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Remembering Septima P. Clark, the Civil Rights activist called the “Mother of the Movement” by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Remembering Septima P. Clark, the Civil Rights activist called the “Mother of the Movement” by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
May 2021
WRITER: 

Learn about her far-reaching legacy



A marker was dedicated in 2018 at the site of the downtown home where she was born.

How we live now in Charleston, and the rest of the country, can be linked to a woman born here on May 3, 1898. It’s the day we celebrate the birthday of Septima Poinsette Clark, whom Martin Luther King Junior called the “Mother of the Movement.”

The child of a father born into slavery and a mother raised in Haiti, Clark fought inequality her whole life. She worked to overturn laws that prevented Black teachers from teaching Black students in this city. Fired after 30 years working as an educator for belonging to the NAACP, she left South Carolina for the Highlands Center in Tennessee, where she created grassroots social justice programs, reaching adults including Rosa Parks, who immediately launched the Montgomery Bus boycotts. (Clark is also called the “Grandmother” or “Godmother of the Movement,” for those she urged into action.) When Highlands was closed, Clark’s citizenship schools became part of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, directed by Dr. King. Her schools enabled hundreds of thousands of Black people to read and register to vote.

Retiring to Charleston in 1970, she was elected to the county school board and honored by President Jimmy Carter in 1979. She died December 15, 1987.

A plaque marks her birthplace on Wentworth Street, and her words are carved on the crosswalks of the Septima Clark Expressway, but her dedication to change and to literacy, liberty, and equality are her true legacies.