A statewide project equipping K-12 educators to teach Iowa history using primary sources

Teaching Iowa History Logo

Home » Lesson Plans » Alexander Clark Bigger Life Iowan

Alexander Clark: A Bigger-Than-Life Iowan

Lesson Plan Item

General Information
Grade 9th Grade, 10th Grade, 11th Grade, 12th Grade Class U.S. History Length of Lesson 90 minutes
Lesson Title Alexander Clark: A Bigger-Than-Life Iowan
Unit Title Figures in American Civil War and Reconstruction
Unit Compelling Question Can the actions of individual people impact an entire nation's history during the American Civil War and Reconstruction?
Historical Context:

Alexander Clark is regarded as one of Muscatine's most prominent citizens.

Clark was born free in Pennsylvania in 1826 and moved to Muscatine from Cincinnati 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. In 1850, he helped to organize the African Methodist Episcopal church in Muscatine and served as an officer there for 25 years. In 1865, he helped organize the Grand Lodge of Missouri, Prince Hall Masons, and served as Grand Master. Later, in 1884, he organized the Hiram Grand Lodge in Iowa and also served as Grand Master. 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. Clark was also active in Republican politics and was called "the Colored Orator of the West" for his speeches on the right of suffrage.

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.

~ Teaching Iowa History Team
Lesson Supporting Question How did someone in your home state impact the American Civil War and Reconstruction?
Lesson Overview

Students will conduct an investigation of the life of Alexander Clark, an influential African American figure who impacted both Iowan and United States history during the American Civil War and Reconstruction. In an investigation-style activity, learners will travel between four stations to uncover "clues" about Alexander Clark's life by analyzing primary source documents. Once students have explored all four stations, they will put together the "puzzle" of Alexander Clark's identity and life by creating an artistic representation of his accomplishments. After completing this lesson, students will have discovered the considerable impact of a "bigger-than-life" Iowan and have the perception that an individual has the ability to influence history, even from their home state.

*Lesson can be modified to best fit your classroom (i.e., time length for each activity, format of formative assessments, etc.)

Primary Sources Used
Resources Needed



Lesson Target
  • Students will be able to describe how Alexander Clark influenced both Iowan and American history during the American Civil War and Reconstruction using evidence from primary and secondary sources.
  • Students will be able to evaluate the impact of Alexander Clark's actions on combating state issues during the American Civil War and Reconstruction.
  • Students will be able to analyze primary sources to collect evidence about Alexander Clark and his influence on the American Civil War and Reconstruction.
Lesson Themes African American Experience, Civil War
Lesson Procedure
Step Procedure Time Differentiation plan / Additional Information
Step 1: Who was Alexander Clark?

Hook: The teacher can begin the lesson with a hook reviewing other influential historical figures during the American Civil War and Reconstruction. The instructor will display the Who are They? Slide featuring Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Ulysses S. Grant, Sojourner Truth, and Abraham Lincoln. Teachers can lead students in a discussion surrounding these individuals and the impact they had on the American Civil War and Reconstruction. Some potential discussion questions could be as follows:

- Who is this individual?

- What did they do to influence history?

- When did you learn about these historical figures?

- Why did you learn about these historical figures?

5-10 minutes  
  Introduction: The teacher will display the etching of Alexander Clark in front of the class. The instructor will ask if students recognize him or if they know his name. After leading a brief discussion about who this man could be, the teacher will inform their students of Alexander Clark's name and introduce the lesson. The teacher will explain how students will be conducting "research" in groups to determine why this man is important to Iowan and American history.     

Step 2: Investigation Stations

Students will conduct their own investigation of Alexander Clark to discover his impact on Iowan and United States history during the American Civil War and Reconstruction. In groups of three or four, students will travel between four "clue" stations that will help them answer the question: "Who was Alexander Clark?" At these stations, students will examine primary sources focusing on one aspect of his life. When exploring these documents, learners will answer three to four guiding questions in their "Investigation Notebook" for each station to help them determine what areas of history Alexander Clark impacted. Learners will also determine what major event/impact is being covered at each station by determining what identity "clue" is being explored at each specific station. Students will spend around 8-10 minutes at each station and will then rotate to the next station, until they have had the chance to stop at each one. Students may also use their computer/tablet to conduct further research of an artifact and its meaning. 40-50 minutes  

The teacher can travel between stations during each rotation to provide any clarifications or additional information to students. The resource "Alexander Clark: Bigger-Than-Life Iowan" can provide the teacher background information to better assist their students' exploration, as well as allow them to further advance individual learning, perhaps for talented and gifted students. Using and displaying an online timer would be beneficial to keep the station activity moving smoothly.

