Journey to Dartmouth: Early Life and Education

Stuart Simms at Gilman School, from which he would graduate in 1968 and matriculate to Dartmouth

Mr. Simms was born on July 17, 1950 to Clarence and Louise Simms. He has one brother who is seven years younger. Mr. Simms grew up in West Baltimore and, in his words, “aside from a bout of rheumatic fever, had a good childhood.” His mom and dad worked as a schoolteacher and steelworker, respectively, for minimal wages during his childhood. He moved in the mid-1960s to Northeast Baltimore, near Morgan State University. Mr. Simms found the environment surrounding the research university to be very beneficial to him as he began to develop academically. Mr. Simms then went on to the Gilman School in the Roland Park neighborhood of Baltimore, where he was one of only four black students in his graduating class. This was an experience that came to shape Mr. Simms, as he described this period in his life as “interesting and challenging.” This era, from 1965 to 1968, was one of rapid change throughout the United States. This is where Simms’ interest in racial and legal matters began to percolate, as he wrote his senior thesis, entitled “Whites Only,” about apartheid in South Africa. This would pave the foundation for a life and career spent battling for racial equality within the legal system, such as working to counter the disproportionate incarceration of African Americans due to drug charges and issues related to the appointments of African Americans to federal judicial positions. Simms remarked that unfortunately, some of his teachers at Gilman “thought perhaps that [his] only purpose there was sort of a symbolic purpose” and that he was not qualified to attend such a well-regarded high school. This helped Simms find his perseverance and drive to move forward, recalling that “it was just a situation in which you had to be determined to take care of business.”

Seniors at the Gilman School, 1968. Simms is one of only four Black students.

Mr. Simms had no issue taking care of business in the form of excelling in the classroom and as a football player at Gilman, which created vast opportunities for him when it came time to choose a college. He visited several universities, but ultimately his decision came down to Dartmouth, Brown, and Yale. He ultimately decided to attend Dartmouth, largely due to the fact that he was “impressed by the collection of individuals that Dartmouth had and the fact that it was a totally distinct environment” from the other two schools. Simms appreciated that Dartmouth was not, as he put it, “clubby” and it “offered for  it seemed like for all students  just a much different independent option.” This was a time in which Dartmouth had difficulty in recruiting black students to the college and it is very interesting to note that Dartmouth’s lack of a “clubby” environment encouraged Simms to want to attend Dartmouth.