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Alexander Clark: Bigger-Than-Life

This article discusses the life of Alexander Clark, a famous resident of Muscatine, Iowa. Alexander Clark was born free in Pennsylvania in 1826 and moved to Muscatine, Iowa, at the age of 16 to work as a barber. Once settled, he opened a business selling firewood to Mississippi River steamboats and thereby amassed considerable wealth. He also became an entrepreneur in local real estate. During the second half of the 19th Century, Clark was active in Republican politics and was called "the Colored Orator of the West" for his speeches on the right of suffrage. In 1868, Clark was appointed chairman of a "colored mans" committee to rewrite the Iowa State constitution, eliminating the word "white" from the document, and thereby granting political equality to Iowans two years before the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Clark is notable in Iowa history for other things, too. He sued the Muscatine school board on behalf of his daughter, Susan, in a landmark case that outlawed school segregation in Iowa. His son, Alexander Jr., became the first black graduate of the University of Iowa law school in 1879. Alexander Sr. became the second black graduate of the law school in 1884 at the age of 58. In 1890, President Benjamin Harrison offered Clark the opportunity to become the first United States ambassador to the nation of Liberia at an annual salary of $4,000. Clark died of fever in Liberia in 1891. Content can be used with the following standards: 3rd grade SS 3.28 Cultural Contributions, 5th grade SS 5.26 Civil Rights, 8th grade SS 8.25 Iowa Governments, SS-Gov.9-12.28 Iowa Issues and Policy and SS-U.S. 9-12.23 Iowans Influence U.S. History. Lessons can be formed on Clarks' contribution to fighting for civil rights change in Iowa and the legislation changes regarding African-Americans during the late 1800s after the Civil War. For any use other than instructional resources, please check with the organization that owns this item regarding copyright restrictions.
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With a job as a barber, Clark was able to meet influential white and black males of Muscatine, helping his voice be heard. He was also a friend of Fredrick Douglass during the 1840s. Muscatine became the largest African-American populated town in the state after many settled there after escaping the South or travelling eastward from other free states. Clark later established the African Methodists Episcopal Church in Muscatine, the first independent black domination in the United States. Clark was a fighter for civil rights and in 1855 signed a petition with state legislature that repealed a law that prohibited free blacks from entering the state. The repeal did not happen, however migration continued anyways. Clark also fought for African-American right to vote and gained the right in 1868. For his children, Clark fought for equal education and sued his daughter's school after she was denied entrance due to her race. Clark won his Supreme Court case and as a result, Iowa became one of the first states to integrate schools. Clark was appointed U.S. Minister to Liberia by President Harrison in 1890, which became one of the highest-ranking appointments of an African-American by a president at that point of time. Clark died while in office of a fever in 1891.