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Simmons has history as champion of human rights

| Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
George A. Simmons vice president of the Mon Valley NAACP , talks during the Mon Valley NAACP, Celebrates Black History Month, at the Mt. Calvary Baptist Church in Monessen. Jim Ference | The Valley Independent

George Simmons got his introduction to the NAACP as a 9-year-old boy growing up in Monongahela.

Simmons grew up in the same neighborhood as then-Mon Valley Chapter President Sylvester Lee.

“I'd knock on doors reminding people to pay their membership and read the Crisis Magazine,” Simmons said.

“The NAACP observes the importance of the Constitutional rights of everyone in the country and protects people from being discriminated against.”

The current vice president of the Mon Valley Chapter and former vice president of the Pittsburgh Chapter said his cousin, retired federal judge Paul Simmons, guided him.

“He was one of my primary inspirations,” Simmons said. “He had a lot to do with my continued involvement in civil rights.”

Simmons graduated from Monongahela High School in 1960.

He worked at his cousin's construction firm briefly before attending California State College, graduating in 1965 with a degree in social studies.

Simmons taught at the Youth Development Center in Canonsburg for two years.

“It was the most challenging opportunity of my career outside of the Human Relations Commission because I was able to work with young people who were incarcerated for minor crimes,” Simmons said. “A lot of them could not read. In eight months, I was able to teach them to read.

“I have a whole cadre of young people who became successful who I keep in touch with.”

From 1967 to 1969, Simmons worked in the Urban League of Pittsburgh as a job developer. He worked to find jobs for young people and with employers to create jobs. Simmons estimated that he placed more than 150 jobs in this time.

“That was a time when there were very few opportunities for African Americans to work,” Simmons said. “I had to convince employers to give them the opportunity for on-the-job training.”

Simmons next attended law school at the University of Pittsburgh for two years before accepting a position in the administration of then-Mayor Pete Flaherty in Pittsburgh. He served as a special assistant to the mayor and director of construction compliance for the Pittsburgh Human Relations Commission.

At the same time, Simmons worked with contract compliance for the model cities program – one of the largest federal subsidies programs that rehabilitated blighted urban areas across the country.

He was also director of night school at OIC in Pittsburgh. And Simmons operated his own firm, Intercultural Consulting Inc., during the same period, from 1971 to 1974.

“We dealt with racial conflict and racial harmony,” Simmons said. “We were one of the first racial harmony programs in the area. We were involved in training staffs, preparing them for an integrated workforce.”

Simmons had to divest himself of his consulting company in 1974 when he accepted a position with the state Human Relations Commission. He served as regional director for 22 western Pennsylvania counties.

“We enforced the Human Relations Act in Pennsylvania,” Simmons said. “We desegregated the Pennsylvania schools, handled complaints of housing discrimination and employment, and disability discrimination.”

Simmons said one case was most personal to him. Filed in the late 1970s, it involved a group of Ringgold students who were being denied an opportunity to be majorettes because of their weight, Simmons said.

“Ultimately, look at the kids today – you see a lot of young kids who are large who are participating in all kinds of activities in the school,” Simmons said.

“That was always personal because that was my school.”

He also handled hate crimes across the state during his 36-year career.

“There was tension from time to time but my determination and confidence in the Pennsylvania government guaranteed that the goal would be accomplished,” Simmons said.

In retirement, Simmons “tries to stay as busy as I can.”

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or