Civil rights activist Septima Poinsetta Clark dies.
1987 (Dec 15)
Septima Poinsetta Clark, Black American civil rights activist, died on John's Island, South Carolina, at age eighty-nine. Clark was born to a former slave in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1898. She received a bachelor's degree from Benedict College in her native state and a master's from Hampton Institute in Virginia. Clark began her teaching career in a public school on John's Island in 1916. In 1918, she transferred to Avery Institute in Charleston and in that same year Clark led a drive to collect 20,000 signatures on a petition to have Black teachers hired by the Charleston County School District. The law barring their employment was changed in 1920. When Clark moved to Columbia in 1927, she aided a campaign to equalize salaries for Black and white teachers. After returning to Charleston several years later, Clark was dismissed from her teaching job for being a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1955. In the late 1950s, Clark worked at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, where she developed a program to teach illiterate Blacks so that they could pass literacy tests and qualify to vote. She later became a director of the school, a supervisor of teacher training for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and a national lecturer for voting and civil rights. In recognition of her contributions to the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. selected Clark to accompany him to Norway in 1964 when he was presented the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1974, she was elected to the Charleston County School Board. Five years later, President Jimmy Carter presented to Clark a Living Legacy Award. In 1982, she received the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina's highest civilian award. Clark told the story of much of her life in her autobiographies, Echo in My Soul (1962) and Ready from Within: Septima Clark and the Civil Rights Movement (1987). The latter won an American Book Award. Upon learning of Septima Clark's death, South Carolina Governor Carroll A. Campbell, Jr., said “the state has lost not only a leading civil rights activist but a legendary educator and humanitarian.”