When 'Justice Rose Like Water'

By Septima Poinsette Clark

Vol. 10, No. 1, 1988, p. 15

Educator and activist Septima Clark, whose long, productive career placed her in the front lines of civil rights activities for six decades, died on December 15, 1987, in a nursing home on Johns Island, S.C. The next issue of Southern Changes will include excerpts from a lengthy 1983 interview conducted with Clark by the Southern Regional Council. Meanwhile, as ceremonies nationwide during January honor Martin Luther King, Jr., here is the text of a speech Clark gave at a King birthday celebration in Charleston in 1980:

I was born in 1898, and as a girl in Charleston, South Carolina, the church was very powerful. In the sanctuaries, Christians rejoiced. There they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. The church is often the arch supporter of the status quo. If it does not recapture that sacrificial spirit, it will forfeit the loyalty of millions and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the 20th Century.

My thanks to Martin Luther King, Jr. for recapturing that sacrificial spirit and giving his life for what he believed. He also recaptured the American Dream. Not that he lived by the Bible, he also called his country to live by the Constitution. When he preached, the prophets came alive, and justice rose like water. When he walked, the feet of millions of Americans fell in line and followed across the country and into the nation's capitol.

His was no middle-class campaign for civil rights. It was a Movement that took the people into the streets to confront clubs, hoses, horses and dogs...to face the oppressors while armed only with the almighty power of love. To turn the cheek, not to avoid the present pain. But to see the true nation, and new order of the future that God was already making.

His peace was not any cozy rally, but in reordering of our national priorities, from military power to that of human empowerment. He did not stop with the right to vote, and eat with white folk. Already living in God's Kingdom, where all people live in dignity and love. The Nobel Peace Prize maker spoke out against the war in Asia because its bombs took breads from the tables of the poor in America.

Born in an economic depression in 1929, he died in a time of spiritual depression in 1968. He was killed, like his Lord, ahead of his time. Some say his dream died on a motel balcony. I think I speak for many Americans when I say that he is the greatest American of our century, and his Lord is our greatest hope for the next century. Racism, poverty and warfare remain, yet our hearts retain the righteous dream of God's revolutionary kingdom.

You have a dual citizenry. You live both in time and eternity. Your highest loyalty is to God and not to the nation. If any earthly institution or custom conflicts with God's will, it is your Christian duty to oppose it. Preserve the values of the faith for children yet unborn. The end of life is not to be happy, nor to achieve pleasure and avoid pain, but to do the will of God, come what may.