Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Legacy Department


Committee Member

Dr. Vernon Burton, Committee Chair

Committee Member

Dr. Mary Barr

Committee Member

Dr. Abel Bartley

Committee Member

Dr. Garry Bertholf


This study evaluates the roles that African American women played in positions of political power through their work with the Citizenship Schools of South Carolina. The women of this local education movement are often overlooked because most historiography focuses on the male contributors, and just recently has a biography been written about the school’s founder, Septima Clark. There are additional women involved in the Citizenship School programs who helped teach African Americans to read and write in order to pass voter registration tests. These women should be discussed as part of Civil Rights Movement scholarship. Additionally, the Citizenship Schools were fundamental to voter registration campaigns on the national level in the 1960s, such as the Voter Education Project (VEP) started by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Within this narrative, this project illuminates the correlation between increased voter registration turnout on the national level and the Citizenship School programs that originated in the Sea Islands of South Carolina at the local level. A detailed narrative is certainly valuable for the purpose of this study to show the influence that African American women had in grassroots efforts of political mobilization. Because narratives on Septima Clark already exist, this project focuses on one other instrumental woman, Ethel Grimball. She was the daughter of Johns Island hero, Esau Jenkins, who was the founder of the Progressive Club and co-founder of the Citizenship Schools. Grimball was the first teacher at the second Citizenship School that opened in 1958 on Wadmalaw Island. By providing an in-depth case study of Grimball’s life experiences and her influence within the Sea Island community, this project situates African American women within the context of Citizenship School teachers using education as a vehicle for social change in the modern Civil Rights Movement. Furthermore, this type of in-depth study can certainly be applied to the other Citizenship School teachers before and after the 1961 SCLC take-over. There exists an evident trend of women increasing their own political involvement and taking on the role of teacher to help others in their communities. This project can therefore be expanded within the Citizenship School narrative by providing additional case studies on schools in North Charleston, Edisto Island, and Hilton Head Island, among many others. The Citizenship Schools were foundational to the success of the Civil Rights Movement in politically mobilizing African Americans at the local level, as Our Brother’s Keepers, demonstrates. The history of the Citizenship Schools helps fill the historiographical gap that is African American women’s political history. This study can be considered a cultural, social, political, and even intellectual history by placing African American women within these lacunae of scholarship by way of the Citizenship School narrative.



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