Dr. William J. Simmons

Dr. William J. Simmons (1849-1890) was born with slave status in Charleston, South Carolina. Not much is known about his early life. Simmons was a member of Company B of the 41st US Colored Infantry during the Civil War. In 1873, he graduated from Howard University in Washington, DC and began teaching. He married Josephine A. Silence in 1874 and together they had eight children, but we could only find seven: Josephine, William, Effie, Minnie, Mary, John, and Augusta. Simmons became a Baptist minister in 1879. That same year he moved to Lexington, KY to preach, and in 1880 became the second president of Kentucky Normal and Theological Institute, which was later named Simmons College in his honor. In 1882, he became editor of the “American Baptist” newspaper for African Americans and organized the American Baptist National Convention in 1886. Wilberforce University made him a Doctor of Divinity in 1885. In 1890, Simmons cofounded Eckstein Norton University with Charles H. Parrish in Bullitt County, KY. On October 30, 1890, Simmons died from heart failure at the approximate age of 41. Simmons is buried in the Ladies Union Band Society Lot in Eastern Cemetery. Simmons leaves a legacy as an African American rights and education activist. Image from “The History of the Negro Church.”