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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 encourages community initiative more than other leaders in the SCLC or SNCC

Clark espoused a different type of leadership than Martin Luther King or Stokely Carmichael. She urged King to follow a community model by training others to lead marches. But the SCLC leadership ignored her advice.

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:
Why did you feel that way? Did you think that King was dominating the movement too much, and that other people should take a leadership position in their own areas?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
I didn't think that he really wanted to do the domination, in a way, but I felt that they had gotten to the place where they felt that everything had to be done by him rather than some of the other. And I had a feeling that if you're going to develop other people. . . . This is what I feel as I work in a community. I don't think that in a community I need to go down to the city hall and talk; I think I train the people in that community to do their own talking. This is what I would do. But he couldn't see it. I would not have ever been able to work in Mississippi and Alabama and all those places if I had done all the talking. And when I worked with those young people who came down, the college students, I would say to them, "Don't go and cash the check for this woman. Let her do it; you can go with her, give her that much courage. But make her cash her check and do her own talking so that she can have the feeling that she can confront. She's been trading at the A & P all this time; let her take her check to the A & P store." This is my feeling. And I think I learned that great lesson while working with teachers, when I felt that they should have said that "We are members of the NAACP, and we're not going to lie about it." They didn't do it. Seven hundred and twenty-six letters; twenty-six answered; eleven went to see the superintendent. So I had the feeling that you make them do their own talking; otherwise, if you don't, it's just too bad. You want it, but they don't. And I saw the same thing with Stokely Carmichael. He went into a community with his thinking up high, and theirs was still down low, and so he couldn't get anything done. You can't get it done unless you get the people sensitized to the fact of what you would like to see happen. This is my feeling.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And you tried to get on the agenda of the executive committee to talk about this problem and . . .
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Didn't get any support. No. I couldn't get it done.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did they keep you from being on the agenda?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Just didn't put it on. I wrote the letter, and then no mention was made. Dr. King made mention one time of a letter that I sent to him, and he was really laughing about it, and nobody answered. And nobody would say anything.