- NAME: Septima Poinsette Clark
- OCCUPATION: Educator, Civil Rights Activist
- BIRTH DATE: May 03, 1898
- DEATH DATE: December 15, 1987
- Did You Know?: Septima Poinsette Clark was instrumental in founding nearly 900 citizenship schools, which ultimately helped African Americans register to vote.
- EDUCATION: Columbia University, Atlanta University, Avery Normal Institute, Benedict College, Hampton Institute
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Charleston, South Carolina
- PLACE OF DEATH: Johns Island, South Carolina
- Maiden Name: Septima Poinsette
- Full Name: Septima Poinsette Clark
- Nickname: Mother of the Movement
- AKA: Septima Earthaline Poinsette
- AKA: Septima P. Clark
- AKA: Septima Earthaline Poinsette Clark
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Septima Poinsette Clark was a teacher and civil rights activist whose citizenship schools helped enfranchise and empower African Americans.
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Born on May 3, 1898, in Charleston, South Carolina, Septima Poinsette Clark branched out into social action with the NAACP while working as a teacher. As part of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, she set up citizenship schools that helped many African Americans register to vote. Clark was 89 when she died on December 15, 1987, on South Carolina's Johns Island.
"I just thought that you couldn't get people to register and vote until you teach them to read and write."
"Freedom has always been lost by a people who allowed their rights to be gradually whittled away."
"I am always very respectful and very much in awe of the presence of Septima Clark, because her life story makes the effort that I have made very minute. I only hope that there is a possible chance that some of her great courage and dignity and wisdom has rubbed off on me."
Septima Poinsette Clark was born on in Charleston, South Carolina, May 3, 1898, the second of eight children. Her father—who had been born a slave—and mother both encouraged her to get an education. Clark attended public school, then worked to earn the money needed to attend the Avery Normal Institute, a private school for African Americans.
Clark qualified as a teacher, but Charleston did not hire African Americans to teach in its public schools. Instead, she became an instructor on South Carolina's Johns Island in 1916.
In 1919, Clark returned to Charleston to teach at the Avery Institute. She also joined with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in trying to get the city to hire African-American teachers. By gathering signatures in favor of the change, Clark helped ensure that the effort was successful.
Clark married Nerie Clark in 1920. Her husband died of kidney failure five years later. She then moved to Columbia, South Carolina, where she continued teaching and also joined the local chapter of the NAACP. Clark worked with the organization—and with Thurgood Marshall—on a 1945 case that sought equal pay for black and white teachers. She described it as her "first effort in a social action challenging the status quo." Her salary increased threefold when the case was won.
Going back to Charleston in 1947, Clark took up another teaching post, while maintaining her NAACP membership. However, in 1956, South Carolina made it illegal for public employees to belong to civil rights groups. Clark refused to renounce the NAACP and, as a result, lost her job.
Clark was next hired by Tennessee's Highlander Folk School, an institution that supported integration and the Civil Rights Movement. She had previously participated in and led workshops there during breaks from school (Rosa Parks had attended one of her workshops in 1955).
Clark soon was directing Highlander's Citizenship School program. These schools helped regular people learn how to instruct others in their communities in basic literacy and math skills. One particular benefit of this teaching was that more people were then able to register to vote (at the time, many states used literacy tests to disenfranchise African Americans).
In 1961, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference took over this education project. Clark then joined the SCLC as its director of education and teaching. Under her leadership, more than 800 citizenship schools were created.
Clark retired from the SCLC in 1970. In 1979, Jimmy Carter honored her with a Living Legacy Award.
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