Koinonia Farm’s vision statement is “love through service to others, joy through generous hospitality, peace through reconciliation.” All of our guest rooms are named after people who have come before us and embodied these ideas. These peacemakers are from all over the world and from all different periods of history. This “great cloud of witnesses” and their stories encourage us to keep pursuing love, joy, and peace in our life and work.
Septima Poinsette Clark (1898-1987) was known as the Grandmother of the Civil Rights Movement. She was born in Charleston, South Carolina to a formerly enslaved father and a Haitian mother. From an early age, her parents and her teachers strongly encouraged her to continue her education as far as possible. In 1916, she graduated high school from Avery Institute, a private school founded by missionaries for African-American students. After graduating, she became a teacher. She was not able to teach in Charleston public schools because she was Black. She started teaching at a school on Johns Island, just off the coast of Charleston. In 1920, she married Nerie Clark. He died in 1925. Her experience teaching on Johns Island brought her face to face with the inequalities between the white education system and the Black education system.
“I have a great belief in the fact that whenever there is chaos, it creates wonderful thinking. I consider chaos a gift.”
In 1929, Clark moved to Columbia, South Carolina, where she became involved with the NAACP. She continued to teach and encourage literacy in her students and the adults in the community. In 1935, she established a program to help illiterate soldiers learn to read. She turned to her own education in the 1940s: she earned a bachelor’s degree from Benedict College in 1942 and a master’s degree from Hampton University in Virginia in 1946. Clark moved back to Charleston in 1947 and joined the YWCA there.
As the fight for Civil Rights intensified, Clark continued using education to bring about equality. She worked with the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee to spread Citizenship Schools across the South. These workshops taught African-Americans skills such as literacy and how to pass the literacy tests required to register to vote. In 1956, Clark was fired from her teaching position in South Carolina as a result of her Civil Rights activism and her membership with the NAACP. Because she was fired, she did not receive any of her retirement benefits she had earned after teaching for over 40 years. In 1961, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) hired her as their director of education. Working with the SCLC, Clark traveled throughout the South to promote her citizenship workshops and help African-Americans register to vote. She retired from SCLC in 1970, but she continued to work for literacy and equality until her death in 1987.
“… Hating people, bearing hate in your heart, even though you may feel that you have been ill-treated, never accomplishes anything good… Hate is only a canker that destroys.”
Clark wrote two autobiographies: Echo in My Soul and Ready from Within. She served two terms on the Charleston School Board. In 1979, President Carter presented her with the Living Legacy Award. Her focus on education and her fight for equal rights and education earned her the title “Grandmother of the Civil Rights Movement.”
“The greatest evil in our country today is not racism, but ignorance. I believe unconditionally in the ability of people to respond when they are told the truth. We need to be taught to study rather than to believe, to inquire rather than to affirm.”