This Day in History

May 3, 1898: Septima Clark Born

Time Periods: Industrial Revolution: 1877 - 1899
Themes: African American, Civil Rights Movements, Education, Women's History

Literacy means liberation. — Septima Clark

Septima Clark teaching at a Citizenship School on the South Carolina Sea islands.

Septima Poinsette Clark was born on May 3, 1898. Clark developed the literacy and citizenship workshops that played a key role in the drive for voting rights and civil rights for African Americans in the Civil Rights Movement.

Here is the opening to her profile at the SNCC Digital Gateway Project.

Septima Poinsette Clark pioneered the link between education and political organizing, especially political organizing aimed at gaining the right to vote. “Literacy means liberation,” she stressed knowing that education was key to gaining political, economic, and social power.

Septima Clark and Rosa Parks at the Highlander Center in 1955. Source: Library of Congress

Long before SNCC’s Freedom Schools, Clark was developing a grassroots citizenship education program that used everyday materials to think about big questions. From reading catalogues to writing on dry cleaner bags instead of chalkboards, Clark not only found creative ways to teach literacy but also helped people become leaders. Continue reading.

Watch a powerful two-minute video about Clark by Professor Greg Carr.

Learn More

Citizenship Schools: They Say I’m Your Teacher. 9-min. documentary directed by Lucy Massie Phenix and Catherine Murphy.

Oral History Interview with Septima Poinsette Clark from Documenting the American South, July 30, 1976.

Find more resources below, including the biography Freedom’s Teacher: The Life of Septima Clark.