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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 >>

The legacy of slavery may have made black organizations less inclined to praise activists like Clark

Clark recently started receiving recognition for her activism from the media, churches, and other organizations in Charleston, but black organizations hardly ever congratulate her. She thinks the legacy of slavery made black Americans reluctant to praise each other.

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:
I wondered, being here in Charleston and seeing the little signs of recognition that you have begun to get and the little signs of change, how do you feel about that? I mean now you're on the school board, and the Charleston papers write articles about you and so on. Isn't that a big change from the attitude that used to be taken?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Sure. People were so afraid of me before.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How do you feel about that willingness now of people to claim you?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
The other day when I was down in Florida, I said, "I'm very happy, for the National Education Association has publicized the contributions that I have made. And the publicity of the contributions has opened the eyes of many people, both black and white, not only blacks." So much so. Now my preacher talked about me one Sunday. He was talking about things going different with God, and he mentioned my name. And then, too, receiving these letters, and I've been on television now. The week before last I had five interviews one day, and another day there were three or four, something like that. There are so many people now. A woman was in here from Spain. She was over on John's Island working with the migrants, and she happened to read about me in the newspaper and she wanted to come see me and she did. She'a a nun, and along with her came two nuns from Maryland and one from Mississippi and one from Tarrytown, New York. They came it was either Saturday or Friday; Friday a week ago. And I said, "Well, sir, this thing is really going around." Then I met a man from Seattle, Washington, last Wednesday when I was in Columbia, and he heard about it up there. I had been up there; I was at Lewis and Clark College [in Oregon] and spoke to students there one night. But I didn't know. The AP has taken this picture all around, and the story along with it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So this interest in your life is very recent?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Just very recent. Coming in from this award, because when I worked at Highlander, well, you know I was a "communist," and everybody was very much afraid of me. Some white woman here in the store asked another woman about me and said, "How in the world should she get a. . . ." The same time Nixon was being stoned with tomatoes and eggs in South America, they had my picture in the paper for being arrested in Tennessee. I was teaching in an integrated situation, but they put down therefore selling liquor. And a year after that they found out that that was untrue and then they put another story in, but a lot of people will just remember that. Anyway, this interest has just come over these years now. They just felt that if she keepspeople, there must be something to it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What kind of support did you get from your church and church members down through the years?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
They were too afraid. When I was dismissed from school and my sorority gave that testimonial for me, all of my church women were afraid to do anything about it. And I was on their trustee board and working with the missionary group, but not one of them would come and say a word. They sent a little girl [laughter] out of the youth group, and she read a little paper and she could hardly read it. And that was the same time I gave themhundred dollars to paint the front of the church.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Where has your sustenance and support come from?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Now?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Over the years when so many people were afraid and even opposed to you?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Well, working at Highlander Folk School. When I worked at Highlander Folk School I received a pretty good salary, about four thousand or five thousand dollars. It wasn't what I was making here.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I mean more psychological and moral support.
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Oh, then at Highlander I was able to meet Southern whites who were of one accord about the interrelationships, and northern whites who felt that we should work more to get freedom and get rid of injustice. Then there were some southern blacks who came up and had their eyes opened at that time, and there were northern blacks, too, who came and had their eyes opened to things that were happening. I never will forget a little girl that came from Washington into Montgomery, Alabama, and we had a tour. And she didn'tthat blacks lived in houses that had indoor toilets. You know, all the things that she'd heard were different, and she was so surprised that we had these things.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How do you feel about the lack of support, though, that you've gotten from the Charleston black community during those times when you really could have used it?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Just here recently I have received letters from various organizations, congratulatory notes and messages, and I belong to about six or eight black organizations, and not one of them has said a word.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Really?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
No. Only the church. And one or twoin my church. But the organizations as a rule, they haven't come up and said . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why is that?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Oh, I just think they haven't learned to do it yet. Not yet. They haven't learned to come up and think well of the things that you have contributed,.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why do you think that is, though?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
I think it's come out of slavery. Three hundred years of teaching, you don't get rid of it right now. It's going to take another three hundred years before they will realize that they can think that a black man needs praise of any kind.