'Education is power:' Former HBCU professor says growing up in Jim Crow shaped her teaching

1 July 2022

— Former St. Augustine’s Biology Professor Irene Clark spent more than 30 years as an educator. In that time, she touched many lives and nurtured countless students.

In tonight’s Forward Together Change Makers segment, WRAL’s Ken Smith sits down with Professor Irene Clark to talk about her life and finding happiness through education.

From her journeys that took her around the world with her late husband, Dr. Lawrence Clark Jr., to her humble upbringing in Roanoke, Virginia, education was the path by which Former St. Augustine’s University Professor Irene Clark found joy and success.

Growing up in the Jim Crow era shaped her future as a teacher.

St. Agnes Hospital in downtown Raleigh

At St. Augustine’s University, she touched many lives and became a foremost expert on historic St. Agnes Hospital located on campus. St. Agnes Hospital was established in the late 1800s. Then, in the early 1900’s, the students themselves built a hospital building to serve Raleigh’s Black residents during segregation.

“If you don’t tell them or convince them that they can’t do something, there’s no telling what they might do,” she says.

The sky isn’t even the limit — it’s the stars.

“Out there beyond the sun,” she says.

At 84, her thirst for knowledge has not waned and is reflected in her extensive home library.

St. Agnes hospital ruins

“We had such an emphasis on St. Agnes Hospital, that I wanted to find out what it was like in 1896, as far as medicine, what was it like in the 1920’s and 1930’s,” she says.

Her home library is enhanced with symbolism – like a display showing how justice can sometimes move at a snail’s pace, or an over-sized copy of a bill – generated in the North Carolina General Assembly in 1831.

“This was a bill in North Carolina that made it illegal for us as slaves to learn to read and write,” she says.

There’s a reason she displays that bill prominently and permanently up in her Library.

“Education as well as power,” she says. “Like handling an egg in your hand, don’t crush it and don’t be too loose with it.”

During the lockdown because of the pandemic, Clark kept busy by penning her auto-biography and the biography of her late husband, Dr. Lawrence Clark, a former NC State professor.

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