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  • Writer's pictureMeghan Custis

The People Behind the Name "Susan Clark Junior High School"

Updated: Apr 25, 2022

On September 9, 2019, the Muscatine Community School District Board voted to change West Middle School’s name to Susan Clark Junior High School as the school adjusted to become the community’s only junior high school. The vote was unanimous, but not without a bit of a fight from a group of dedicated Muscatine residents.

Susan Clark was the first African American student to integrate Iowa schools after her father, Alexander Clark, won his Civil Rights case in the Iowa Supreme Court in 1867. Susan was a brave young lady who changed schools in Iowa. Read more about Susan’s story here.

The idea to name the junior high “Susan Clark Junior High School” began with Sue Thielmann, a retired guidance counselor from Muscatine High School, in February 2019. An event was held at the Merrill Hotel to officially name one of their event rooms the “Alexander Clark Room.” Dr. Adrien Wing, a professor at the University of Iowa, presented at the event and expressed how radical it was for Alexander Clark to fight for his daughter to be admitted into public school. Susan Clark changed the landscape of Civil Rights in Iowa as a middle schooler.

The Muscatine Community School District (MCSD) created a naming committee in April. They accepted suggestions until May and received many ideas. The most popular were Susan Clark Junior High School, Mark Twain Junior High School, Samuel Clemens Junior High School, and Muscatine Junior High School, among others.

MCSD middle school teachers were asked to vote for the name they preferred. The majority voted for Muscatine Junior High School. The naming committee submitted this suggestion to the Superintendent, Jerry Riibe, to recommend to the school board for approval.

When a group of individuals heard the news that the name Susan Clark Junior High School was passed by, they knew they needed to take action. They believed that the MCSD teachers may have not known who Susan Clark was, and what she represented when they cast their votes.

This group included: Jay Brady, Dan Clark, Jean Clark, Gabby Dennis, Annette Hovland, Niki Malcolm, Oz Malcolm, Jacque McCoy, Kent Sissel, Sandy Stanley, Paul Thielmann, and Sue Thielmann.

They began planning the argument they would present to the school board at their June 10, 2019, and August 12, 2019 meetings to change the name to Susan Clark Junior High. The group met regularly to discuss their plan to educate the school board and community about Susan Clark.

“We met regularly in a meeting room in our public library,” said Jean Clark, a member of the dedicated group. “It was a group that was passionate that Susan should be honored and that this is a family that is too little known in all of U.S. history and in Iowa history.”

The group worked with the school board, school officials, and Superintendent Jerry Riibe to teach them about Susan Clark and the positive reflection she represents for Muscatine. When the time to make a decision came at the school board meeting, the vote was unanimous for Susan Clark Junior High School.

“The school board has been great to work with and they included us on working on things like the plaque that went up at the school and we worked with them to make a video that plays at the school,” said Jean Clark.

Watch the video created to celebrate the Susan Clark Junior High School ribbon cutting here.

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