Interracial couple’s love defied odds in Edgefield in 1800s
Paula Wright has a true story to tell she believes is important, and it involves her great-great-great-grandparents.
William Ramey and Kittie Simkins’ love for each other thrived in Edgefield during the Civil War and beyond, even though he was white and from a prominent family and she was black and born into slavery.
“This is a very dated story, yet we can learn a lot of lessons from it in how we get along in today’s society,” said Wright, who lives in Atlanta and works as an executive assistant, during a recent telephone interview. “It’s about respecting differences. It’s about embracing cultures that aren’t like yours. It’s about how we should be able to get along. It’s about finding a few things you may have in common with someone else.”
Wright has made 40 or so presentations in Georgia, South Carolina and New Jersey about the unlikely sweethearts.
In 2017, she spoke at the Aiken County Historical Museum.
Last October, there was an article in the New York Times that focused on Ramey and Simkins’ relationship.
“They both defied the odds,” Wright said.
Ramey and his parents lived near Francis Pickens’ home, Edgewood. Pickens, who served as South Carolina’s governor in the early 1860s, owned Simkins. He was adamantly opposed to the mixing of races.
Ramey and Simkins met before the start of the War Between the States.
“It was said to be a mutual admiration,” Wright said.
But the conflict between the North and the South interrupted the developing feelings Ramey and Simkins had for each other.
Ramey enlisted in the Confederate Army in 1861 and left the area.
About a year later, Ramey was wounded in Virginia and eventually returned to Edgefield to convalesce.
During his recuperation, Ramey began an affair with Simkins. But their reunion didn’t last long because he re-enlisted in 1863.
Simkins was pregnant, and in April 1864, she gave birth to Ramey’s child, a daughter.
Not long afterward, Ramey returned to Edgefield on furlough and stayed there for about three months.
Wright’s research shows that Ramey wasn’t involved in much fighting afterward, but he was hospitalized in Virginia with several ailments. Later, the Union Army captured Ramey and he became a prisoner of war.
Following his release in 1865, Ramey went back to Edgefield. He launched a law career that would lead to him becoming a judge.
Simkins, meanwhile, left Edgewood after being freed and found work as a housekeeper and seamstress.
Ramey and Simkins continued their relationship, but then Ramey became engaged to a white woman.
It didn’t last because Ramey’s devotion to Simkins proved to be much stronger than that promise.
He ended the formal agreement to wed after the birth of his second child, a son, with Simkins.
In 1872, Ramey and Simkins got married at a time during Reconstruction when such interracial unions were legal.
Their residence was on Wigfall Street, but often they appeared to be living separate lives to avoid the ire of Edgefield residents who didn’t approve of their marriage.
In general, people left the couple alone, Wright said. There is also is evidence that, in some circles in the community, Ramey and Simkins were beloved and respected.
Ramey had a second home in Augusta, and sometimes Simkins stayed there when the situation in Edgefield became too volatile.
In all, they raised nine children.
When Wright tells people about her great-great-great-grandparents, their reaction is nearly always positive.
“They are so touched by the story and realize how courageous this couple was during that era,” Wright said. “Then there is 1 percent that is very negative. They say they don’t believe it could have happened. They believe that my great-great-great-grandmother was likely intimidated by him or it was an act of force because she was enslaved.”
Wright quickly lets the skeptics know that they are incorrect.
“I tell them it was nothing like that,” she said. “It wasn’t force. It wasn’t intimidation. When Kittie was free, she still continued the relationship and there ended up being a marriage. I think she was a very strong, loving, empathetic woman.”
Wright is writing book about several generations of her family that will include Ramey and Simkins.
“My desire is from them to have more exposure,” she said. “Their story is about the power of the human spirit. It’s a lasting story that still survives to this day within me.”