Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Septima Poinsette Clark, July 30, 1976. Interview G-0017. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Different leadership styles in the SCLC

Wyatt T. Walker and Andrew Young had different leadership strategies for the SCLC that partly depended on their personal attitudes towards nonviolence. Clark explains why the SCLC grew and its female workforce increased under Young’s leadership. In contrast to these men, Ralph Abernathy had relatively little influence with Dr. King.

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

SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Yes. And I said that Andy Young and Wyatt T. Walker were two different types of people. Wyatt T. Walker was a great businessman who, to my mind, was not at all non-violent. Andy Young was more on the non-violent group, and there were problems that he never would touch. He'd always say, "Let God do it." And so when we went to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, there weren't but two women working in the office, Lillie Hunter and. . . . The guy in Cincinnati, his wife. She was a Smith at that time.
EUGENE WALKER:
I'm a little confused here. The Dorchester School was apart from SCLC?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Oh, yes. I mean it was located down in Liberty County, Georgia.
EUGENE WALKER:
Right. And when did you move to Atlanta?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
I worked out from Atlanta.
EUGENE WALKER:
And when did you start work? That's when you said, "When the school moved to SCLC, it wasn't but two women." I was trying to follow.
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
When we came from the Highlander Folk School.
EUGENE WALKER:
Oh.
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
You see, Andy and I came from the Highlander Folk School to Atlanta. Dorothy Cotton and Lillie Hunter, those were the two women working there. Under Andy's regime, we branched out to something like fifteen different women. The organization grew. See, at that time, they were just upstairs in two or three rooms.
EUGENE WALKER:
Did this happen as a result of Andy's initiative, or in spite of him?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
I think it happened because of the team of workers, Andy Young, Dorothy Cotton, and I, going into the various communities, getting the citizenship schools started. There was at one time 195 classes going on in the eleven deep-South states, which called for a number of workers to work. And those women had to mimeograph books for each state. They had to get material out. They had to order material from Texas, we used some, and we used the Laubach method, too. They had to keep track of the students and all of the things that we needed for the students, so it branched out into a big thing. Expanded, rather.
EUGENE WALKER:
In your observation of what was happening in the so-called hierarchy of SCLC, which one of the individuals do you feel had the greatest influence on Dr. King?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Andy Young. I think Andy Young had more influence with Dr. King than Wyatt T. Walker.
EUGENE WALKER:
Did he have more than Abernathy?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
A thousand times more. [laughter]
EUGENE WALKER:
He did?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
I really feel that. Abernathy tried so hard to be a Dr. King, so much so that he. . . . Well, he got credit cards for him and for his wife to travel, and when Dr. King had to call in these things, he said, "I'll not do it." They were at variance, but King would never fuss with him. They were at variance many times. And the secretaries would try to get to Reverend Abernathy and tell Reverend Abernathy what Dr. King would like for him to do, but he resented it.