Septima Poinsette Clark: Director of Citizenship Schools for Basic Literacy Programs

1 Posted by - July 10, 2018 - BLACK WOMEN

was an influential teacher and civil rights activist. She directed citizenship schools that would help to empower many African Americans. Clark was born in Charleston, South Carolina, May 2, 1898. She was the second child of eight. Her father had been born into slavery. However, both her father and mother was adamant about her getting a good education. Clark attended public school, and would work to earn money so that she could attend Avery Normal Institute, a private school for African Americans. In 1916, Clark qualified to teach school, but being in Charleston, South Carolina she was not allowed to because she was Black. So, she became an instructor on South Carolina’s Johns Island.


By 1919, Clark was able to return to Charleston and teach at Avery Institute. She became a figure with the NAACP, in trying to help get the city to hire African-American teachers. She went out and gathered the signatures needed in their favor, she made sure that the effort was a success. She married in 1920, but her husband died due to kidney failure five years later. After her husband’s death she moved to Columbia, South Carolina where she continued teaching and joined the local NAACP chapter working with Thurgood Marshall. They sought to get equal pay for black and white teachers. She described it as her “first effort in a social action challenging the status quo.” ( Her salary increased threefold when the case was won.


Under the direction of Clark, Highlander’s Citizenship School program helped regular people learn how to instruct others in their communities in basic literacy and math skills. One of the greatest benefits of teaching people how to do this was people were better able to register to vote. (It was known that many states during this time used literacy test to exclude African Americans.) Clark retired from the SCLC in 1970. In 1979, she received the Living Legacy Award by Jimmy Carter. She received the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina’s highest civilian honor, in 1982.  (Biography)


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