Papers of Septima Clark to Be Housed at the College of Charleston

The Avery Research Center for the Preservation of African-American History and Culture on the campus of the College of Charleston recently secured the rights to the scrapbook of Septima Poinsette Clark, an icon of the civil rights movement. The center was able to purchase the scrapbook at auction for $1,000.

Clark was born in Charleston in 1898. Septima translates into “sufficient” in the language of Haiti where her mother was reared. Septima Clark’s name greatly understated the achievements of this remarkable woman.

Clark completed high school in 1916 and took a job teaching the children of black plantation workers in a John’s Island log cabin schoolhouse. There, in place of a blackboard, students wrote their assignments on used dry-cleaner bags. Later in Charleston she organized a petition drive that resulted in a law that allowed blacks to teach in the public school system. The mother of two children, Clark received a B.A. from Benedict College in 1942 at the age of 44. She earned a master’s degree from Hampton Institute in 1945. In 1956, after being dismissed from the Charleston school system for refusing to renounce her membership in the NAACP, Clark became director of workshops for the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee. There, “Mama Seppie,” as she was familiarly known, became expert in nonviolent civil disobedience. In 1954, one year before the Montgomery bus boycott, Rosa Parks enrolled in Clark’s workshop on civil disobedience.

Clark later worked for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as a close associate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. When King won the Noble Peace Prize, Clark accompanied him to Oslo, Norway, for the award ceremony. In 1975, at the age of 77, she was elected to the school board in Charleston.

The Clark scrapbook, which chronicles her life’s story, is expected to go on display at the Avery Center in February or March.