Teaching as Resistance: The Septima Clark Story

Posted by Rachel Tapling on Feb 16, 2017 12:08:00 PM

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If only I could catch some of her spirit.”

Rosa Parks wrote those words in reference to Septima Clark, after attending one of the meetings that Clark lead.

She wrote, “At that time I was very nervous, very troubled in my mind about the events that were occurring in Montgomery, but then I had the chance to work with Septima. She was such a calm and dedicated person in the midst of all that danger. I thought, ‘If only I could catch some of her spirit.’”

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It is critically important that we teach students about more than just the same few African American leaders during Black History Month. Why?

Because students should not ever walk away from Black History Month NOT yearning to find out about more “hidden figures” behind each turn of American History.

Because students need to see themselves in leaders, no matter who they are or what intersections they embody.

Because MLKJ, Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman all stood on the shoulders of giants and were supported by contemporaries, and if they were alive today, would want to tell you about them!

Because history is always being uncovered and realized, and students should look forward to the new angles each year.

Also, why not?

Here are 5 facts about Septima Poinsiette Clark to pique your interest, your students’ interest, and get you started:


  • She was the daughter of a laundrywoman and a slave, and taught for more than 30 years in South Carolina, and studied under W.E.B. Du Bois.

  • She was called the “Mother of the Movement” by MLKJ.

  • She lead citizen workshops for African Americans because she believed that literacy and empowerment were essential to each other.

  • She taught Rosa Parks at one of her workshops and helped organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

  • The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) designed their citizen training after her workshops, and Clarke was awarded the “Living Legacy” Award by Jimmy Carter.

Here are some ideas for engaging your students in their inquiry about Septima Clark:

  1. View this 2-minute video, appropriate for all ages, and have your students use this coloring page as they watch!blackhistory-clark coloring page.jpg
  2. Have students write a fictional letter from Septima Clark to Rosa Parks. What might Septima say to Rosa to encourage her? How might Septima pass along her “spirit” and dedication to Rosa?
  3. Have students describe someone who inspires them, whose spirit they would like to “catch”.
  4. Discuss the link between literacy and empowerment. Connect students to the Jim Crow laws of the past and voter rights issues today that illustrate this.

When teaching about a new historical figure, make sure to root the person firmly into the historical context.

What is so significant about Clark being the child of a former slave?

What is important about how Clark spent her time?

What might her “spirit” have been like if she was able to inspire the likes of Rosa Parks and garner the respect of Martin Luther King Jr.?


Dive into these questions with your students! Even one class period on Ms. Clark is well worth the time!


Next Week: “Jo Ann Robinson and the Fliers that Changed the World”

Topics: Classroom Ideas, Literacy

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