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Septima Poinsette Clark: Cultivating Liberation Through Education

Lucretia Berry  •  March 16, 2024 

I was drawn to the book’s cover featuring the profile of a mature, Black woman with gray hair sectioned into a few braids, her hand positioned as a pedestal upon which her chin lightly rested. She was stunning. Because the image seem to personify dignity, wisdom and humility, I gifted the book to my mother. A young college student, I didn’t know the significance of the person on the cover. I simply knew that the book needed to be a feature on my mom’s coffee table. 

Later, I realized that the captivating image featured on the I Dream A World – Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America book cover is Septima Poinsette Clark. Once I learned her story, I understood why I was drawn in. 

In the tapestry of history, certain individuals emerge as beacons of hope and catalysts for change. Septima Poinsette Clark, an educator and civil rights activist, shines brightly in this constellation of trailblazers. As we commemorate Women’s History Month, it is fitting to celebrate her remarkable journey and the profound impact she had on society.

Born on May 3, 1898, in Charleston, South Carolina, Clark’s early years were marked by the harsh realities of segregation and systemic racism. Despite facing formidable barriers to education, she harbored an unyielding belief in the transformative power of learning. As she witnessed the disparities in resources and opportunities between Black and white students, her resolve to become a teacher strengthened. Clark understood that education was not merely a pathway to personal fulfillment but a potent tool for dismantling racial inequality.

Educators like Septima Poinsette Clark are uniquely positioned to sow seeds of enlightenment and empowerment that yield a bountiful harvest for humanity. They serve as cultivators of knowledge, nurturing minds and hearts with the nourishment of truth and understanding. In the fertile soil of their classrooms, seeds of curiosity are planted, germinating into saplings of critical thinking and empathy.

Image Source: https://www.naacpdesmoines.org/post/septima-poinsette-clark

Clark’s journey took her from the classrooms of Benedict College to the hallowed halls of the Hampton Institute, where she honed her skills as a teacher. Her pedagogical prowess was matched only by her passion for social justice. She understood that education was not limited to the confines of a textbook but extended into the realm of civic engagement and activism.

It was at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee where Clark’s activism took root and flourished. Immersed in a community dedicated to empowering marginalized voices, she was inspired to create Citizenship Schools. These revolutionary institutions were more than centers of learning; they were incubators of change, empowering African Americans with the literacy and political awareness needed to challenge voter suppression and segregation.

The impact of educators like Septima Poinsette Clark reverberates far beyond the walls of a classroom. Their influence extends into the fabric of society, shaping attitudes, and inspiring action. Through her advocacy and grassroots organizing, Clark played a pivotal role in advancing civil rights legislation, laying the foundation for a more equitable future.

REFLECTION

As we reflect on the legacy of Septima Poinsette Clark during Women’s History Month, let us recognize the profound role that educators play in shaping the course of history. They are the architects of a brighter tomorrow, sculpting minds and hearts with the tools of knowledge and compassion. Like seeds planted in fertile soil, their efforts bear fruit that nourishes not only the individual but the entire community. In honoring Clark’s legacy, let us recognize and celebrate educators who are committed to liberation, equity and justice.


Lucretia carter berry
Lucretia Carter Berry, PhD, is a distinguished author, educator, and speaker, as well as the visionary founder of Brownicity, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering education designed to inspire a culture of true belonging and justice for all. Lucretia is also a valued contributor to incourage.me, sharing her insights and wisdom on topics of faith, resilience, and personal growth. Through her books, Teaching for Justice and Belonging – A Journey for Educators and Parents (2022), Hues of You – An Activity Book for Learning About the Skin You Are In (2022), and What LIES Between Us – Fostering First Steps Toward Racial Healing (2016), her impactful TED Talk, and her commitment to building just communities, Lucretia encourages meaningful engagement that transcends boundaries, fostering personal development, resilience, and the transformative capacity within each of us.