Stations: (description accompanying each primary source on the Teaching Iowa History Website may be included with the artifact)

-Station #1: 1st Colored Regiment of Iowa (1st Colored Regiment of Iowa Flag)

-Station #2: Black Suffrage in Iowa (Clark's Speech at the 1868 Colored Convention in Des Moines, page 10-middle of page 11)

-Station #3: End of School Segregation in Iowa (Clark v. Board of School Directors Newspaper Clipping #1 & #2)

-Station #4: U.S. Ambassador to Liberia (Clark's Appointment as U.S. Ambassador to Liberia)

Step 3: Putting the Puzzle Together Using the information they have collected from their exploration of the primary sources, students will put the pieces of the "identity puzzle" together by creating an artistic representation of Alexander Clark's life. On a four piece jigsaw template, learners will symbolize the accomplishments Clark has made using personally created drawings. Each puzzle piece should represent a station they explored and have images representing the "clue" they uncovered from that particular station. Students can include two to three sentences beside each puzzle piece describing the symbols they have used to showcase each particular event; however, the use of images should be greater emphasized as a way to creatively represent student learning. This activity can be either completed individually or as a team, as well as on sheets of regular paper or on large poster paper. (Additional supplies needed if a teacher would use the latter option). 15-20 minutes  
Step 4: Concluding Discussion

Once students have completed their jigsaw creation, the teacher should lead students in a discussion regarding their investigation as well as their creative process. The instructor should review what students discovered at each station and ask what symbols they used to represent the accomplishments of Alexander Clark in their jigsaw puzzle piece creation. Some discussion questions could include:

- What did you find out at "x" station?

-How did you represent "x" event?

- What surprised you about "x" document?

If the teacher chooses to have students work in their investigation groups to complete the "Putting the Puzzle Together" activity, they could have each group present their creation to the class and explain their choices of images used to represent Alexander Clark's accomplishments. The "Alexander Clark: Bigger-Than-Life" resource can once again be utilized by the instructor to support and further advance student learning. To wrap up the lesson, the instructor could reflect on the significant impact Alexander Clark had on history as an individual in Iowa during the American Civil War and Reconstruction era. They could emphasize the ability of their students to influence their nation as an individual, telling them that they can change their country's history if they so choose and have the motivation to advocate for change.

Formative Assessment
(How will you use the formative assessments to monitor and inform instruction?)
  • Investigation Notebook: When traveling between stations, students will be completing an Investigation Notebook to complement their analysis of the primary sources. At each station, students will respond to three questions regarding the artifact(s) they are reviewing. In order to accurately complete this worksheet, students will have to identify Alexander Clark's specific efforts to combat injustice in Iowa as a "clue" and describe further details surrounding these events. Learners will also be requested to evaluate the methods used by Alexander Clark to bring about change as well as the overall impact his actions may have had on the course of American history.
  • "Putting the Puzzle Together" Worksheet: Using the information they have gathered on their Investigation Notebook and through their exploration of the primary sources, students will illustrate the accomplishments of Alexander Clark as they "piece together" the puzzle of who this man was in American history. In a diagram featuring four jigsaw puzzle pieces, students will draw images and symbols to represent the details of the four major events they discovered at each of the four stations. Next to each puzzle piece, students can write a brief description of their drawings; however, these summaries should only be two to three sentences in maximum length so as to encourage more creative representations of Alexander Clark's impact. By "completing the puzzle," students will demonstrate a holistic understanding of Alexander Clark's legacy on Iowan and United States history during the American Civil War and Reconstruction eras.
Summative Assessment
(How does the lesson connect to planned summative assessment(s)?)
Author Information
Author Maria LoBianca Reviewer Chad Christopher, History Education, University of Northern Iowa Created 06/19/2019 Last Edited 02/17/2020
Lesson Plan Development Notes: Teaching Methods, University of Northern Iowa, Spring 2019

Objects Large for Lesson Plans

No objects were found.