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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Septima Poinsette Clark, July 25, 1976. Interview G-0016. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Clark persists in presenting her ideas to prejudiced Charleston mayor

Clark navigated local politics to serve as a board member for the Charleston YWCA. She convinced the mayor to support a local YMCA chapter and brought the wife of Judge Waring as a speaker despite white members' objections. The YWCA was one of only two organizations with black and white members cooperating.

Citing this Excerpt

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.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, how do you account for the fact that. . . . Evidently there were some white women in the Y who had been supportive of your efforts or of the black branch, and were trying to get black representatives on the central board?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Yes. There were some.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And they were afraid that this speech would keep that from happening?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
That's what she said.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How do you account for the fact that right afterwards you were elected to the central board? [laughter] After all this controversy.
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
We had a meeting with the mayor, Mayor Wade, and while meeting with the mayor, he decided that he couldn't see the black woman. So there were two women, Mrs. John Brown Coleman and Mrs. Mary Louise Boyd-she'd been with me on Mrs. Davis-and when he saw me coming he pulled a chair and when I came he sat down and turned his back. And they felt terrible about it. Oh, they just colored. And I didn't say a word, but I took a-hold of a chair and sat down behind him around the table. And I said to myself, "Whatever I have to say'll penetrate his back." And sure enough, when we started talking I did get a chance to speak. And I said to him that "The only reason why these boys are difficult around here is because the city has no place for boys to go. And so if you would provide a place for the boys, you wouldn't have this difficulty with the girls. But I think now you can put a policeman on this porch every day when the girls come, and when the boys come up and see the policeman they'll shy away. And in the long run I think you need to get a branch started of the YMCA for the boys." He thought about that. He turned right around to that telephone and called the police station to find out if they could put a policeman on the place. And he said, "What time is this?" and I told him what time the girls would be coming. The boys used to the girls. And then they had the little woman there was afraid. They'd come in to use the telephone, and she was afraid to tell them they couldn't come in. So it wasn't too long after that that he sent to New York to find a man to come and work with the boys and they got a little club, and they called it the Boys' Club. And they had meetings there. And later on we got the YMCA built.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Your election to the YWCA board was the first time that there were even black representatives on the over-all governing body.
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
That's right.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did the YWCA have any interracial meetings in this period in the forties?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
They would have some interracial meetings. There were some people who would come and discuss the interracial aspects. And in the national part, a Committee for the Interracial Relationships of the Y was being established at that time. And that's when they started trying to get clerks and things to work in the stores. The Jewish women couldn't work in the stores.