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Benedict College Alumna and Activist, Septima Poinsette Clark honored with a collectible coin by the United States Mint

The American Innovation $1 Coin Program Pays Tribute to one of South Carolina’s Most Notable Civil Right Leaders

COLUMBIA, SC., February 10, 2021 – Benedict College alumna and civil rights leader Septima Poinsette Clark is being honored with a collectible coin issued by the United States Mint. The $1 coin depicts Septima Poinsette Clark marching with three Black students carrying books and an American flag. It illustrates education as the pathway to equality and freedom for Black people in America and highlights Clark as an educator and activist leading the way.

“Mrs. Septima Poinsette Clark is one of our most distinguished graduates and is most deserving of this celebrated honor. Clark developed literacy and citizenship workshops that played an important role in the drive for voting and civil rights. Unfortunately, many young people are unaware of the depth and breadth of her contributions. She was widely known as ‘Queen Mother’ to those who knew her.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., commonly referred to her as the ‘The Mother of the Movement,’ said Dr. Roslyn Clark Artis, President and CEO of Benedict College. In fact, at his request, she accompanied Dr. King to Norway in 1964 when he was presented the Nobel Peace Prize.  She is a trailblazer and a shero because she believed and understood that knowledge could empower marginalized people in ways that the legal equality system in this country could not. She pioneered the link between education and political organizing with the purpose of gaining the right to vote – thus, an equal voice as an American citizen.”

Septima Poinsette Clark graduated from Benedict College on May 26, 1942, with a B.A. degree. Unable to go to college immediately upon finishing high school in 1916, Clark passed the state examination for teaching and began working and an educator on John’s Island. She taught for nearly 20 years before enrolling at Benedict as a part-time student. Determined to earn a college degree, she took some classes in the morning, worked during the day, and returned for evening classes to complete her studies. She is shining example of the tenacity and resilience that Benedict College students are known for today. Ever the trailblazer, Clark returned to her alma mater to serve as the first female commencement speaker in Benedict College’s history during Dr. Henry Ponder’s tenure as President.   

Economic parity was a central component of Clark’s work throughout her life. She fought for equal pay and economic security, and she endured targeted attacks on her own financial well-being. In the 1956, four years short of her retirement, Clark lost her teaching position in Charleston, South Carolina for refusing to renounce her membership with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The state passed a law forbidding state workers to belong to civil rights organizations.

This injustice fueled her work in teaching Black people how to lead literacy and citizenship workshops in their communities to help people pass voter registration tests. Under her leadership, the Citizenship School Program was established and over 800 citizenship schools were created around the country.  In fact, Rosa Parks was one of her students at the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee. As a result of her efforts, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) headquartered the project, and joined forces with the NAACP, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the Urban League, and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to form the Voter Education Project.

She retired in the early 1970’s and was elected to the Charleston, South Carolina School Board in 1975; the same school district that fired her in 1956 for maintaining her membership with the NAACP. A year later, the governor of South Carolina restored the pension that was unjustly taken from her during her teaching years.  Her commitment to civil rights was recognized by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 when he bestowed her with the Living Legacy Award.  She was also awarded the Order of Palmetto, South Carolina’s highest civilian award, in 1982.

“It’s important for people to know her and to appreciate her legacy. The recognition of Mrs. Clark’s life’s work by the U.S. Mint is a tremendous honor. She is only HBCU graduate honored in the series of coins being produced this year and we are enormously proud to proclaim that she is a Benedict College alumna,” said President Artis.

  

The Clark coin is part of an ongoing series called the American Innovation $1 Coin Program that pays tribute to pioneering individuals and groups and their accomplishments, from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories. Four coins are made each year through 2032. The coin can be purchased now in rolls and bags of 25 or 100.  The reverse proof version of the coin is priced at $11.50, with production limited to 50,000.

About Benedict College

Founded in 1870 by a woman, Bathsheba A. Benedict, Benedict College is a private co-educational liberal arts institution, offering 25 competitive baccalaureate degree programs. The Midlands HBCU welcomes students from all 46 counties in South Carolina, 30 states across America, and 26 countries around the world. 

Benedict offers several high-demand fields of study in STEM, Cyber Security, Mass Communication, Sport Management, Business Administration, Engineering, Computer Science, Biology, and Education. The College also has a diverse faculty and importantly, 80 percent of courses are taught by full-time faculty. 

Over the past ten years, three out of five Benedict College graduates have attended professional or graduate schools. There are over 18,000 proud Benedict Tigers throughout the nation. Benedict College has been a community leader for over 150-years and is a significant contributor to South Carolina and the region. Contributing $130 million and 1,218 jobs in total local and annual economic impact, a Benedict graduate working full-time throughout his or her working life can expect to earn $1.1 million in additional income because of their Benedict College degree. 

The College made front-page news in the spring of 2018 when it became the first South Carolina college to lower its tuition by 26 percent. Cutting tuition drew praise from the Commission on Higher Education, South Carolina’s education oversight body. The commissioner noted that the move Benedict College made should be applauded because it offers families affordability and students greater access to higher education. 

Benedict College has been highly regarded and exceptionally ranked for its programs by several academic and traditional publications.  For example, Benedict College was ranked as one of the top baccalaureate colleges in the nation by Washington Monthly magazine for creating social mobility and producing cutting-edge scholarship and research.  In 2019, Benedict College received the 2019 ACE/ Fidelity Investments Awards for Institutional Transformation and was named the HBCU of the Year by HBCU Digest

Benedict College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to award baccalaureate and masters degrees. Five of the College’s degree programs hold national accreditation: The School of Education, Social Work, Environmental Health Science, Arts and Sciences and the Tyrone Adam Burroughs School of Business and Entrepreneurship. 

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