South Carolina Teaching Fellows Ridgeland Welch and Aly Lain were deep in a discussion about education in the civil rights era during their Foundation of Education class, when educational history professor Jon Hale mentioned that Septima Poinsette Clark, a nationally known civil rights leader, education advocate and freedom fighter, was born at a location now embedded within the College of Charleston campus.
The two students immediately wondered why there was no historic marker in front of her birthplace at 105 Wentworth St. Charleston has the Septima Clark Parkway (U.S. Highway 17) that people drive over daily, and her burial spot is well-marked at Old Bethel United Methodist Church Cemetery. Why wouldn’t there be a marker to celebrate her birthplace?
With the support of Hale and Mary Ann Hartshorn, visiting assistant professor and director of the Teaching Fellows & Teacher Cadet Program, Welch and Lain got the ball rolling. Two years later with the collaboration of more than 100 teaching fellows, School of Education, Health, and Human Performance Dean Fran Welch, faculty and politicians, along with many fundraisers, the historic marker and a portrait of Clark will be unveiled on May 3, 2018, to commemorate the life and legacy of this woman who made a positive impact on so many lives.
May 3 marks the 120th anniversary of Clark’s birthdate, so it’s only fitting that it serves as the date of the historic marker dedication in front of her birthplace. At the unveiling, Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg will issue a proclamation in Clark’s honor, and Charleston poet laureate Marcus Amaker will read a poem written especially for the occasion. The dedication will take place at 105 Wentworth St. at 10 a.m. and is free and open to the public.
That afternoon at the College of Charleston’s Hill Gallery on the first floor of the Cato Center at 161 Calhoun St., a portrait of Clark by famed Charleston artist Jonathan Green will be unveiled. The portrait will ultimately be housed at the Avery Research Center where Clark studied when it was the Avery Normal Institute. Gretchen Morgan, Gamma Xi Omega chapter president of the CofC Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., will also speak about Clark, who was a sorority sister. The portrait reception, which is free and open to the public, begins at 4 p.m.
Language on the Historic Marker:
Septima Poinsette Clark, who Martin Luther King Jr. called “the Mother of the Movement,” was a nationally influential Civil Rights activist. She was born at 105 Wentworth St. on May 3, 1898, to Peter Poinsette, former slave, and Victoria Anderson, who was of Haitian descent. Clark earned her teacher’s certificate from Charleston’s Avery Normal Institute and her master’s from Hampton Institute. She taught for nearly 40 years.
In 1953, Clark visited the Highlander Folk School in TN, which was dedicated to training community organizers and pursuing equality for all. Here she developed the “citizenship school” model, which promoted literacy and political education. By 1965 Clark had helped to organize nearly 900 citizenship schools, including the first one on nearby Johns Island, and had helped register more than 50,000 Black voters.