Remember Luke Skywalker? No, not that one – you’re thinking of the Jedi Luke Skywalker. The one who defeated basically the entire Empire in only a few short hours of cinematic glory. I’m talking about Luke Skywalker, sniveling teenage brat. The pre-Yoda Luke Skywalker. Yoda may have been short, and he may have only had a few scenes, but he made a pretty significant difference.
Okay, back from Star Wars. Remember Rosa Parks? Now, I’m not about to say that Rosa Parks was ever as pathetic or snively as Luke Skywalker was. I’m sure she was a great woman all on her own. But she did have her own Yoda figure. That mentor was Septima Clark.
Septima Clark was a Civil Rights activist who worked in the background. I had always had some notion that Rosa Parks just spontaneously decided one day that she’d had it, and wasn’t going to take it anymore. Which is true – but not in the sense that she suddenly had one moment when she realized, “Hey, I’m sick of it!” and put her foot down. She’d been sick of it for a long time, and planning carefully how to put her foot down. A lot of people had.
And that’s where Miss Clark comes in. Septima Clark taught civil rights workshops at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee. This school was specifically set up by black people, for black people, to help further the cause of black rights. This is where a lot of activists learned the value and principles of nonviolent resistance, and how to cool off their tempers so they wouldn’t fight back. It’s where they learned to make sure that the media caught pictures of the cruelty whites subjected them to. It’s where they learned how to take a defensive position, so they wouldn’t be literally beaten to death at a protest when the police force got violent.
Septima Clark taught a lot of the Civil Rights Movement’s leaders, and was called the “Mother of the Movement.” While she didn’t take the front page of the newspaper, she made a huge difference in the way events played out, and helped keep passive resistance an effective tool in seeking civil rights.