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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Septima Poinsette Clark, July 25, 1976. Interview G-0016. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Clark's mother criticized slavery and segregation more than her father did

Clark's mother showed courage in criticizing slavery and segregation in the latter part of the nineteenth century. She inspired Clark with the way she demanded respect from her neighbors, and she criticized her husband for not speaking out against racism.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Septima Poinsette Clark, July 25, 1976. Interview G-0016. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JACQUELYN HALL:
So that he didn't vote, for example, during the Reconstruction period or try to exercise any kind of . . .
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
No. And my mother always talked about that. She would say to him, you know, that "You can't see what's happening. You're just no good." Because he never felt that he could change. Not at all.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Tell me a bit about your mother's nature. What was she like?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
She was haughty, very much so. She'd grown up in Haiti, and seemingly, in learning to read and write, she'd also learned something about the government. And she was against slavery, terribly so, and she just actually hated the name of it. She always claimed that she never was a servant, and she wasn't going to be one. Well, she was really the boss of the house, and everything that she said had to go. She was the person you really had to listen to, because she did most of the whipping. Yet, still, she washed and ironed at home, but she never felt as if she could go out and work. And she used to boast about "I never gave a white woman a cup of coffee" . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
Oh, really?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
. . . because she felt that that would make her a servant. Vegetable carts used to come through the street, and she would never go out of her door to go to the wagon to purchase vegetables. Not her. That was not the culture of a lady. You'd sit in your door-they had these littlewell-holes, like, on the steps-and the man brought the vegetables in to her, and she'd choose what she wanted, and then they went back out. And she always wanted somebody-like you say "Jacquelyn" ;no-put a handle to her name. She was always wanting people to say "Miss" or "Mrs." In speaking to us about my father, she just said "your father" or "Mr. Poinsette". She had been trained that way, and this was her training. But I really appreciate her courage, because, in the days when segregation was very great, she had courage enough to speak against it to us. We lived on a street that was integrated, and there was an Irishman down the street who didn't want you to skate in front of his door. And so she would always have something to say about it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did she speak to him?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Right out to him.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What would she say?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
just tell him that the street didn't belong to him.He said, "Well, I paid for in front of my door." You had to pay for the paving in front of the door . But she said, "That doesn't allow you the right to tell these children they can't skate past that door." But we were afraid of him, and when we got to his door we'd always slide around into the street and go on. [laughter] didn't like