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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 risks violence to encourage South Carolinians to vote

Septima Clark worked as a voting recruiter for the Highlander Folk School. She helped prepare people to bypass various poll restrictions in South Carolina despite local whites' fears of integration and black enfranchisement.

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:
Now why were you going to Fort Motte?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
We had a fellow working, Hoot Williams, in one of our registration workshops, and he went back home to carry some people to register, and he took seventeen of them to register. And the white man said to him, "Hoot, what are you doing here?" And he said, "Nothing. Just we came up here to register to vote." But he felt that maybe something would turn up that night, so he called Mrs. Spearman and told her. And she was afraid that they might try to lynch him that night, and so she went down to see about it. And she went, and he said no, the candidates were hungry for votes; he didn't think anything would happen.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What does that mean, that "candidates were hungry for votes"?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Since they wanted votes, they would want black votes as well as other votes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
When did this incident take place?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
It was around 1957 or '58.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you do any other work with Mrs. Spearman?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
through here I went into a number of the small communities, getting people to feel as if they could register to vote.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Working with the South Carolina Council?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Yes. I was just doing volunteer work with her. I wasn't paid. I was a member of the Council, but I was really being paid by Highlander Folk School. And in between I could go into little places like Yemassee and other places and talk to people about the registration and voting. I don't think I mentioned the South Carolina Council on Human Relations. I think I just talked to them off the cuff about registering and votingneed to . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why would you not mention the South Carolina Council?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Because at that time this whole state was riled up about integration. And they didn't want for any registration to come about, especially with black people. And if they had heard that the Council was doing it, they would have tried to perhaps put the Council out of business.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was the Council much more cautious in its activities, say, than you had to be as . . .
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Not with Mrs. Spearman. I didn't find her at all cautious, not too much so. But knowing the people as I did, I felt that when you had to mention an organization that was trying to help people, I think you'd have to be very cautious not to say that they were doing it, but to say that you were doing it on your own.