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Septima Poinsette Clark

Biography: 

Septima Poinsette Clark (1898-1987) was an educator and civil rights activist. The daughter of a former slave, Clark was born in Charleston, South Carolina. Clark attended Benedict College and received a master's degree from Hampton Institute. After beginning her teaching career in 1918 at an all-black school on John's Island, Clark later moved to Columbia. There, she continued her teaching career and also participated in a campaign to equalize teachers' salaries. In 1956 Clark was fired from a teaching job in Charleston pursuant to a South Carolina law that prohibited teachers from maintaining membership in the NAACP. In the late 1950s Clark began working at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee and developed Citizenship Schools throughout the South, where adult students learned to read and write so they could pass voter literacy exams. She later became a director of the school. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Southern Christian Leadership Conference took over Highlander's training program in 1961. Clark's autobiography, Echo in My Soul, was published in 1962. President Jimmy Carter bestowed a Living Legacy Award on Clark in 1979. In 1982 she received the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina's highest civilian award.

Image courtesy of the Highlander Research and Education Center.

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