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Oral History Interview with Septima Poinsette Clark, July 25, 1976. Interview G-0016. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).
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  • Abstract
    Septima Clark was a teacher and citizen's education director for the Highlander Folk School and Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She also worked with the South Carolina Council on Human Relations, YWCA, and American Friends Service Committee. This interview covers her childhood in Charleston, South Carolina, and her family's efforts to survive poverty and racial prejudice. Her mother was a washerwoman reared in Haiti, and her father was a former slave on the Poinsette plantation. Her first job as a teacher on John's Island from 1916 to 1919 led to her early activism with the NAACP, her friendship with Judge and Mrs. Waring, and her work with the Charleston YWCA. She married Nerie David Clark as an act of rebellion against her parents, but she chose not to remarry after his early death. She attended college in Columbia, returned to Charleston in 1947, and lobbied for the first local credit union to serve black workers. After she lost her teaching position in 1956 due to her NAACP membership, she worked for the Highlander Folk School encouraging voter registration and education. The SCLC hired her to form education programs, but her plans for increasing community involvement, protecting the labor rights of black teachers, and educating black voters were often ignored because she was female. The interview ends with her thoughts on why she started receiving more recognition for her work in the mid-1970s.
    Excerpts
  • Clark's father remembered watching other slaves get whipped without any negative emotional reaction
  • Clark's mother criticized slavery and segregation more than her father did
  • Parents found ways to encourage segregated play in an integrated neighborhood
  • Clark's mother tries to maintain middle-class standards
  • All of the children in the Poinsette family worked to bring in enough funds
  • Clark learned from her father's optimistic approach to problems
  • Marraige and social affiliation crucial to Charleston community
  • Black students protest when Charleston school officials fired the white teachers to bring more black teachers
  • Charleston NAACP lobbies for the hiring of more black teachers
  • Clark develops more tolerant religious views in her adult life
  • Social activism would make remarriage difficult
  • Clark persists in presenting her ideas to prejudiced Charleston mayor
  • Successful campaign to start credit unions in Charleston for black workers
  • NAACP drops lawsuit on behalf of black teachers fired for their membership
  • Clark risks violence to encourage South Carolinians to vote
  • Male SCLC leaders tend to ignore the contributions of women leaders
  • Clark encourages community initiative more than other leaders in the SCLC or SNCC
  • Black women grew accustomed to hiding their feelings and opinions from black men
  • The legacy of slavery may have made black organizations less inclined to praise activists like Clark
  • Learn More
  • Finding aid to the Southern Oral History Program Collection
  • Database of all Southern Oral History Program Collection interviews
  • Subjects
  • South Carolina--Race relations
  • Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (U.S.)
  • Trade-unions--Officials and employees--Southern States--Education
  • Highlander Folk School (Monteagle, Tenn.)
  • Women civil rights workers
  • African American civil rights workers--Georgia
  • The Southern Oral History Program transcripts presented here on Documenting the American South undergo an editorial process to remove transcription errors. Texts may differ from the original transcripts held by the Southern Historical Collection.

    Funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this title.