Alexander Clark Organizes African-Americans in Iowa to Fight in the Civil War

Iowan Alexander Clark mobilized African-Americans in Midwest states to fight for the North in the Civil War. In this clip from the "Lost in History: Alexander Clark" documentary, historian Kent Sissel explains how Clark was instrumental in organizing Iowa's first all-black unit.


Transcript

By the late 1850s, the nation is on the verge of civil war. Clark mobilizes African Americans throughout the Midwest to fight for the north. At the time Iowa, like today, is overwhelmingly white. Census figures show its white population more than quadruples between 1840 and 1850 and then more than triples again by 1860 as Americans go west. Iowa's black population then is still paltry, though many African Americans who live in the state reside in Muscatine. In 1860 there are barely more than one thousand blacks in Iowa, one-sixth of one percent of the population. Still, at the outbreak of the civil war, an all-black unit, Iowa's 1st, which later becomes the U.S. 60th, is formed. It later fights in Arkansas. Clark apparently plays the pivotal role organizing the unit.

Kent Sissel: “Alexander Clark became a recruiter for what was known as the Iowa first volunteer regiment of African-American descent, or colored descent. Every recruiter received two dollars for each recruit that they brought into military service. Alexander Clark gave the two dollars back to each of his recruits so that they could buy uniforms, whatever they needed. Alexander Clark was not allowed to serve in the military because of a disability, but he did continually support the troops that he helped organize. He was chosen to present the flag to what became the U.S. 60th.”


Excerpt from "Lost in History: Alexander Clark," Produced by The Communication Research Institute of William Penn University, Iowa PBS, 2012