Alexander Clark
Original Author: Patrick Olson, ENG206 SP11
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Alexander Clark proved himself to be resourceful for his varied career and his political involvement. Clark lived in Muscatine, Iowa for forty years (Robert Dykstra 15). He was considered the prominent black activist within Iowa.

Alexander Clark lived in southwest Pennsylvania for about thirteen years of his life (Dykstra 15). Though his father started out as a slave, he was enfranchised by his father and master (William Simmons 1097). According to Simmons, “[Alexander] was considered very intelligent while still a lad at school” (1097). At the age of thirteen, Clark went to Cincinnati to attend grammar school and learn the trade of barbering from his uncle. Clark served as a riverboat bartender two years later (Dykstra 15). At the age of sixteen, Alexander Clark landed in Muscatine, Iowa (Simmons 1097.

Within his career, Clark served in a wide range of jobs. He started out with a barbershop that was successful. After changing jobs, he turned to buying real estate and had a “neat fortune” from his investments (Simmons 1097). Among his investments is the Clark House, a publicly subsidized apartment building for senior citizens (McHugh-Johnston 110). Alexander Clark also had “profitable contracts for the supply of firewood to various steamboat lines” (Dykstra 15). He was the second in line to being the most prosperous black in town with twelve hundred dollars worth of property (Dykstra 15).

Alexander joined the first Iowa Colored volunteers in 1863and was promoted to sergeant-major (Simmons 1097).Though he was not allowed to fight because of a physical defect; Clark still played a part. Simmons explained, “This did not abate his ardor to labor for the country in her time of need. All through the West, he actively busied himself gathering recruits for the Union army” (1098). For twenty-five years of his life, Alexander Clark served as superintendent for Sunday school (Charline Barnes 74). Alexander Clark wanted to find more challenges than Iowa provided. After his son was the first black to graduate from University of Iowa law school, Clark followed in his son’s footsteps and became the second. Afterwards, Alexander devoted part of his time to a Muscatine legal practice (Dykstra 239). The other half of his time was spent editing the Chicago Conservator newspaper that he owned (Simmons 1100). Simmons stated that, “While he had it, he certain wielded a fearless pen; it was dipped in acid and driven into an enemy to his race with remorseless vigor” (1100). In 1890, Clark was sent to Liberia as a minister (Irving Richman 296).

Alexander Clark was very active in politics and colored activism. In 1848, Alexander and his wife Catherine protected a freed fugitive slave from potentially being taken back. In 1855, Alexander Clark joined with other successful blacks that challenged the laws banning immigration of free blacks into Iowa (Leslie Schwalm 36). Alexander Clark played a vital role in desegregating Iowa schools long before the landmark Brown versus Board of Education (McHugh-Johnston 8). Dykstra explained that, “Thirty-three “Colored Citizens of Muscatine County” petitioned the 1854/55 legislature to repeal the 1851 exclusion law” (118). Seventeen of them showed their lack of education by signing X’s on the petition next to where someone else wrote their names (Dykstra 119). Schwalm stated, “Muscatine’s African American residents Iowa’s first statewide black convention in 1857, asserting in its declaration … that, “We the colored people of the State of Iowa … feel ourselves deeply aggrieved by reason of cruel prejudice are compelled to suffer, in this our native land”” (36). After the McCoy bill, which allowed nonwhite testimony, Alexander Clark thought it was reason to tear down the black code. Clark as well as other activists put a petition together with 122 signatures including both blacks and whites to repeal Billy G. Hann’s exclusion law (Dykstra 150). Though Senator McCoy expressed interest in repealing said law, he was convinced by his colleagues not to pursue it (Dykstra 150). In 1862, Alexander felt that the blacks of Iowa should “share the lethal burden” in a war to free the slaves (Dykstra 196). Though Clark made an offer to start black companies, he was turned down because white troops would not accept integrating the races (Dykstra 196). He spoke about the suffering in the south which he became familiar with by travelling extensively in southern United States (Simmons 1100).

Black suffrage prevented blacks from being equal with whites. The rights of blacks, was considered unnecessary because of the need to recover from the degrading aspects of slavery. In January 1866, Alexander Clark presented a petition with more than one thousand signatures. To get approval to end racial restrictions, a public referendum was necessary (Schalm 185). A gathering of African Americans from around the state met in Des Moines on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. The African Americans were “seizing the moral weight of his martyrdom to back their claims of full citizenship” (Schwalm 185). Alexander Clark and Reverend J.W. Malone, the key speakers, claimed that the hardships of African Americans were nothing compared to those experienced in the war. They claimed that there was a “moral imperative extending to black northerners “the equal rights and equal justice asserted and enforced” in the south” (Schwalm 185).

Mr. Clark gave a speech to celebrate the passing of the 15th Amendment.

“A speech made by him in Macon, at the celebration of the passage of the Fifteenth amendment, was mentioned as follows by the weekly Macon Journal: Mr. Clark’s speech was replete with sound argument, earnest advocacy of right, and impressed all with his sound judgement. Rarely has it been the privilege of the people of Macon to listen to such words of eloquence. To attempt to reproduce it would ensure failure, so we will not attempt it; suffice it to say it was happy in conception, faultless in argument and delivery” (Simmons 1099).

Alexander Clark was also active in the Republican Party. He was one of the few blacks recognized by the Republican Party. Alexander Clark was “asked to campaign for Republicans in Mississippi during the 1869 elections” (Schwalm 190). Simmons explained, “In 1869 he was elected Vice-President of the Iowa State Republican convention, and in 1870 was a delegate to said body and served on a committee on resolutions” (1099). Clark became delegate-at-large at the Philadelphia convention in 1872 (Simmons 1099). Schwalm claimed, “Few men, black or white, worked as Clark did to support the party with a long schedule of speeches nearly every election year” (190). Simmons said, “In 1873, President Grant appointed him to AUX CAYES, HAYTI which position he declined because the salary was not sufficient” (1099). Clark, like other black politicians, spoke on racial justice and encouraged people to support the Civil Rights Bill of 1874. He also spoke out about the unfair treatment of black voters in the South (Schwalm 190).

In conclusion, Alexander Clark was quite successful both in his career and in black activism. Within his career, Clark advanced from being a barber to being a lawyer and editor. As an activist, Clark successfully removed the ban on immigration of freed blacks, made education available for blacks, and continuously pushed for the rights of blacks in Iowa. Clark showed himself to be an asset for the Republican Party.

Works Cited
Barnes, Charline. Life Narratives of African Americans in Iowa. Nd: Arcadia Publishing, 2001. Print.
Dykstra, Robert. Bright Radical Star: Black freedom and white supremacy on the Hawkeye frontier. Nd, Iowa State University Press, 1997. Print.
Ed. Richmond, Irving. History of Muscatine County, Iowa: From the earliest settlement to present Day. Vol. 1. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing, 1911. Print.
Schwalm, Leslie. Emancipation’s Diaspora: Race and reconstruction in the upper Midwest. Nd: University of North Carolina Press, 2009. Print.

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