By Daniel G. Clark
Do Muscatine people know Alexander Clark the same way that Hannibal citizens know Mark Twain and Springfield residents know Abe Lincoln?

Every February, for Black History Month, Clark’s story is our ready-made Exhibit A for Muscatine’s contributions.

On January 18, 2018, the City Council voted unanimously to create an annual Alexander Clark Day on his birthday, February 25 (in 1826).
Ask the next neighbor you meet: Why was Alexander Clark so important?

I hope you’ll hear that he was the father who sued the local school board for his daughter’s right to attend the nearby public school, not the special “African” school a mile away.

That happened exactly 150 years ago. In April 1868, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in favor of 12-year-old Susan Clark, who went on to graduate with honors from Muscatine High School in 1871.

In that desegregation precedent nearly a century ahead of the 1954 Brown decision, the court ruled that all Iowa children are equal regardless of race, religion, nationality, or appearance.

That decision is a big deal in U.S. history, and just one of our famous resident’s achievements. And yet, apart from the school case, what else can you tell about why we honor our Alexander Clark?

You could brag that Muscatine people, black and white, played a big part in amending our state’s 1857 Constitution to eliminate the word “white” with reference to the rights of Iowa citizens. That was July 1868, right after the Clark court ruling, and a direct result of a biracial movement following the Civil War.

Impetus for the movement came from a November 1865 convention of Iowa’s “colored” veterans—a convention chaired by their honorary Sergeant Major, Alexander Clark. Iowans were ready for equal-rights progress.

Iowa will celebrate the Constitutional amendment sesquicentennial this summer. Why not make it the theme of the Muscatine 4th of July parade?

Clark became famous in politics and in his church; he traveled widely and was much in demand as an orator; he earned a law degree and published a newspaper in Chicago; and he died in Liberia in 1891 while serving as United States ambassador.

There is so much more, and you can learn it easily. Iowa Public Television ran a half-hour documentary in 2012 which you can stream from the IPTV website (a show funded by MUSCO). If you read or research nothing else about Alexander Clark, please view that video.

For the past dozen years, I have assisted my friend Kent Sissel in his Alexander G. Clark Project, “Preserving the Legacy of a National Equal-Rights Pioneer.” Kent bought Clark’s 1878 house in 1979, restored it, and still lives there.

Recently, a group of supporters established the Alexander Clark Foundation to preserve the A.G. Clark House on a sustainable basis into the future when Kent is no longer its steward. We invite others to join in keeping our history alive. We welcome tax-deductible donations to the fund at the Community Foundation of Greater Muscatine.
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