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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 >>

Male SCLC leaders tend to ignore the contributions of women leaders

Female leaders in the SCLC noticed that women were marginalized in the organization. Ella Baker and Septima Clark did not receive due credit for their ideas and were sometimes ignored.

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:
Well, how did Ella Baker get along in SCLC with . . .
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Not at all, because she felt that the men wanted all the glory. And she was going to be working behind the scenes, and she wanted her just deserts, which would have been right, you know. But they weren't about to give it to her, and so she decided that she couldn't take it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
When you came there, did you know about all the things that had gone on behind the scenes that had really caused her to leave?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
She told me herself.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What did she say?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
She was just telling me about the things that she had done and that they wouldn't give her credit for. And when they wrote up the articles, they never mentioned her.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did you find the working situation when you got to SCLC, as a woman?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
The same things. Uh-huh, I found out that they didn't respect women too much. I went into a small community down here,, and we were getting affiliates started. And I don't know where Dr. King was, but I presented the certificates to the people who had joined. And he asked his secretary about it. And I wrote a letter thanking them for their help , and I showed it to her. And Dr. King, he, too, wanted to know about me as a woman. So I had a copy of the letter, and I showed him that I said in the name of Dr. King, I'm presenting these certificates and so forth. And the little secretary was just fine, and I wonder why that she said he'd given her the devil for not letting him be the person to present these certificates. I said, "Well, of all the." [laughter]
JACQUELYN HALL:
Isn't that interesting.
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
If you'll read the last part of my, you will see that he never felt that women should have much of anything. Even with his wife. They never rode. . . . Well, I can see that. He said he didn't want them to ride on the same plane, because if the plane would go down he wanted one parent left. But working with women, he never felt. . . . And I felt that. . . . This was my feeling. When we went over to Europe, I paid my own way. I wanted to go with the man who had done so much. But I thought that they should have really offered Rosa Parks her transportation and everything over there, but you know, they didn't.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did she go?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
No, she didn't. She couldn't. She didn't have any money. She was trying to make it up there in Detroit then. They didn't help her too much down in Montgomery. And Carl Radin wrote an article about that, saying that every woman should have given her address to me, and that would have kept her going. But they didn't.
JACQUELYN HALL:
She couldn't make a living in Montgomery after?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
No. Nobody would hire her, nor her husband. He was a barber, and he used to go around on Sunday mornings and cut hair and shave, and he had to stop it. They wouldn't have it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And SCLC didn't help her?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
No. When she got ready to leave Montgomery, they collected $382.00, I think, something like that. That wasn't the thing; I thought they should have put her down for a certain amount each year until she could find something to do. Highlander, through an organization in New York, was able to give her fifty dollars a month for about a year or more. And we wanted her to go through some parts of Alabama and Mississippi and Louisiana and speak for Highlander, but she didn't feel as if she could do it. She felt that they were too wrong, you know, that the hostility was so great. She didn't think that she could do that.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were there any other women on the SCLC staff when you went there?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Mm-hm, quite a number. Dorothy Cotton was one.
JACQUELYN HALL:
J.H: What was her position?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
She was director of something. I don't know. But anyway, she led the singing a whole lot in the workshops. And that's the only thing they mentioned about her in any of their writeups. If you noticed that picture, "From Montgomery to Memphis," they don't mention one woman going through there, not one.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Are you talking about the film?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Uh-huh. Not one woman was mentioned.
JACQUELYN HALL:
They don't mention Ella Baker or you?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
No, not any of us. No.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What were some of the other ways that this feeling. . . . How did you get this sense that the men in SCLC, Dr. King and Abernathy and the other men, didn't value women's work or want to work with them on a basis of equality? How was that manifested?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
[laughter] Well, I felt that usually, when they had executive meetings, if we had anything to say, maybe we could get to say it at the end of the session, but we never were able to put ourselves on the agenda to speak to the group.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you try?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
I did. I wanted to tell them about. . . . Well, I sent him two or three letters, and the last letter-I wish he'd listened to me-I not only spoke to him, but I spoke to one or two of the other persons around, and I told them about him going, being the head of everything. I just felt that he had disciples in Memphis and in some parts of Georgia, Albany, and those people could go and lead a march. He didn't have to lead them all. And so he read the letter to the executive group, and there was a secretary sitting there, two other women, and I had spoken to them, too. But not a one of them said one word. And a young man who was in our office, but not a one of them supported me in that at all.