“When I say Civil Rights what comes to mind?”
This was the opening question asked by Dr. Katherine Mellon Charron Thursday, February 4, in the Mary Livermore Library as she began a presentation of her book titled “Freedom Teachers: The Life of Septima Clark.”
Part of the library’s Black History Month programs, Friends of the Library President Dr. Judy Curtis introduced Dr. Charron, The NC State University professor is an African American history specialist.
Dr. Charron said the Civil Rights movement may have started in the early 1900s, but did not really officially begin until 1954, “when it was brought to the attention of whites.” She read from her book, “Freedom Teachers,” to an audience of students, faculty and guests. For the next 40 minutes, she engaged the audience with facts and stories from the life and work of Septima Clark, an educator and Civil Rights leader.
Clark became active in the movement in the 1960s when she helped develop citizenship schools. The schools were a means for people of color to learn to read and write in order to pass literacy tests required to register to vote.
The schools were very important to Clark, Dr. Charron said. It was the “first time I ever felt like a human being,” Clark once said.
Clark’s role in the development and the graduation of students from citizenship schools led to other educational programs such as “Head Start” and other poverty programs, Dr. Charron explained.
A “difference-maker,” Dr. Charron said Septima Clark is also representative of the women’s role in the movement.
“She was one of the leaders of the predominantly female teaching force for grassroots education,” Dr. Charron said.
During the question and answer period, Librarian Anne Coleman remembered a meeting with Septima Clark, but had no idea at the time that she was such an important lady.
Dr. Charron was asked why there is a huge interest in African American studies. She said that she attended integrated schools as a child and was “furious” because she didn’t know about the things that went on in the past.
Dr. Charron received her master’s degree in African American studies from the University of Wisconsin and Ph.D. in history from Yale University. She enjoys speaking engagements whenever she gets the chance.
Her goal as a history teacher, she said, is “to see the light bulb go on.”
“Once that light bulb goes on I’ve made a difference,” she said. “I’ve succeeded, showing them another way to read the world today by helping them understand what happened in the past.
“It helps students form an informed opinion,” said Dr. Charron.
Jermaris Genwright is a senior Mass Communication major. Justin Walker, also a senior Mass Communication major, contributed to this release.