stories about Quantrill's Raid?

REVEREND SIMS: Yes, I have heard quite a bit about Quantrill's Raid.

MR. NETHER: What type of stories have you heard?

REVEREND SIMS: They told me at that time that there was a big difference in the mixture of people, cooperation, things of that sort, than there is today.

MR. NETHER: What do you mean by a difference in the cooperation?

REVEREND SIMS: I mean they didn't have the same ideas and thoughts, I presume. They thought maybe that one person was more than another one, or something of that sort, and had no particular rights to have their say about this or that or the other.

MR. NETHER: After the Civil War, Reverend Sims, came a period of time know as Reconstruction. It was when the South and the North tried to rebuild the South. This also was a time when the old order, the former slave masters, regained power in the South. Many black people became upset. They became disenchanted again and they started to migrate. One of the first places that they migrated was here in Kansas. Can you remember anything about these migrations, maybe some family that was the first to come here with the massive exodus of blacks?

REVEREND SIMS: I came to Kansas in 1920. My first pastorate was in Parsons, Kansas, and the second was in Topeka, Kansas, and ever since I have been in Kansas, why, things have been moving along, I think, a little better than previous to that time, from what I have learned and what I really know by visiting various places and working together and church work and so forth, because that's the main thing that I have been in church work all the time. I have never had any particular real discrimination as far as I was concerned because I came here to Lawrence and I have been the only colored fellow as far as I know in Douglas County with the alliance, and I have been with all of them and they don't have no discrimination.

MR. NETHER: Reverend Sims, what did it seem like most black people did for fun during the 1920s when you first got here? How did black people socialize?

REVEREND SIMS: How did they do what?

MR. NETHER: How did they socialize? How did they have fun? What did they do for fun in the '20s when you got here?

REVEREND SIMS: There was some who had various activities going on, such as sometimes they would have picnics and something like that, get together maybe once a year.

MR. NETHER: Would these be church-sponsored activities?

REVEREND SIMS: The church activities, they was kind of somewhat, I guess, skeptic of thinking maybe if they would unite or work with the other fellow that they would lose their members or something but we were finally working together, let people know that if you were in Christ, if you were a Christian, you were just a Christian, makes no difference about the denomination, because the Bible tells us we are neither bond nor free, Jew nor Greek, male nor female; one in Christ. That's been my message in telling people that my stand is speak what the Book speaks, the Bible. I believe in things being done decently and in order. That's one of my thoughts, that all things be done decently and in order. That's the Book. And then the Book tells us come let us reason together. Though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white as snow. Though they be like crimson, they shall be like wool. Then I believe in system and organization. Should have things well organized, and unless we come and reason together we can't do it. Can't be done decently and in order, so that's my saying.

MR. NETHER: All right. Reverend Sims, how much did the Depression affect black people here in Douglas County?

REVEREND SIMS: To a great extent it affected them. There was some who came here after, as I say, from Mississippi and places of that sort. My wife was a Mississippian by birth, and she had quite a few kind folks now that came up here in Kansas since we have been here and we have helped to get lots of them up here and helped them after they got here, and this was very rough for them. Some of them came up because of their husband and so forth wasn't just getting along like they ought to, and they just left the South and came this way, and I have helped many of them come to come in this town here.

MR. NETHER: Could you tell us again kind of why did many blacks come from Mississippi up here? Did they mostly come during the Depression?

REVEREND SIMS: I think so, because there was a time when the thing was kind of very tough down there, I guess, and they thought they would come to Kansas and knew some people here and figured that things would be a little better, and I do say that we have helped more people, not bragging about it, than any other colored person or white as far as I know that came from the South came up here, and located here, bought their homes, and things of that sort. Get along very nicely now.

MR. NETHER: And they like Lawrence; they like Kansas better than where they came from?

REVEREND SIMS: That's right.

MR. NETHER: Do you think there was many black people that were unemployed in Lawrence here during the Depression or in Douglas County?

REVEREND SIMS: Yes, there was quite a few that was unemployed and those that was employed, they what you might call meager jobs, things of that sort. Didn't get nothing marked or anything.

MR. NETHER: How did most of them survive, unemployed, not making much money?

