May 3 - Happy Birthday, Septima Poinsette Clark

Posted on May 3, 2018

Do you know who Martin Luther King, Jr., often called "the Mother of the Movement"?

Back when Septima Clark, born on this date in 1898, was running literacy and citizenship workshops, she was providing a super-duper HUGEly important part of what empowered black people to vote and to gain human rights. 

But she was mostly undervalued then, by male leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, and she is little known now, compared to King and W. E .B. DuBois and John Lewis and Rosa Parks...

Educational activism was so so so so important. If black people couldn't read and write, would they be able to vote? If black people had no access to history books and newspaper articles about current events, would they be able to vote responsibly? If black people had no access to schooling or other forms of education in literacy, math, and science, would they be able to achieve? If black people had no access to knowledge about their rights and duties as citizens, would they be able to fully participate?

Legal rights are one thing - actually knowing enough to take advantage of legal rights is perhaps even more important!

So hooray for Septima Clark, and hooray for educational activism!

Here are some interesting facts about Clark's life and work:

* Clark's own education started off with a bad schooling experience: at the Mary Street School, she took a seat on some bleachers with about 100 other six year olds - and they did NOTHING. Not much learning happens in such a scenario! Luckily, Clark's mom took her out of that school right away and found a better one - but what about the other kids whose "schooling" was basically "sit there...and do nothing"?

* Even though Clark managed to obtain a college education, including both a B.A. and an M.A., she was not allowed to teach in the Charleston, South Carolina, schools, she was able to get a job teaching on one of the many Sea Islands just off the coast. The schools on the islands were segregated by race.

* Separate but NOT equal - and how! In that island teaching job, the black school had 132 students and one principal - Clark - and only two teachers - one of whom was Clark! She earned only $35 per week as the teaching principal, and the other teacher earned only $25 a week.

In contrast, the white school on that island (which was across the street) had only 3 students. The teacher over there got $85 per week. Yi-yi-yi-yi-yikes!

* For no pay, while teaching kids on the island, Clark taught adults how to read and write in her "free time." She used free, everyday materials like the Sears catalog. The program she developed then helped her teach adult literacy more widely later.

* The citizenship schools that Clark started met in the back rooms of shops. Clark trained adults to read, act collectively, and protest racism - and some of the adult students went on train others. Eventually there were more than 10,000 citizenship teachers and another 25,000 citizenship students who didn't go on to becoming teachers.

* Because of racist voting laws that required literacy tests and tests about the U.S. Constitution before allowing people to vote, many black people were barred from voting. In 1958, Clark's classes had enabled 37 adults to vote for the first time. By the end of a decade, about 700,000 African Americans became registered voters - in a great part because of Clark!

Also on this date:

No comments:

Post a Comment