north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



Marker Text:

     Furnifold McLendel Simmons was an architect of the 1898 and 1900 white supremacist campaigns in North Carolina and, later, a five-term U.S. senator who dominated Democratic state politics during the early twentieth century. His political machine was responsible for the careers of several important politicians.
Born near Pollocksville on his father’s plantation in 1854, he was a graduate of Trinity College. He practiced law in Goldsboro and New Bern. Settling in the latter town, in 1908 he bought a residence on Front Street, where he lived until his death.

Simmons served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1887 to 1889 but was defeated in his reelection bid by African American candidate Henry P. Cheatham. Following this setback, he began to build up a power base for himself within the state Democratic organization. He was chosen chairman of the party’s state executive committee in 1892. The following, year, President Grover Cleveland appointed Simmons internal revenue collector for eastern North Carolina, a post that he held until 1897.

During Simmons’s tenure as revenue collector, North Carolina politics was dominated by a biracial Fusion ticket involving an alliance between the Republican and Populist Parties. The Fusion movement was successful in gaining power in the legislature and electing the state’s governor and a U.S. Senate candidate. In 1898, Simmons again was chosen chairman of the Democratic Party’s state executive committee, serving this time until 1907. It was during this period that he engineered the party’s successful return to power in the state, using a calculated campaign of white supremacist rhetoric and political violence against African Americans and their white allies. With the assistance of Raleigh News and Observer publisher Josephus Daniels, Simmons spread fears of “black domination” of state and local politics and of a supposed epidemic of sexual assaults of “pure” white women by African American men. The ugly campaign successfully overturned the Fusion coalition, which lost control of the legislature, and provided the backdrop for the Wilmington Coup, which occurred two days after the election. Simmons continued using white supremacy as a tactic during the 1900 campaign, which saw the Democrats regain control of the governorship and the passage of a Simmons-authored amendment to the state constitution which disfranchised African American voters.

The 1900 election also saw Simmons elected to represent North Carolina in the U.S. Senate. As a senator, he chaired the important Committee on Finance from 1913 to 1919. During the First World War he played a key role in the founding of Fort Bragg and in supporting the building of the Intracoastal Waterway. He also continued to exert his influence on political affairs back home, backing the successful elections of Cameron Morrison in 1912 and Angus W. McLean in 1920 after having already secured the election of Charles B. Aycock in 1900. He also played a role in the enactment of prohibition legislation in the state.

Simmons’s political career came to an end as a result of his opposition the Democratic presidential candidacy of Alfred E. Smith of New York, instead supporting his Republican rival, Herbert Hoover This was considered a betrayal by party leaders and he lost official support in the election of 1930, losing to Josiah Bailey. Simmons died in New Bern in 1940.

W. J. Cash, “Jehovah of the Tar Heels,” American Mercury (1929)
David S. Cecelski and Timothy H. Tyson, Democracy Betrayed: The Wilmington Race Riot of 1898 and Its Legacy (1998)
Howard E. Covington Jr. and Marion A. Ellis, eds., The North Carolina Century: Tar Heels Who Made a Difference, 1900-2000 (2002)
Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896-1920 (1996)
J. Fred Rippy, ed., F. M. Simmons, Statesman of the New South: Memoirs and Addresses (1936)
“Senator Simmons’ Own Story,” The State, November 25, 1933
LeRae Sikes Umfleet, A Day of Blood: The 1898 Wilmington Race Riot (2009)
Richard L. Watson Jr., “Simmons, Furnifold McLendel,” in William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, V (1994), 346-347.
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north carolina highway historical marker program

Furnifold M. Simmons

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources