Colia Liddell Lafayette Clark


colia-clarkColia L. Clark, a committed Pan Africanist, has spent a lifetime in activist work in the areas of civil rights, human rights, womens rights, workers rights and rights for the homeless and youth.

Clark was born in rural Hinds county Mississippi and spent most of her childhood years in Jackson, Mississippi. Each fall until her late teens, Clark’s family migrated to the Mississippi Delta for cotton picking season. She was born into a land owning clan, but her young father and mother secured a share cropper contract with a local white farmer. The family was an activist family with her father and maternal grandfather working on projects with the Southern Tenant Farmers Union in the neighboring county of Copiah.

Flood refugees in Yazoo City, Mississippi, on May 13, 1927. Courtesy Mississippi Department of Archives and History, accession no.: PI/ 1992.0002.103

Flood refugees in Yazoo City, Mississippi, on May 13, 1927. Courtesy Mississippi Department of Archives and History,

During the Great Flood of 1927, Clark’s father, maternal grandfather and great grandfather were conscripted along with all black men within 150 miles of the flood to work on building of levees in the Mississippi Delta. The household was regularly filled with stories, puns and jokes on the horrors and good times of levee camp life and working organizing tenant farmers. The violence associated with her father’s and grandfather’s work was in good part of the reason the family decided to move to the city of Jackson.

Clark was educated in the Jackson Mississippi Public Schools, received her BA from Jackson State University, MA from State University of New York at Albany. [From]

As Clark recounted on the website:

Between 1959 and 1970, I spent pretty much full time working on civil rights and human rights causes. The major work being concentrated on the removal of those seemingly ancient symbols of subordination that marked the southern terrain and the struggle for the simple rights to vote.

My career started with NAACP at Tougaloo College and move rapidly to special assistant to Medgar W. Evers, field secretary for the NAACP. I am the founder and first president of the North Jackson NAACP Youth Council which is now infamous for initiating the 1963 mass movement at Jackson under the leadership and guidance of Medgar Evers and our adviser, John Salter. Many other adult leaders of North Jackson were involved in helping to shape the course and program of this small band of students and youth.

In June 1962, I resigned my job with the NAACP and joined with Mississippi SNCC under the leadership of Robert P. Moses. We worked in Jackson, Hattiesburg (Forest County), Sunflower County, Greenville on projects that were directed towards helping local Mississippians get registered to vote. One has to know that it is near impossible to work in a rural state under the feet of oppression and not work on related issues of the peoples.

In February, 1963 Bernard Lafayette Jr. and I moved to Selma AL, where he served as director of the SNCC Black Belt Alabama Voter Project and I continued as SNCC field secretary. [Learn more about the day-to-day work in Selma from her April 6, 1963 field report.] The project was headquartered at Selma but we had responsibility for developing voter registration and direct action projects in the seven Black Belt counties. While at Selma, I was appointed by James Forman, executive secretary of SNCC, to assist with the Birmingham, Alabama Movement under the leadership of Dr. Martin L. King. It was in Birmingham that I took one of the worst beatings of my career in the civil rights struggle. Three fire houses assaulted me for what seemed forever on May 8, 1963.

In 1964, I was privileged to be a part of the birth of the Southern Organizing Committee at Nashville, Tennessee where Bernard and I were attending school at Fisk and giving birth to our first son, James Arthur. Nashville was the culminating point for the early years of civil rights in the South. Beyond lie Chicago, New York and national politics. By early 1973, I returned to my home state Mississippi and worked on a number of other projects including the editorship of the Jackson, Mississippi Advocate.

Today I recollect experiences of anti war, racism, Diallo, reparations, workers rights and the battle to end the Africa debt along with that of all of Central and South America. This work has taken me into the international arena where I think the progressive forces and especially the Black forces in the USA must centralize future struggles. These struggles around issues of imperialism, colonization, capitalism, racism, environmentalism, anti-woman, anti-youth, anti-age, anti-human struggles must be internationalized as a part of the struggles of other world groups and issues. It is important that the struggle of the African in the USA be removed from domestic servitude to international leadership—human at last.

Learn more from “The Selma Voting Rights Struggle: 15 Key Points from Bottom-Up History and Why It Matters Today” by Emilye Crosby.