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MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Honoring Septima Clark

Marian Wright Edelman | 3/5/2014, 3 p.m.
During this Black History Month, I was deeply honored to be inducted into the South Carolina Hall of Fame at ...
Marian Wright Edelman (Courtesy of childrensdefense.org)

Fannie Lou Hamer was among the local leaders who volunteered to help. Clark eventually helped establish and recruit and train teachers for hundreds of Citizenship Schools: “They were in people’s kitchens, in beauty parlors, and under trees in the summertime. I went all over the South, sometimes visiting three Citizenship Schools in one day…One time I heard Andy Young say that the Citizenship Schools were the base on which the whole civil rights movement was built. And that’s probably very much true.”

Rosa Parks also said that while she may have sat down once, Mrs. Clark kept on working and building: “I am always very respectful and very much in awe of the presence of Septima Clark because her life story makes the effort that I have made very minute. I only hope that there is a possible chance that some of her great courage and dignity and wisdom has rubbed off on me.”

Even later in life was never hesitant to speak up. One of the injustices after her 1956 firing was that South Carolina refused to pay the pension she had earned for her 40 years of teaching or the pay she would have earned in the few years before her retirement if she had not been dismissed. She did not give up on waiting for those wrongs to be righted, and in 1976 the governor reinstated her pension and in 1981 the legislature approved paying her back pay.

Near the end of her life she said: “Education is my big priority right now. I want people to see children as human beings and not to think of the money that it costs nor to think of the amount of time that it will take, but to think of the lives that can be developed into Americans who will redeem the soul of America and will really make America a great country.” Let’s honor Septima Clark’s legacy right now by making this priority our own with urgency and perseverance.

Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.