Alexander Clark Day 2023

This column by Daniel G. Clark about Alexander Clark (1826-1891) first appeared in the Muscatine Journal.

“February 25 is Alexander Clark Day in Muscatine.”

That was the first sentence of Column 1, on February 9, 2022. This is Column 48.

“How convenient that our city holiday comes during Black History Month!”

That was me extolling the unanimous City Council vote of 2018 declaring our municipal intention to celebrate a famous resident’s 1826 birthday in perpetuity—every year going forward.

I concluded Column 1: “There is so much more to be told about Muscatine’s part in Black History. One month is never enough.”

Editor David Hotle offered to publish a follow-up. After my third column I wrote: “Each time I’ve supposed I was writing a standalone piece or perhaps the last in a short series. But one has followed another in a way I find pleasing, and I still feel I could keep going.”

Keep going, he said.

In November I wrote: “Are you still okay with my columns, or do you wish I would wind it up?”

“Absolutely not,” he replied. “Keep right on going.”

Alexander Clark Day in perpetuity was new in 2018, but it was not our first. That was 1958, arranged by the Sunday school of Bethel A.M.E. Church and attended by Clark’s daughter-in-law Adaline from Oskaloosa.

Mayor Walter Conway’s proclamation cited three whereases: 1) Clark “served his country as a consul to Liberia,” 2) “the Supreme Court of Iowa ruled that there could be no segregated schools discriminating against the colored pupils as a result of the protest of Alexander Clark,” and 3) Clark “brought many honors and recognition to his race.”

More recent mayors—O’Brien, Hopkins, Broderson, Bark—proclaimed Alexander Clark Day as well, before and after it became our permanent holiday.

Governor Robert Ray once proclaimed an Alexander Clark Day for Iowa, in 1979, to coincide with unveiling a mural at the namesake Clark House high-rise apartments. More about that next time.

I plan to dedicate my February writing to ways Muscatine is observing Black History Month and relating some local history vignettes.

Did you know Governor Kim Reynolds last year signed a bill declaring February 1 as George Washington Carver Day in Iowa? A nonpartisan effort, one surely long overdue, crossed the finish line.

If we are observing the first annual Carver Day in Muscatine, in any fashion, I haven’t heard about it. This column appears on the 1st, so you’re not too late to learn about him today—maybe “like” a Facebook post for the occasion.

Luckily our city has a made-to-order Black History celebration to brag about every year: We integrated Iowa’s public schools 86 years before the U.S. Supreme Court ended “separate but equal.”

Nobody disputes Muscatine High School’s claim to Iowa’s first Black high-school graduate—Susan “Susie” Clark, Class of 1871.

Does that make us wonderful?

The Journal (September 20, 1867) quotes the Iowa City Republican claiming that city’s “colored children have had just the same access to our schools as any others” and calling out the “mean” Muscatine school board for “[N-word] phobia.” The Journal calls the criticism “humiliating beyond expression.”

A week earlier (September 14) the Journal quotes the Davenport Gazette claiming visitors to their city “will see colored children daily attending school with the whites and nobody hurt.”

The Davenport paper continues: “Mr. Clark, the father of the excluded juveniles, took a very active part in recruiting for the First Iowa African Regiment…and was much disappointed on being denied the privilege of personal service in the ranks, because physically disqualified. Is that the reason why the Muscatine [Copperheads] are so afraid of Mr. Clark’s children?”

Our equal rights champion was famous for inspiring oratory. Imagine him in action today, mobilizing resistance and moving listeners to action.

Black Resistance is the theme for Black History Month 2023, announced in words the late John Lewis tweeted in 2018: “good trouble, necessary trouble.”

“Alexander Clark: The Mississippi Valley’s Most Important Civil Rights Leader.” That’s the title Dr. Paul Finkelman, constitutional law historian and prolific author, has chosen for his address to the community on Monday, February 27, 6 p.m. at Muscatine Community College, location and live-stream info to be announced. He will also be the speaker at Muscatine Rotary Club that noon.

If you’ve followed my columns, you have read several times about Dr. Finkelman as an expert who attests boldly to Clark’s national significance. This is the 11th year of MCC’s Alexander Clark Cultural Series. Video from Dr. Finkelman’s February 27 lecture:

On February 16, 5:30-6:30 p.m. at Muscatine Art Center, I will present a program along with author Rachelle Chase: “Alexander Clark’s Legacy: Elevating His Story.” Come learn about her forthcoming book for young readers, The Time I Was Susan Clark. I will speak about the future of Clark’s house. [Canceled due to weather. Rachelle’s talk will be rescheduled; Dan will speak on March 30, maybe joined by Kent Sissel.]

Last week I feared Editor Hotle might caution against such first-person publicity; instead he invited me onto his TV show. A columnist can’t ask for more.

Next time: Still more to tell

Top image: Detail from Alexander Clark Day proclamation by Muscatine Mayor Brad Bark.

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