The Queen Mother of the Civil Rights Movement
Septima Poinsette Clark was born on May 3, 1898 in Charleston, SC. She helped several other teachers and the NAACP to prepare a 1945 court case that forced the Columbia public school system to make black and white teachers’ salaries equal. She lost her job with the Charleston School Board in 1956 because she refused to resign from the NAACP.
After this setback, she established citizenship schools, which combined the teaching of literacy with voting rights organization. It was her belief that political rights and education were inextricably related. “I just thought you couldn’t get people to register to vote until you teach them to read and write… and I was so right.”
Septima Clark was honest and courageous about the obstacles posed to her struggles for the rights of others. Sometimes considerable adversity was presented by the people who were supposed to be her partners in the struggle for change and improvement. While she had great respect for the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, she said in her own biography* that she “had a great feeling that [he] didn’t think too much of women, either.”
Until her death on December 15, 1987, she continued to be the voice of protest. She spoke against environmental destruction and President Ronald Reagan’s cuts in educational spending.
*Septima Clark and Cynthia Stokes Brown, Ready from Within, Wild Trees Press, 1986.