Lesson 74:
Septima Poinsette Clark

An ongoing illustrative history study
This piece originally posted 3/11/2021

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Septima Poinsette Clark - pen and ink w/ some watercolour, 2.5 in. x 3.5 in.

"I believe unconditionally in the ability of people to respond when they are told the truth. We need to be taught to study rather than believe, to inquire rather than to affirm."

Citizenship advocate and adult educator Septima Poinsette Clark was born in 1898 South Carolina, daughter of former slaves. Education seemed to be at her very core from an early age --in 1920 she began teaching in Charleston public schools, furthering her own education as she did so. She moved to Columbia, SC in 1927 but also studied in New York and even with W.E.B. Du Bois (see Lesson #1 in this series) at Atlanta University in Georgia. She later earned her degree from Benedict College in 1942, and then a Master's from Hampton Institute (now Hampton University, Va.) in 1946.

Adult literacy was a particular cause near to Clark's heart; besides teaching children she also perceived (and met!) a deep need for adult classes. Among her students were members of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), the Council of Negro Women, and most significantly the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). It was through her contacts in the latter (among them future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall), that she herself became a member and became an advocate for better-informed Black participation in civics, state government, and elections.

Her highly-visible position wasn't without its dangers. In 1956 the state of South Carolina outlawed its educators from membership in any civil rights organizations --one wonders whether this particular law was aimed squarely at Clark! Unwilling to resign her NAACP membership, Clark lost her teaching job (and her pension). With the help and resources of the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, Clark pivoted to working for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and traveled throughout the South, training teachers for citizenship schools and assisting in a number of protests and marches. Her efforts caught the attention of Martin Luther King, Jr., who acknowledged her by name when he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

In the 1970's Clark fought for --and won-- her accumulated back pay and pension from the state of South Carolina.

Homework: Peruse one of Clark's two autobiographies
--"Echo in My Soul (1962)" https://books.google.com/books/about/Echo_in_My_Soul.html?id=1oQGAQAAIAAJ
or "Ready from Within (1986)" https://www.google.com/books/edition/Ready_from_Within/dQYUAAAACAAJ?hl=en

Next page - Lesson 75: Prathia Hall

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