20th Century Leaders


Credit: Mary McLeod Bethune Council House, NHS, National Archives for Black Women's History

Septima Poinsette Clark

Septima Poinsette Clark (1898-1987), a Charleston native, an educator and civil and human rights activist, was one of the mothers of the modern civil rights movement.

Clark began her career as a teacher on John’s Island. In 1929 she began teaching in Columbia. At that time she also became active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), working to obtain equal pay for black teachers who were paid substantially less than whites. In 1956 she was fired because South Carolina prohibited teachers and state employees from maintaining membership in the NAACP.

One of Clark’s greatest contributions to the civil rights movement was the development of citizenship schools. Working with Esau Jenkins, Bernice Robinson, and later, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, she organized schools throughout the South. From 1962 to 1964 she trained more than 10,000 teachers for the schools and registered 700,000 black voters.