Alexander G. Clark (1826-1891) shaped history in and beyond Muscatine County. Born to formerly enslaved parents, John and Rebecca Darnes Clark, Clark’s life began in Pennsylvania. At age 13, Clark moved to live with his uncle, William Darnes, in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he followed in his uncle’s footsteps and learned the trade of barbering.
At age 16, Clark worked as a barber on a steamboat and traveled to Bloomington, Iowa (now known as Muscatine), and opened his own barbershop. Clark worked as a barber for 20 years, creating a life in Bloomington.
In 1848, at age 22, Clark married Catherine Griffin. Catherine was enslaved in Virginia until the age of three. Catherine and Alexander raised three children; Rebecca, Susan, and Alexander G. Clark, Jr., and lost two children as infants.
Clark left his mark in many ways on Muscatine. He worked to improve the lives of blacks throughout the state of Iowa.
Establishing the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church
In 1848, Clark worked alongside 30+ others to establish the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.
Petitioned Iowa Legislature
In 1855, Clark and 32 others petitioned the Iowa Legislature to repeal a law that prohibited
“The immigration of free Negroes into this State.” The Legislature rejected the plea.
Recruiting for Iowa’s 1st Black Infantry
At age 37, Clark volunteering to serve during the Civil War but was barred because of a physical defect. Though, Clark helped recruit over 1,000 Blacks to serve in Iowa’s first Black Infantry.
Landmark Case for School Integration in Iowa Supreme Court
In 1867, Clark’s daughter Susan was denied access to the public school that white students attended. Clark sued the Muscatine school district, and the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in his favor, stating all children could attend a common school.
This decision came 86 years before the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court case Brown vs. the Topeka Kan., Board of Education. Clark’s work made Iowa one of the first states to integrate its public school system.
Fight to Enter University of Iowa Law School
Clark was denied entry to the University of Iowa’s law school. He then fought to get his son, Alexander Jr., admitted. In 1879, Alexander Jr. became the first Black to graduate from the U of I law school.
In 1884, Clark sr. became the second Black to graduate from the University of Iowa law school. During his time in law school, Clark purchased a newspaper called the Chicago Conservator and ran it successfully until 1887.
Minster to Liberia
Clark was active in the Masonic Lodge and Republican Party and traveled to speak often for both groups. He was recognized as the “Colored Orator of the West” for his public speaking skills.
President Harrison appointed Clark as U.S. minister to Liberia in 1890. Clark died in Monrovia, Liberia, on June 3, 1891.
Clark is arguably one of the most influential men of the 19th century in Iowa. Today, his legacy stays with our community, as we remember those who fought for all peoples’ rights in Muscatine early and often.