REVEREND SIMS: Lots of them was on what you call relief, things of that sort, welfare. Had to get a number of them on because they could get a chance to get hold of something, get a job, things of that sort.

MR. NETHER: What role did the church play during the 1930s?

REVEREND SIMS: I don't know too much about the other churches, what they did, but our church, as a rule, we have always helped people, makes no difference whether it was white, colored, or what not. I have been the fellow who people know me, I have been here since 1925 getting people out of jail, visiting the sick in the hospital, rest homes, and all those places, and that's been my job, my work along that line. In addition to preaching.

MR. NETHER: Reverend Sims, how did you feel when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected as president?

REVEREND SIMS: How did I feel?


REVEREND SIMS: I felt to a certain extent that it was all right to make a change. I believe in making changes once in a while, things like that, and I felt that perhaps things would work pretty fair, which I think they did in a way to a certain extent. I am no real political man or anything of that sort, but I always figured the Lord knew best and thing for us to do was to work together and cooperate and that was we would get results because right's going to win in the long run.

MR. NETHER: Do you remember World War II when it started?

REVEREND SIMS: Yes. In fact, in 1942 I think. I remember some things about it because I had some sons that was old enough to go to World War II, and they went, came back. One of them served in the Army as an assistant minister or pastor, chaplain like, and they all went and came back except one, and he didn't have to go, working for Uncle Sam, still working for him. Goes all over the country. He's in Washington, DC, now. I have one in the Navy. Making a career out of that.

MR. NETHER: During this time, Reverend Sims, there were many lynchings. Blacks were not getting hired in government jobs, some of them. There was a lot of discrimination. Despite these facts, do you think blacks were anxious to go and fight in World War II?

REVEREND SIMS: I don't know that they were anxious to go, but there was some who felt no doubt that it was probably maybe better that they went than to stay.

MR. NETHER: What have your sons told you about World War II? Did they go and serve in an all-black unit?

REVEREND SIMS: I don't think there's too much discrimination in World War II with the coloreds and the whites. Not my boys, as far as I am concerned. All of them has been in there. As I say, they all went and came back. They seemed to be pretty well satisfied with how the thing went.

MR. NETHER: Were they in white battalions or were they in all-black units and battalions?

REVEREND SIMS: I really don't think I can tell you that.

MR. NETHER: Reverend Sims, in 1954 there was a court decision, Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education. This decision said that separation or segregation was illegal. You could not have separate facilities for whites and blacks. What effect did this decision, which took place only twenty-five miles away, have on Douglas County?

REVEREND SIMS: I really couldn't tell you the exact effect, but I imagine it had some effect, no question about that.

MR. NETHER: Did your children go to school here?


MR. NETHER: What schools did they go to in the elementary grades, grammar school?

REVEREND SIMS: All of them began with the grades and went to the high school and most of them went to the university. In fact, all of them went to the university and three of them graduated from the university.

MR. NETHER: Where was their first school that they went to?

REVEREND SIMS: First school they went to was Cordley grade school, when we first came to Lawrence.

MR. NETHER: Was it integrated? Did they go to school with white children?


MR. NETHER: Did they have any black teachers, do you know?

REVEREND SIMS: No, I don't think they had any black teachers at that time.

MR. NETHER: Where did they go from Cordley now what junior high did they go to?

REVEREND SIMS: From Cordley School they went to what you call junior high, located down here on Massachusetts Street in the 1400 block at that time.

MR. NETHER: What was the name of this building?

REVEREND SIMS: It was called junior high.

MR. NETHER: And was this junior high integrated?

REVEREND SIMS: Yes, white and colored went together.

MR. NETHER: Did they have any black teachers?

REVEREND SIMS: Now, let me see. I don't remember whether they had black teachers or not.

MR. NETHER: And from junior high they went to Lawrence high school?

REVEREND SIMS: Yeah, Lawrence High, and then to the university. They all went to the university, three of them graduated. One graduated from Indiana and the other from regular college course there.

MR. NETHER: Did they participate in extracurricular activities much in high school, like football, basketball, track?

REVEREND SIMS: They did, yes.

MR. NETHER: Did they participate with whites?

REVEREND SIMS: Sometimes they did, but most of the time they had their own groups, you know, where they had their ball games and things of that sort.

