By Paul Carroll
Honoring African American History Month, we have acknowledged the important life of Alexander G. Clark in the first article of four, and in part two explained how a number of individuals at the local level have invested much time and energy in preserving his home and legacy. This part three article is the examination of the efforts to continue telling this history to our local citizens and a broader state and national audience.
As a participant in the National History Day contest, a young Iowan from Marshalltown, Stephen Frese, received national recognition by winning the essay category by detailing the life of Clark. Local volunteers have made this information as well as many other details available at http://muscatine-tours.com/alexanderclark/ as well as a Facebook page.
Muscatine Community College has cooperated with a continuing lecture series about Clark’s life and a number of related topics, including one scheduled this month. The Muscatine Art Center has had several Clark displays including one currently available through the end of February. Our local access MPW television Channel Nine has featured numerous stories, which are available for viewing on YouTube. Musser Public Library continues to help citizens understand the importance of this story through numerous programs in the past several years. For a number of years, the city’s Historic Preservation Commission has assisted with the process of preserving and telling the Clark story.
In 2010, Mayor Dick O’Brien’s Community Improvement Action Team recommended to the city council that there be a designated Alexander G. Clark Heritage District. This area includes numerous properties along Third Street from Iowa Avenue to Pine Street, where various activities related to the Underground Railroad took place, early Muscatine abolition activities happened, and where prominent vocal abolitionists resided. Important sites include locations of the Congregational Church where Rev. A. B. Robbins, as a pastor from 1843 to 1891, preached anti-slavery views. Also living in that neighborhood was longtime Muscatine Journal editor, Edward E. Maher, who for fifty years voiced anti-slavery sentiments that were common among people in Iowa.
“As a community we need to continue to broaden our understanding of the scope and importance of Clark’s story and legacy,” says Second Ward Alderman, Osmond Malcolm. “I was impressed when I attended the celebration last summer at Drake University of how people at the state and even national level are recognizing the significance of the life of Alexander G. Clark.”
Also there was much local involvement in the Underground Railroad path that followed the Missouri River into Southwest Iowa, came across Southern Iowa, and led to active points in West Liberty and Springdale, where Quaker citizens were assisting runaway slaves. While it is very difficult to research because activities were unlawful due to national legislation, Edward Franklin Brockway documents one concrete story in a memoir at Musser Public Library. Titled Life of an Iowa Prairie Breaker, Notes on a Busy Life, Franklin describes his various experiences as a young teen and early adult as part of a pioneer family settling in southwest Muscatine County, Orono Township, near Conesville. He tells a story of escaped slaves he by chance aided with food and directions to West Liberty around 1854.
You may conclude that Alexander G. Clark was very likely more successful in all of his civil rights efforts because many white area citizens supported his beliefs. Part four of this series will include discussions of ideas of how to continue to celebrate the life of Clark, and how to tell the stories to visitors that come to Muscatine and want to learn more. Also, see the community calendar for related events honoring Clark’s many legacies.