“Come on in ladies,” said Colia Clark happily and in a slight Southern accent as she invited Dr. Terri Jett, an associate professor in the Political Science Department at Butler University and me into her downtown hotel room. While preparing her cup of coffee, she instructs me to take a seat in a modern looking chair near the small couch she plans to sit on.
She’s warm, easygoing and has the perfect amount of bubble and joy. The term “you can’t judge a book by its cover” is so fitting for Clark, because while she is incredibly inviting and grandma-esque, the native Mississippian has endured hardships many have only read about.
She’s worked alongside civil rights greats who have died for Blacks’ equality. She’s lived during a time when a small white child could decide a Black person’s fate. And while we remember pieces of history, such as the recent anniversary of the day Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Clark continues to carry the torch and do the work she and her peers did in the 1960s – helping right the wrongs that continue to plague Black people.
She’s genuine and purposeful about her task.
“We did not wear those chains. We were not whipped and raped and abused night and day,” said Clark. “They faced the mobs. They faced the federal government that refused to protect them. They did that. Who the hell am I? I owe my ancestors because they paved a way for me through the gates of hell and back. So when it came time for me to pay the price, I had to take my place.”
Clark grew up in Jackson, Miss., to a large family that was poor yet resourceful. She says her parents were good at managing money, building homes and raising children. She bursts into laughter as she recalls the “corporal punishment” used to keep her and her siblings in line.
After high school, the athletic Clark attended Tougalloo College in her home state.
In 1961 the freedom riders came into Jackson, Miss., to build a local non-violent movement. Clark felt obligated to step up to the plate as a woman and Black person and help.
“I said ‘you’re not going to do my work for me.’ We were already doing work when we founded the North Jackson NAACP Youth Council,” Clark said. “I did the work of building a movement in Jackson with one of the finest men, warriors and organizers this world has ever known – Medgar Evers.”
She describes Evers as a quiet yet powerful man who simultaneously radiated love, passion and interest.
“(Myrlie his wife) had him dressed back, girl! He had this starched white shirt and these blue jean coveralls, and they were pressed! You can just see the creases,” tilting her head full of thick natural curls slightly back while laughing. “But he let us run our meeting and talk about our strategies. He spoke from a point of ‘let me see if I can offer a little bit to help you get to the next step.’”
Source: Indianapolis Recorder | JESSICA R. KEY