MR. NETHER: What was KU like when they first went? If I was back when your children started KU, what would I see? Would the campus be anything elaborate like it is now?

REVEREND SIMS: Well, somewhat, because at the time they were going to KU things was much better then, I think, in a way, than they were previous to that time.

MR. NETHER: Did they pledge any fraternal organizations, fraternities or sororities?

REVEREND SIMS: Now, I am not positive about that.

MR. NETHER: Okay. Was there any separation up at KU, maybe the blacks in a cafeteria had to sit one place and the white another? Did they ever talk to you about that?

REVEREND SIMS: No, they didn't.

MR. NETHER: Reverend Sims, do you see any major changes here in Douglas County? What have been some of the major changes since you have been here in 1925?

REVEREND SIMS: My work has been in religious work and that has been a good number of changes, because when you come to the services now we go to the white church and the white church comes to us. I have preached for them and they have preached for me. I have some white folks belong to my church, same as we have some colored folks belong to some white churches too. So there's been quite a change along that line.

MR. NETHER: Reverend Sims, would you want your children to live here, to grow up in?

REVEREND SIMS: I would be pretty well satisfied if they did, because they have to make Lawrence what it is. I feel that way about it. I feel that in as much as they didn't have jobs here for them in time for them to get jobs, they get jobs elsewhere, like out in California, places like that, they all have their own home now and they went where they could get what they wanted to get and get it now, so to speak, and they all had good jobs and went where they went, and was fortunate enough, the Lord just blessed them that they get along very nicely.

MR. NETHER: Good. Do you know and did you know—this still starts from 1925—anyone that was on welfare?

REVEREND SIMS: Yes, plenty of them. I helped to get a number of them on welfare. I have members of my church now, they could tell you now, if it hadn't been for me, they don't know what they would have done. If they didn't get on welfare, get to the place where they could help themselves.

MR. NETHER: When did most of these people get on welfare?

REVEREND SIMS: After the 1930s and '40s, things were pretty tight along there, but after that they got to the place where they could get jobs and do things. Were still some on welfare, probably ought not to be on welfare, but you know how some people are. If they can get by without doing something, they don't always do it.


REVEREND SIMS: That's on both sides of the fence, both white and colored.

MR. NETHER: Reverend Sims, do you think there has been class distinctions between blacks such as the black profession, someone that might have been a lawyer or doctor, compared to some black that was on welfare, compared to maybe a minister, compared to a teacher? Were there class distinctions, things that made some blacks seemingly better than others?

REVEREND SIMS: There might have been. I am not positive about that, but I think it depends on the people and the way they felt about things and how they felt, what they could take and bear, and all that sort of thing.

MR. NETHER: Reverend Sims, do you ever leave town much?

REVEREND SIMS: I have in times past, going to various meetings, as I said, like church conventions. Sometimes we meet in different towns in Kansas and national, international convention, meet in other places like Ohio, other places like that.

MR. NETHER: Where have you been in Ohio?

REVEREND SIMS: Chicago. I mean in the East, in Ohio.

MR. NETHER: What cities though in Ohio?

REVEREND SIMS: And I went to Chicago. I have been to conventions in Chicago, too.

MR. NETHER: Can you remember any cities in Ohio that you have been to?

REVEREND SIMS: Cincinnati. I worked at YMCA, worked there a year.

MR. NETHER: I had to get that because I am from Ohio.

REVEREND SIMS: I used to work at Dunbars at the YMCA there.

MR. NETHER: They got a high school named Dunbar, isn't it, Cincinnati Dunbar?

REVEREND SIMS: Boys come back from World War I, just coming back over to Cincinnati and places like that, and I was working and my wife worked there at that time.

MR. NETHER: Reverend Sims, how did you get your church again?

REVEREND SIMS: How was that?

MR. NETHER: How did you get your church?

REVEREND SIMS: How did I get my church? In what sense do you mean?

MR. NETHER: Well, ?

REVEREND SIMS: First place, I was a ministerial student. I was graduated from one of our Christian institutes, and I had the regular four years Bible course, two years in Old Testament, two in New Testament, and homiletics, and then when I graduated, I was ordained as a minister, the year I graduated, 1918. I went from that school to Cincinnati, Ohio, had a job there, worked as a clerk there in the YMCA. WHS Dunbar, he was the head man. And boys who was coming back home, many of them would come there to the Y and stayed till they got a chance to get other places. And then 1919 first time I went direct into ministry pastoring churches. My first pastorate was in Georgetown, Kentucky. Then I came out to Kansas in 1920.

