Septima Poinsette Clark
“Queen Mother of the Civil Rights Movement”1 – Septima Poinsette Clark – educator and activist for civil and human rights
Born in Charleston, SC, Clark taught variously on John’s Island, in Charleston and in Columbia from 1918-1956, promoting adult literacy education. She joined the NAACP and supported the fight for equal pay for black teachers. She continued her education in night and summer classes, earning a a master’s degree in 1946. When South Carolina barred state employees and teachers from NAACP membership, Clark lost her job and left the state. When she returned, she, along with Esau Jenkins, founded the first Citizenship School on Johns Island.
Clark later became involved with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), traveling throughout the South to support the Citizenship schools and march for civil rights. By 1970, when she retired from SCLC work, the Citizenship Schools had taught thousands of African Americans the skills to pass literacy tests and enabled them to register to vote. In 1975, Clark became the first African American to serve on the Charleston School Board. She received an honorary doctoral degree from the College of Charleston in 1978 and was awarded the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina’s highest civilian honor, in 1982. In 1990, the Septima P. Clarke Corporate Academy opened as an alternative academic high school program with the mission of helping at-risk students receive their diploma and be successful in achieving success in their lives.
Clark succeeded as a leader in the face of anti-integrationists and racial prejudice, while also championing women’s rights. Clark’s citizenship program educated and galvanized women and men alike and created grass-roots momentum vital to the civil rights movement’s success.
Levine, D. P. “The Birth of the Citizenship Schools: Entwining the Struggles for Literacy and Freedom.” History of Education Quarterly 44.3 (2004): 388-414.
McFadden, G.J. “Septima P. Clark and the Struggle for Human Rights.” Women in the Civil Rights Movement: Trailblazers and Torchbearers, 1941-1965. Ed. Vicki L. Crawford, Jacqueline Anne Rouse, Barbara Woods. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1993. 85-97.
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