Sites of Inspiration: Septima Poinsette Clark & the Civil Rights Movement, Charleston, SC

Many of the greatest achievements of Charleston native, educator, and activist Septima Poinsette Clark (1898-1987) are associated with sites on and near the C of C campus. Each story on this tour narrates an era in Clark’s remarkable life and identifies a location where Clark withstood and overcame societal, political, and personal challenges.

Living in a time and place that afforded few rights or opportunities to Black citizens, Clark worked tirelessly to educate Black students, to advocate for Black educators, and to teach adults how to read, write, and become active citizens. She developed a program of “citizenship schools” that enabled Lowcountry residents to vote despite state laws designed to prevent Blacks from voting. With Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders, she established similar schools in communities all over the South, and was often referred to as “the mother of the civil rights movement.”

This tour augments an installation of interpretive panels in the Septima P. Clark Auditorium in the College of Charleston’s Education Center on St. Philip Street.

In 1988, the College named the Auditorium in her honor. A plaque was installed by the auditorium door, but there was no further information about her life and legacy. To fill in this gap, in 2023 the College’s Committee on Commemoration and Landscapes installed an exhibit of museum-style panels on the auditorium walls, where visitors can learn about ten eras in Clark’s long life. This tour contains additional information on each era, commemorating Clark’s ability to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

To explore places where Septima Clark lived and worked, visit the sites on this tour, virtually or in person. Some of the College’s properties and neighboring buildings look the same as they did in Septima Clark’s lifetime. We can tread the same streets where she walked with her family and her students. We can visit the Avery, where she learned and taught, or Old Bethel United Methodist, where she worshipped. We can pass the site of the Coming Street YWCA, where Black women and allies tackled community problems; we can see where protests occurred on King Street and Rutledge Avenue. We can visit City Hall and Cistern Yard, where Clark was eventually recognized for her leadership.

And in the atrium of the Education Center, beside the Septima Clark Auditorium, we can view a mural by portraitist Natalie Daise, installed in 2023. “Saint Septima” celebrates the power and wisdom of Septima Poinsette Clark and invites us to follow her example.

Wherever we go on this picturesque campus and adjoining neighborhoods, we’re walking in the footsteps of a visionary Black woman who changed her city and her country for the better.

Black women were leaders at the Coming Street YWCA. After returning to Charleston, Clark tackled community problems, working with Black women’s clubs and white allies who opposed segregation. When fired from her Charleston teaching job for belonging to the NAACP, she became director of workshops for activists at Highlander Folk School in TN.
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This project was sponsored by the College of Charleston’s Committee on Commemoration and Landscapes, with additional support from the Office of the President and from the Center for the Study of Slavery in Charleston.

Research and editing by Mari Crabtree, Shannon Eaves, Julia Eichelberger, Susan Farrell, Valerie Frazier, Aaisha Haykal, Harlan Greene, Anthony Greene, Joanna Gilmore, Joe Kelly, Simon Lewis, Bernard Powers, Leah Worthington.

Special thanks for images and permissions provided by the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, the South Carolina Historical Society, Old Bethel United Methodist Church, and C of C’s Department of Marketing and Communications.

We also acknowledge the contributions and support of Ms. Yvonne Clark and Mr. Nerie Clark, Dr. Millicent Brown, students in Joanna Gilmore’s Fall 2022 Introduction to Museum Studies class, College of Charleston’s 1967 Legacy Scholars, and the Gamma Xi Omega chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.

The interpretive panels and the Natalie Daise mural in the College of Charleston's Education Center were co-sponsored by the following programs: the departments of African American Studies, History, English, Psychology, Political Science, Southern Studies, Women's and Gender Studies, the School of Education, the Office of Insitutional Diversity and the First-Year Experience program.

If you have additional images or information to contribute to this tour, please contact us at