Alexander Clark and Early Abolitionists

Before the Civil War, there were many abolitionists living in Eastern Iowa where Alexander Clark lived. Within a short time, Clark became an activist fighting for the rights of blacks. In this clip from the "Lost in History: Alexander Clark" documentary, historian Dr. David Broadnax discusses the demographic makeup of Iowa and how some Iowans played a critical role in the abolitionist movement.


Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe,  is published in 1852 and becomes the best-selling novel of the 19th century. It provokes a fierce nationwide debate about slavery. Iowa is a free state but Muscatine, where Clark lives, is less than 90 miles from the border with Missouri, a slave state. And soon the area, like the nation, is divided in its views about race.

David Broadnax: “This is the newest part of the country before the Civil War.”

David Broadnax is an historian. He wrote his dissertation about Alexander Clark.

Broadnax: “You have a lot of Southern whites moving to the Midwest because they couldn't make a living in the south because they didn't own slaves. There are few Quakers in small villages, especially in southeastern Iowa. There's some active Congregationalists, ministers, and churches that are actively involved in anti-slavery or, to a certain extent, in trying to fight for equality.”

Some abolitionists from the northeast also move to Muscatine and establish what they commonly refer to as Uncle Tom Cabin's church. The renowned abolitionist, John Brown, makes frequent trips to eastern Iowa, finding willing recruits among the Quakers there. Four of the men with brown during his 1859 raid at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, are Iowans, including two Quaker brothers from Eastern Iowa. One of them, Edwin Coppic, is hanged along with brown. 

There is no evidence that John Brown and Alexander Clark ever meet. But Clark, whose mother and wife were both born into slavery, has by now become an activist.

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

© 2012 The Communication Research Institute of William Penn University


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