Septima Clark and Women’s Rights

Throughout her work in Civil Rights, Septima Clark was critical of male leaders who failed to delegate leadership roles to women: “I see this as one of the weaknesses of the civil rights movement, the way the men looked at women…I found all over the South that whatever the man said had to be right.”1  She recognized that women needed citizenship training just as much as men did, and thought that women did not receive enough credit for their contributions to the movement. Clark also shared that women rarely let the men know what they felt or thought in organization meetings, often keeping quiet rather than voicing their ideas.2

Similar to Ella Baker, Clark was critical of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership style and underlying sexism.  During her time at the SCLC, she discovered that male leaders in the organization “didn’t respect women too much” and thought that Dr. King “never felt that women should have much of anything.”3 Septima felt upset that the SCLC never mentioned women in its write ups, even important women like Ella Baker, Dorothy Cotton and herself.  Organizational sexism contributed to under-acknowledgement of female Civil Rights leaders in the movement.3

Sources for this page:

1. Clark, Septima. Ready From Within. Trenton, New Jersey: Africa World Press, 1990.
2. “Black women grew accustomed to hiding their feelings and opinions from black men.” Oral History Interview with Septima Poinsette Clark, July 25, 1976. Interview G-0016. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
3. “Male SCLC leaders tend to ignore the contributions of women leaders.” Oral History Interview with Septima Poinsette Clark, July 25, 1976. Interview G-0016. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.