Lost In History: Alexander Clark

Feb 4, 2012  | 27 min  | 2012

In the 1860s, shortly after the Civil War, a black teenager from Muscatine, Iowa tried to enroll in the local high school. She was denied admission because of her color. Her father sued and won. And when the school board challenged the decision in the Iowa Supreme Court, he won again. Because of those actions, Iowa's schools were desegregated more than 85 years before the rest of the nation officially outlawed school segregation. Despite his historic court victory, his prominent anti-slavery role, his recruitment of black soldiers for the Union side in the Civil War and his appointment as the U.S. ambassador to Liberia, Alexander Clark has been all but lost from history. After a chance occurrence 35 years ago, another Muscatine man, a white man, launched a campaign to restore Clark's place in history. The cause came to consume his life.

Related Resources

A Father Fights For Equal Rights: The Alexander Clark Story
In 1867, 12-year-old Susan Clark was denied admission to Muscatine's Second Ward Common School Number 2 because she was black. Her father, Alexander Clark, a determined businessman of Muscatine, acted to resist racism and the segregation of Iowa’s schools. Explore more of this story with Iowa PBS's Iowa Pathways educational website.

Alexander Clark and an African-American’s Fight for Civil Rights PBS LearningMedia
Video clips and related resources on the PBS LearningMedia educational repository.

African-American History in Iowa, 1838-2005
As in other parts of the country, blacks in Iowa have faced struggles and discrimination. Despite these barriers many have become outstanding individuals in their fields. Explore the history of African-Americans in Iowa with Iowa PBS's Iowa Pathways educational website.