MR. NETHER: Did you know Langston Hughes?

REVEREND SIMS: Yes, I knew him. Fine fellow.

MR. NETHER: Could you tell us some things about him, if you can remember?

REVEREND SIMS: I mean I didn't know too much about him, but I meant I know some of the works he has done, different things, and that sort, and I just thought of him as a very fine fellow.

MR. NETHER: Can you think of any celebrities, black celebrities, from Lawrence that's went out, was able to make a name for themselves, or Douglas County?

REVEREND SIMS: I don't recall names right now, say, but I think some that have gone out and made good, no question about that.

MR. NETHER: Can you remember any of the professional people that were here, like maybe doctors or lawyers, some of those, prominent doctors or lawyers that have been here? Can you remember their names?

REVEREND SIMS: Most of them was passed now. I remember Leroy Hash. He used to be a doctor here, and Dr. Bowser, and I knew Dr. Bowser in Parsons, Kansas, and some of the undertakers and things of that sort. We have had a goodly number of colored people that have had great offices.

MR. NETHER: Reverend Sims, you say by being a minister you have done a lot of work with people, with ill people that's brought to the hospitals, poor people, and so on. What was the hospitals like for blacks? What kind of medical attention could they receive? Did they have an equal chance of being admitted to a room as whites here in Lawrence?

REVEREND SIMS: Ever since I have been here, to a certain extent they have. They didn't have any particular, I don't think, discrimination where you couldn't go to such and such place, but I used to work in the hospital myself, even though I was pastoring church. I had to do other work because membership was very small and wasn't able to pay a minister a salary and I just got out and worked with my hands as the Apostle Paul said. I worked with my hands, labored with my hands, to make a living and that sort, and I used to work in the Lawrence Memorial Hospital for years. It was just a little bitty place down on Second Street, Maine and Second, and I used to go down and work around there like that, go to different places, things like that. They have always had some kind of I guess feeling toward people who know that they were people, and now as far as discrimination is concerned, they might have had. I am not going to say they didn't, because I'm sure that there was some difference.

MR. NETHER: Can you see any changes in the way funerals were conducted say in 1925 when you came here compared to now? Were they pretty basically the same?

REVEREND SIMS: Yes, there's been some changes along that line also. I remember when I first came here, white and coloreds, they didn't hardly ever go to the funeral home where the colored people had the home, and Negroes didn't go to the white funeral home like that. But since that time, there's been quite a change, because I have preached many funerals in the white churches, white people in my church and so forth, and that's the way it's been. I don't say it's that way with all the colored people, but I am talking about myself.

MR. NETHER: What about justice? Do you think if a black was accused of a crime that he could go to the courts here in Douglas County and receive fair treatment?

REVEREND SIMS: I don't see any reason why he shouldn't, because it is a fact that probably some of them would not get the same treatment as a white person would get because of the lack of having certain people who knew something about the situation to stand up for them and see to it that they got justice along that line.

MR. NETHER: Reverend Sims, I want to thank you. That's about all the questions I have.

REVEREND SIMS: I would just like to say to both of you that I want to commend you for your work in what you are doing because if there's anything I would like to see, I like to see people go forward and make improvement. I want to commend you for your efforts you are putting forth, and I want you to know that I feel that you are on the right road and you are doing things going to bring about better conditions for all concerned because that's what we need, more people. I used to preach quite a little bit, when I was preaching different places. Sometimes I would preach a sermon and one of the deacons or somebody when it was all over would say, "Reverend, you preached a mighty good sermon today. Yes, might tie it, but you can't beat it." I say, "All right. If that's the way you feel about it, all right." So that's the way to do it. And that's what I say to do it, they may tie you folks, but they can't beat you. Just go ahead and keep the good work going.

MR. NETHER: Thank you, Reverend Sims.

REVEREND SIMS: And I would like to use the quotation with you: "Happy have we met, happy have we been; happy may we part and happy meet again."

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