Known as the “Queen Mother” or “Godmother” of the Civil Rights Movement Septima Poinsette Clark was born in Charleston, South Carolina on May 3, 1898. Daughter of a former slave, Peter Poinsette, Mrs. Clark was the second born of eight siblings. Her mother Victoria Warren Anderson Poinsette was born in Charleston, but raised in Haiti. Mrs. Clark attended the public schools of Charleston, then began working to earn money to attend a private school for African-Americans, Avery Institute.
Although Mrs. Clark was a qualified teacher, she was not allowed to teach as an African-American in Charleston. So in 1916 she became a teacher on Johns Island, South Carolina. Mrs. Clark returned to Charleston in 1919 to teach at Avery Institute. She became a member of the NAACP and assisted in the campaign for the Charleston to hire African American teachers.
At Avery Institute, she met Nerie David Clark who she married in 1920. After, they moved to Hickory, North Carolina, Nerie’s hometown. They has 2 children one who died at birth and another, her husbands namesake, Nerie Jr. Nerie Sr. passed away five years later from kidney failure. After her husband’s death, she moved to Columbia, South Carolina. There she got a teaching job and joined the local chapter of the NAACP. In 1945, She worked with Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall on a case seeking to close the wage gap between black and white teachers. They saw a victory and Mrs. Clark’s salary increased threefold. Mrs. Clark is quoted as saying of the case, ” this was my first effort in a social action challenging the status quo.”
In 1945, she returned to Charleston, South Carolina and began teaching there. Her involvement with the NAACP violated South Carolina’s 1956 law that prohibited public employees to be members of civil rights groups. Mrs. Clark refuse to leave the NAACP, therefore she lost her job.
She was hired as a teacher at Highlander Folk School, Tennessee, a school that supported the Civil Rights Movement and integration. She then became director of Highlander Citizenship School Program. Both schools helped people teach people basic math and literacy skills.This helped more people become literate in the voting process. This project was overtaken by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1961. Thereafter, Mrs. Clark joined SCLC becoming the director of the education and teaching department. Eight-hundred citizenship institutions were created under her leadership.
Mrs. Clark retired from SCLC in 1970. She was awarded the Living Legacy Award by then President Jimmy Carter in 1979. Then in 1982, she was rewarded South Carolina’ highest civilian award, The Order of the Palmetto.
She published her first autobiography in 1962 called, Echo in My Soul and her second autobiography, Ready from Within: Septima Clark and Civil Rights won the American Book Award in 1987.
Mrs. Clark passed away on December 15, 1987 at the age of 89. Mrs. Clark will be remembered for her creation of the literacy and citizen workshops that were imperative in obtaining voting and civil rights for African-Americans.
There are 2 schools named in her memory and honor, the Septima Clark Public Charter School in Washington, DC and the Septima P. Clark Academy in Charleston, SC.
I salute this AMAZING HER-story making sista!