Sisters in the Struggle: African American Women in the Civil Rights-Black Power Movement

By Bettye Collier-Thomas; V. P. Franklin | Go to book overview

Part III

Women, Leadership, and Civil Rights

The three essays in Part III focus on black women leaders who operated primarily at the grassroots level. Septima Clark, Fannie Lou Hamer, Annie Devine, Victoria Gray, and other women activists made significant contributions to civil rights campaigns by utilizing local organizations and institutional networks to mobilize working-class black southerners. These women also maintained the important linkages between local movement organizations and the national civil rights leadership. To a very great extent their success as civil rights activists was closely related to their family background and personal experiences that prepared them well to assume responsible leadership positions.

Jacqueline Rouse's essay, “'We Seek to Know… in Order to Speak the Truth': Nurturing the Seeds of Discontent—Septima P. Clark and Participatory Leadership,” examines the significant contributions of Septima Clark to voting rights campaigns in the South during the Civil Rights Movement. For many years Clark was a teacher in Charleston, South Carolina and participated in the legal campaigns to equalize salaries for black and white teachers. Clark also taught in separate black schools on the Sea Islands in South Carolina, and after attending workshops at the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee, an integrated retreat and planning center for community activists, she began to develop adult education programs to achieve “Literacy and Liberation.” The “Citizenship Schools” that Clark established provided literacy training for black southerners to prepare them to register to vote. In the early 1960s, after Tennessee officials closed the Highlander Folk School, the Citizenship School program was taken over by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and Clark became the director. SCLC's citizenship training program formed the basis for the “Voter Education Project” which was responsible for the registration of thousands of southern black voters. Rouse presents a detailed examination of Clark's educational

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