As NASW president, I was among those invited to speak at a ceremony this spring for Hortense King McClinton, an NASW Social Work Pioneer® and a living social justice change agent.
On May 13, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill honored McClinton, a longtime School of Social Work faculty member, by placing her name on the former Aycock Residence Hall. It was both an honor and a lifetime privilege to give celebratory remarks to a social work living legend who is 103 years young.
I will always remember Mrs. McClinton’s words when it was time to deliver her remarks, “The time that we are living now is the scariest time that I have ever lived in.” An African American woman born in 1918, whose father escaped the Ku Klux Klan in Texas and moved his family to Boley, Okla., reminded everyone in the audience that we must do the work now to bend the arc of justice toward equity for all.
In 1966, Mrs. McClinton became the first African American faculty member to hold a tenure track appointment in Carolina’s then-175 year history.
Mrs. McClinton began her studies at Howard University, where she was a student of the renowned sociologist Dr. E. Franklin Frazier. She graduated from Howard in 1939 and lived up to the ethos of all Howard graduates—that you must take whatever necessary actions to create a world that is just for all people.
Dean Sandra Edmonds Crewe from Howard University School of Social Work remarked that “Mrs. Hortense McClinton is a stellar representative of a social worker who focused on breaking barriers associated with racism and structural inequalities. She was not a bystander; she actively engaged in advocacy and insisted that the social work profession live up to our values of social justice and the dignity and worth of all persons. Mrs. McClinton is an exemplar of the mission and core values of Howard University’s motto of excellence, leadership, service, and truth. Today, Howard University is humbled because her truth is marching on and representing the solid foundation that she has laid for so many social workers.”
After graduating, Mrs. McClinton continued her education at the University of Pennsylvania, where she obtained her MSW. She was the only Black student in her social work class, and the third to graduate in 1941.
As the late civil rights activist and Georgia Rep. John Lewis stated, McClinton “showed up, stood up, and spoke up for the empowerment of our beloved communities. She never gave up, she never gave in,” and she used her social work skills and core values to uplift communities in the Philadelphia and the Raleigh Durham areas.
Dean Sara Bachman from Penn’s School of Social Policy and Social Work said, “The dedication that Mrs. McClinton has for social work and her commitment to underserved and marginalized communities is a testament to both her character and desire to advance justice, equity, and inclusion for all. Any social worker looking for inspiration should look no further than Hortense McClinton.”
Mrs. McClinton always led the charge to change oppressive practices, she stayed in the room and contributed to hard conversations, and she worked with others to help them find new pathways that brought equity to the table. She reviewed, revised, and even eradicated policies and practices that desperately needed to be eradicated for diversity, equity, and inclusion to flourish.
She always achieved her goals with dignity, transparency, honesty, and respect for those she worked with and worked for. Her focus was that all individuals must have the opportunity to succeed.
McClinton broke barriers, shattered glass ceilings, hurdled obstacles, and gave those who were labeled as “other” or who were afraid to speak out, the precious gift of hope. Let it serve as a reminder to us that we must not only honor her work, we must continue to walk in her giant footsteps, and protect those voices that often are not heard, no matter how difficult the walk or how high the climb.
If you ever wondered if one person can make a difference, the answer is yes. Mrs. McClinton—an African American social work practitioner, notable social work academician, and NASW Pioneer—made a monumental difference to institutions, agencies, communities, her students, those she served, social workers, and the social work profession.
Our nation often chooses to address issues of race and inequality when the cauldron boils over. But Mrs. McClinton has worked to extinguish the flames of intolerance, hate, and discrimination her entire professional social work life.
Thank you, Mrs. Hortense King McClinton. You are the “2022 NASW Queen of Social Work” and indeed a living legend and blessing to us all.
Contact Mit Joyner at firstname.lastname@example.org