Alexander Clark Becomes an Attorney, Newspaper Publisher and Ambassador

After winning the first successful school desegregation case in the history of the United States in 1867, African-American businessman Alexander Clark continued to accomplish great things including getting his law degree from the University of Iowa, running a newspaper in Chicago, and becoming the United States Ambassador to Liberia. This clip from the "Lost in History: Alexander Clark" documentary provides an overview of Clark's contributions and his relationship with Frederick Douglass.


In the years after the historic desegregation case, Clark's son, Alexander junior, breaks the color barrier at the University of Iowa and graduates with a law degree in 1879. He later practices law in Oskaloosa, Iowa. In 1884 a second African American gets his law degree from the University of Iowa. It is Alexander Clark senior. At the age of nearly sixty, he graduates eighth in his class out of eighty. He then moves to Chicago, where he becomes the editor and owner of the Chicago conservator newspaper. A Conservator editorial published in 1886 calls on African Americans to read a newspaper published by an African American, saying it "shows that we have the nerve and manhood to stand up and advocate through our own journals all privileges for our race that are enjoyed by white citizens of the country."

Throughout this period, Clark continues to correspond with his longtime friend and associate, Frederick Douglass, the leading black abolitionist, whose life, unlike Clark's, is still remembered and celebrated today.

Dr. Paul Finkelman: “We have some scattered letters between them. We have some newspapers where Douglass writes to Clark and the letter is published in the newspaper, Clark responds in the newspaper, Douglass responds to that. Interestingly, in the published letter to Clark from 1888, he says we have been in the struggle for civil rights for forty-five years. And then at the end he says something about our forty-year friendship. So the implication is that Douglass has known Clark since the late 1840s, and Douglass is acknowledging that since the early 1840s both had been involved in the civil rights struggle. That makes Clark significant.”

In 1890 Clark, by now in his mid-sixties, is dispatched by President Benjamin Harrison to Africa to represent the United States as its ambassador to Liberia.

Clark dies in Liberia in 1891. His body is returned to Iowa. He is buried in this Muscatine cemetery overlooking the Mississippi.

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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