Separate names with a comma.
Discussion in 'History & Geography' started by Arlene Richards, Sep 25, 2016.
Google 'American Inventors'. Go ahead. Interesting. Might make a person stop and think for a moment.
Yes, I'm well aware of the contribution made by blacks. The building I reside in is named after a prominent black man with great ambition. It's all here.
In 1842, at age 16, Alexander G. Clark arrived in Muscatine. Trained as a barber, he plied his trade for 26 years.
In between and beyond, Clark managed to:
- Found the African Methodist Church in Muscatine
- Become a savvy businessman and investor
- Serve the Union Army in the Civil War
- Serve as a delegate to the National Colored Convention and the Republican National Convention
- Give a heralded speech on behalf of colored people of Iowa at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia
- Marry an Iowa City woman, Catherine Griffin, who was born into slavery in Virginia
- Parent a son who became the first black to graduate from the University of Iowa
- At age 57, earn his law degree at the University of Iowa, graduating eighth in a class of 80
- Parent a daughter, Susan, who at age 12 was denied admission into the Muscatine Grammar School. Her father’s lawsuits convinced the Iowa Supreme Court to rule in favor of Susan and grant all Iowa children the right to attend public schools. Susan became the first black graduate from Muscatine High School and is believed to be the first black to graduate from a public high school school in Iowa.
- Convince the Iowa Legislature in 1868 to add a clause to the Iowa Constitution granting political rights to colored men in the State of Iowa —- two years before the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, guaranteeing all citizens the right to vote regardless of color or race.
- Became sole owner and editor of the Chicago Conservator in 1884. His writings were considered part of the influential political literature of the day, and they covered subjects ranging from women’s suffrage to civil rights to business issues.
- Accepted appointment as minister and consul-general to Liberia by President Benjamin Harrison in 1890. By that time, he was regarded as one of the leading colored men of the country and was known by many as the “Colored orator of the West.”
After his death in 1891, the state of Iowa accorded him full state military funeral services. He was buried in Muscatine’s Greenwood Cemetery.
One might think that such a significant and distinguished figure in local, state and national history would warrant some kind of public memorial in Muscatine. Like a monument or a statue.
In fact, the only apparent physical evidence of this prominent American to be found in Muscatine is the historic house Clark once owned.
And it barely survived.
In the 1970s, an urban renewal project targeted the house for demolition but it was saved through efforts of the now-defunct Alexander G. Clark Historical Society, which hoped to turn the home into a museum and center for African-American archives.
The house was relocated in 1975 to a nearby site, 205-207 W. Third St. when the original site was chosen for a senior apartment building named for Clark.
In 1976, Clark’s former home was named to the National Register of Historic Places. Muscatine’s Kent Sissel bought the home in 1979 and restored it. He lives in part of it and rents out the other rooms.
He still hopes the home can be turned into a museum and research center.
That’s a worthy notion. It would also be appropriate to see a statue of Clark standing in front of the house.
Or perhaps on the lawn of City Hall.
Others in Muscatine are beginning to embrace a memorial project. Muscatine Art Center director Barb Longtin is one of them.
“Clark’s importance, not only to Muscatine, has been largely ignored,” Longtin says. “I think there are a lot of people in town who would support one (statue of Clark).
“In his day, he was as important as Rosa Parks.”
There are still many things we don’t know about Clark. But we know enough.
Most important, Clark arguably did more for civil rights than anyone else in 19th century Iowa. Muscatine once was the center of Iowa’s black community, and Clark was its leader.
What happened to our collective memory?
Doesn’t Alexander G. Clark’s legacy deserve a visible, public memorial somewhere in Muscatine?
Who in our city’s early history would be more deserving?