Clarie Collins Harvey was a prominent businesswoman and social activist. Born in Meridian, Mississippi, on 27 November 1916, Collins was the daughter of Rev. Malachi C. Collins and Mary Augusta Rayford Collins, a schoolteacher. An only child, young Clarie lived a relatively privileged life for an African American in the predominantly white town of Meridian. In 1916 her father opened a funeral and insurance business, which his daughter later owned and operated. Collins had opportunities for education uncommon to most African Americans in the South, attending Smith Robertson Elementary School in Jackson and Tougaloo College, where she completed high school and one year of college. She then earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Atlanta’s Spelman College in 1937 as well as a certificate in mortuary technique (1942) from the Indiana College of Mortuary Science and a master’s degree (1950) in personnel administration from Columbia University in New York. In 1943 Collins married Martin L. Harvey, dean of Southern University.
Both of her parents were committed to political and social activism in their church and various other organizations, and Harvey developed her own ideas on women’s activism. Harvey initially worked through the Methodist church and the Young Women’s Christian Association. Through her activism in the male-dominated National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Methodist Church organizations, Harvey learned the formal procedures for running meetings and organizations. However, she also witnessed the exclusion of women from leadership positions and sought to create a forum where women’s energies could be fully utilized. She devoted a great deal of her time to working with women’s organizations such as the National Council of Negro Women, Women Strike for Peace, and Church Women United, becoming the group’s first African American president in 1971. In 1961 she organized Womanpower Unlimited to mobilize African American women to support the efforts of the Freedom Riders. The organization engaged in voter registration, assisted with school desegregation efforts, and collaborated on the Mississippi Box Project before disbanding in 1968. Harvey also provided support to the Wednesdays in Mississippi project and for ten years served on the Mississippi Advisory Committee to the US Commission on Civil Rights.
Harvey’s humanist perspective included a commitment to activism on the international level as well. She began her international travel in 1939 as a student representative at the World Conference of Christian Youth in Amsterdam. This event marked the beginning of her commitment to international affairs, which went on to include participation in Kwame Nkrumah’s 1962 World without the Bomb Peace Conference in Accra, Ghana; the Eighteen Nation Committee on Disarmament in Geneva (1962); and a 1963 Women’s Peace Pilgrimage to the Vatican as well as membership in the World Council of Churches.
Harvey’s civic and professional leadership earned her local, national, and international recognition. In 1974 Gov. William Waller declared Clarie Collins Harvey Day, and she was named Woman of the Year by the National Funeral Directors Association in 1955 and Churchwoman of the Year by the Religious Heritage of America Foundation in 1974. Harvey remained an active contributor to her church, community, profession, and state until her death on 27 May 1995.
- Raymond Arsenault, Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice (2006)
- Debbie Harwell, Wednesdays in Mississippi: Proper Ladies Working for Radical Change, Freedom Summer 1964 (2016)
- Tiyi M. Morris, in Groundwork: The Local Black Freedom Movement in America, ed. Jeanne Theoharis and Komozi Woodard (2005)
- Tiyi M. Morris, Womanpower Unlimited and the Black Freedom Struggle in the Twentieth-Century South (2015)
- George Alexander Sewell, Mississippi Black History Makers (1977)