Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Septima Poinsette Clark, July 25, 1976. Interview G-0016. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Black women grew accustomed to hiding their feelings and opinions from black men

Clark notes a trend among black women to avoid sharing their actual thoughts and feelings with black men, especially with their husbands. She was an example of an outspoken woman in a leadership role, but most often women simply attributed that role to her "newfangled" notions and grew accustomed to not receiving credit for their work.

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:
It's interesting that at the same time you were trying to teach other people how to organize in their own behalf and speak out, and this was true in all the civil rights organizations, I think, as women began to be aware of their own situation, they were aware of it but they couldn't act on it. Why was that?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
I remember on John's Island, we worked on John's Island for three years, and all the women would do would be serving the tables. And one Sunday a woman said, "Mr. Esau, yes, we want such-and-such a thing," talking about typing classes for the children. And he said, "Just sit down there and say nothingjust . And she said, "Yes, we want a typing class, and we want a typing teacher, too!" And I put that down as a benchmark .
JACQUELYN HALL:
Really?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Thiswoman stand up and say something. They didn't speak. They sat down there. They thought these things, but they swallowed them.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You were there, it seems to me, in the citizenship training schools, as a teacher and as a strong person and speaking out. Why didn't your presence there enable the other women to take a larger role?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
I'm pretty sure that most of them felt. . . . Well,they call me an activist, don't they? And a number of the women would say that "Who minds Septima with her newfangled notions?" And I think that's what most of them feel. We have notions, and they're newfangled notions. That's what they call it. And it's too new for them. It's too new.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How do you account for the attitude of the SCLC leadership toward women?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Well, I think most of it is due to the fact that with our men, most of them had been trained by either mothers or grandmothers [END OF TAPE 3, SIDE A]
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
letting people know your thoughts. Even when I went to Hampton Institute, there was a young woman there from Florida who wrote a beautiful dissertation. And then when she got up in the classroom, she said, "You know, I didn't tell them people what I'm thinking. I wouldn't let them know what I'm thinking, but I put down something that they would like to hear."
JACQUELYN HALL:
In her dissertation.
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Yes. And this was the kind of thing that we had all the time. People would say what they'd think you'd want to hear. They'd say, "We make them laugh. We tease them. We put down what they want to hear. But we won't tell them what we're thinking."
JACQUELYN HALL:
Now is this black women toward black men?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
As well as blacks toward whites.
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
That's right. Oh, they never let the men know what you feel or how you think. We had a workshop down at Fayette County, and those women that nightthat bedroom, and they just talked about how they could fool their husbands about theirfeelings, you know. Wouldn't let them know how they were thinking . see the way they do.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Do you see all this changing, the relationship between men and women?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Very much so. That's why we're having [laughter] so many divorces, I guess. Men aren't accustomed to women standing up and talking to them, and it's hard for them to take it. And they still want to be.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What about the role of women in the civil rights movement on the local level? How much leadership were women able to exert locally?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Very little at first. But as the civil rights went into its tenth year or so, women started speaking out. But in the beginning they were listeners only.
JACQUELYN HALL:
We have an interview with Ella Baker, and she talks about in the Montgomery bus boycott, for example, that women were very important in keeping up the spirit of the boycott and doing the nitty-gritty work. But they never took . . .
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
. I had a meeting with Mrs. West down there in Montgomery and Mrs. Campbell, and they just called me about a lady just now; Mrs. Harrison just lost her husband down there. I worked with and talked with all of them. They did many things to help in the civil rights movement, but you'll never see it put down anywhere in any of the reports. In the reports you can only get Dr. Sayand Dr. Pierce of Alabama State College, some of those people who worked there. I don't know why it is, but they don't give the women any of the glory at all. It's just starting to come now. Then this woman wrote Women . But I think Josephine Carson is so right in her Silent Woman. They think these things, but they won't speak them; won't say them out.