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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Septima Poinsette Clark, July 30, 1976. Interview G-0017. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Some SCLC leaders have limited success in community organizing, often due to class differences

Clark compares the leadership styles of four SCLC leaders and notes how much successful organizing depended on cooperation with poor and suffering people. Some leaders showed little patience for others' stories of farm life; others were surprised to note how other black Americans had been shaped by their inability to travel and by their terrifying encounters with police. The area of Georgia she mentions is actually Koinonia Farm, an integrated community.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Septima Poinsette Clark, July 30, 1976. Interview G-0017. 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

EUGENE WALKER:
Now let me ask you a few names and get your reaction to them, and I might preface them with a statement somebody else said. But let me just ask you first about this man James S. Wood, who was the public relations man of SCLC. He came down with Wyatt T. Walker. How did you perceive him and the role that he played?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
James Woods, I can't forget him, working there at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. I feel that he was just too middle-class to be working with an organization that wanted to reach all the people, because he didn't have any patience to work in small towns or to listen to people who would come in and had to tell so many things. I found that true with most of the men. Myles Horton; as dedicated as he is, Myles Horton couldn't sit and listen to the people from Thomasville, Georgia, tell about the happenings there. It was hard for him to hear them say, "Now this happened the night that that cow had its calf on such-and-such a moon." And he wanted them to come right to the point, and they wouldn't do it. Woods was the same type of a person.
EUGENE WALKER:
So if you were going to rate him on the basis of his effectiveness in the organization, what kind of a rating would he get?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Working in the organization with the people that I felt we needed to work with, I'd have to really rate him "zero". But don't forget, now, he's an intelligent man.
EUGENE WALKER:
All right. Well, you mightknow that Wyatt T. Walker labeled him a "dud"; that's what he labeled him.
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
He did? [laughter]
EUGENE WALKER:
Yes, he regarded him with . . .
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Well.
EUGENE WALKER:
Now I would like your reactions and perceptions of the role that Wyatt T. Walker was fulfilling as Executive Director.
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Wyatt T. Walker was just as busy getting cards out for me-you know, name cards-getting forms to sign, but I can't see him interested in the program that had to go into the community. He was a great businessman, and as I see him today-I visited him last April-and I see that he's still that way. He likes the church to have a lot of business. He liked Boarders Church, the Wheat Street Baptist Church better than he liked Ebenezer, because Wheat Street Baptist had a program from the cradle to the grave. And he liked the business part of it, you know, getting the credit union going, the day care center, collecting the money for the various things. This was the kind of thing Wyatt T. Walker. . . . And I saw him last year in New York, and I see those people holding the robe for him to put on; he's a regular god up there. The lady who fixed his dinner, when she fixed his wife's dinner she fixed just a certain thing, and when she fixed his dinner she had a variety of things. They'd bring him some water; they'd put the robe there for him; they have got everything that they think that he needs at that church at that time.
EUGENE WALKER:
What about Andy Young, the same kinds of observations.
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Now with Andy, when Andy came to us he had been working with middle-class students who could go to Europe, and he went with them to Europe most of the time. The first group that came in when Andy was there came from eastern Texas, and we took them to the ocean for our recreation one Friday afternoon. And those women wanted to bring back some water to let people know that they had been to Atlantic Ocean. They took the mats off the table in Howard Johnson; they wanted their children to see that they were able to eat in a Howard Johnson. And Andy said to me, "You know, I never thought anything of things like that." He said, "You know, if I hadn't come on this trip with you, I would not have realized just how little of experiences other people have, so I'm glad I've had the chance to work with you." And he grew, though. Down at Penn Center we had a big workshop.
EUGENE WALKER:
What year was that in?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
That was 1965, I guess it was. It was right after the voting rights bill. The latter part. And we had a large number of people, and he and Dorothy were singing one of the songs, and both of them had their eyes closed. And I saw a young woman who was really crying, and her face was so distorted, and I wondered what was wrong with her. And she had come from that part of Georgia where Cononea is, and a policeman had arrested her at Cononea, and when they arrested her they put her on the square. They called her a mulatto, and they wanted to make her ashamed. They put her on the square, and you know, they put the cattle prods to her heels to see her jump up and down. And so she couldn't sing "I love everybody." She said, "I just can't sing it." So I called attention to Andy and Dorothy. I said, "You've got to open your eyes and see what's happening to this young woman. She can't sing that song. She can't love everybody when the people treated her so mean. And she came from there into this workshop." You know where Cononea is? Down in Georgia there; it's not too far from Albany. Anyway, Andy and I really had some words about that. [laughter] And he told me that I must have been a saint. I said, "Well, there are all kinds of saints. I don't know who you're talking about, but I want you to keep your eyes about you and see what's happening, because don't expect this young woman to sing that until she can feel more comfortable."