Posted By Bill Payer on Mar 10, 2021 | 0 comments

You’ve probably driven on the Septima Clark Parkway in Charleston, but do you know who she was?

Septima Poinsette Clark (May 3, 1898 – December 15, 1987) was an African American educator and civil rights activist. Clark developed the literacy and citizenship workshops that played an important role in the drive for voting rights and civil rights for African Americans in the Civil Rights Movement.[1] Septima Clark’s work was commonly under-appreciated by Southern male activists.[2] She became known as the “Queen mother” or “Grandmother” of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.[3]Martin Luther King Jr. commonly referred to Clark as “The Mother of the Movement”.[2] Clark’s argument for her position in the Civil Rights Movement was one that claimed “knowledge could empower marginalized groups in ways that formal legal equality couldn’t.”


Bob Fitch photography archive, © Stanford University Libraries

“A pioneer in grassroots citizenship education, Septima Clark was called the “Mother of the Movement” and the epitome of a “community teacher, intuitive fighter for human rights and leader of her unlettered and disillusioned people” (McFadden, “Septima Clark,” 85; King, July 1962). 

The daughter of a laundrywoman and a former slave, Clark was born 3 May 1898 in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1916 she graduated from secondary school and, after passing her teacher’s exam, taught at a black school on Johns Island, just outside of Charleston. For more than 30 years, she taught throughout South Carolina, including 18 years in Columbia and 9 in Charleston.” To see more from Stanford’s Martin Luther King Center CLICK HERE.

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