By Paul Carroll As we celebrate African American History month, it is important to recognize retired architect, Kent Sissel, for his decades of efforts to preserve the property, documentation, and legacy of Alexander G. Clark. Sissel’s continuing efforts include interpreting this important story for future generations. Sissel’s involvement in the Clark history started in the mid-1970s when Clark’s home at the corner of Chestnut and Third Streets had to be removed for the construction of the Clark House apartment building. “I knew through many conversations with Betty Veerhusen and Aldeen Davis that this was a significant property, and that Clark’s story needed to be preserved,” says Sissel. Veerhusen and Davis were active participants in local historic preservation groups. A group of volunteers formed in December 1974 to establish the Alexander G. Clark Historical Society, Inc. This group took on preserving and restoring the house as a museum of African American history. By March 1975, the group had raised enough money to move the duplex a block away to 203-205-207 West Third Street. The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Sissel purchased the house in 1979. Since then, Sissel has continually worked on the property where he lives. The residence also has several apartments. Kent’s efforts also included capturing as much of Clark’s history and related artifacts as possible, with the hopes of eventually turning the property into a museum dedicated to the life and legacies of this remarkable civil rights pioneer. After more than four decades of his efforts to preserve this important Muscatine history, Kent has gotten people around Muscatine and around the state to increasingly understand the importance of this story in national civil rights history. Sissel’s story of preservation was featured in a thirty-minute documentary on Iowa Public Television, originally aired in February 2012. The Iowa Public Radio show, Talk of Iowa, also featured his story. Much of the information and stories he has collected are currently on display through the end of February at the Muscatine Art Center. Thursday, February 28th, at 5:30 pm, Kent Sissel will speak about the life of Clark and the future work of preserving the Clark legacy. He will also read from a paper on the Clark school case written in 2018 by Muscatine County native, Robert G. Allbee, retired Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court. Muscatine Community College has scheduled another of its Clark lecture series. On February 25th at 7:00 PM, at Muscatine Community College, an “Alexander Clark Day” lecture will be presented by Dwain Coleman of the University of Iowa. His doctoral research focused on Iowa’s regiment of soldiers of African descent during the Civil War. He is currently a researcher for the University of Iowa Libraries’ Iowa Colored Conventions Project.
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