Alexander Clark Helps a Fugitive Slave

Before the Civil War, some slaves escaped their slave owners and went to free states like Iowa. In this clip from the "Lost in History: Alexander Clark" documentary, historian David Broadnax tells the story of Jim White, a former slave who was working in Iowa and was helped by Alexander Clark in 1848.


David Broadnax: “Being an African American before the Civil War, it's almost impossible to not have sympathy toward the slaves, because you recognize that even if you are free, you're not that far removed from those who are enslaved. Another problem is the fact that there were a lot of kidnappings of free blacks. Even if you are free, there's always the possibility that you might become a slave.”

Of course, some slaves escape and flee north to free states like Iowa or somehow get there and try to stay. One is a slave named Jim White, whose story is chronicled in the Bloomington herald under the headline ‘the negro case.’ White had been given permission by his master to work in Muscatine, but then refuses to return.

Broadnax: “So his master sends agents to Muscatine to try to bring him back. And white takes refuge in Clark's home. Muscatine wasn't a big city and the black population was small, so it's likely they knew each other just because they were both black in the same sort of mid-sized town. The bounty hunters try to trick Clark into handing white over, so they pose as abolitionists. And they say, ‘we're gonna help get Jim White to Chicago, so we're gonna meet you on the other side of the Mississippi river. We want you to row him across, and then we'll take him the rest of the way.’ But Alexander Clark was not an idiot. So he immediately smells a rat, and he actually does take white on a boat, but they start sailing downstream until they can't be seen anymore and they just disappear in the middle of the night. The end result of the case is that white never goes back to Missouri. He spends many years living in Muscatine as a free man after that, mainly because Clark came to his assistance.”

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


What is your Iowa pathway? Start your investigation by selecting a topic from the list above.

Media Artifacts

Navigation Tip:
Before digging in, check out how the page is organized. What are the main navigation buttons? What stays the same on every page?