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Alexander Clark: A Visionary Iowan

Lesson Plan Item

General Information
Grade 12th Grade Class US History Length of Lesson 50 Minutes
Lesson Title Alexander Clark: A Visionary Iowan
Unit Title Civil Rights in Iowa
Unit Compelling Question What did the fight for civil rights look like in post-Civil War Iowa?
Historical Context:

This etching, titled "Alexander Clark - Grand Master," was created by Augustus Robin around 1895. The etching is of Alexander Clark, who is regarded as one of Muscatine's most prominent citizens.

This document, signed by President Benjamin Harrison, appointed Alexander Clark as the ambassador to Liberia.

This short newspaper article discusses a Supreme Court ruling in favor of Alexander Clark over the Independent School District of Muscatine. Prior to this ruling, Clark sued the Muscatine school board on behalf of his daughter, Susan, after he was told she could not attend the same school as white children. The Supreme Court ruled that all children in Iowa were equal before the law, and this landmark case ended school segregation in Iowa.

This short newspaper article from the Cedar Valley Times discusses a Supreme Court ruling in favor of Alexander Clark over the Independent School District of Muscatine. 

Clark was born free in Pennsylvania in 1826 and moved to Muscatine, Iowa from Cincinnati, Ohio, at the age of 16 to work as a barber.   With a job as a barber, Clark was able to meet influential white and black males of Muscatine, helping his voice be heard.  Muscatine became the largest African-American populated town in the state after many settled there after escaping the South or traveling eastward from other free states.    Clark became a friend of Fredrick Douglass during the 1840s.   Later 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 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. 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 Susan Clark's Muscatine 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's 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.

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.

~ Matthew Miller, Teaching Iowa History Team
Lesson Supporting Question What role did Alexander Clark play in expanding civil rights for African Americans in Iowa?
Lesson Overview

This lesson will explore the influential and extraordinary life of Alexander Clark, an African-American Iowan who served as ambassador to Liberia and led to fight for the first recorded example of school desegregation in the United States. Students will first be given a short introduction to the life and importance of Alexander Clark and will then analyze three primary sources documents from his life. Using these documents, they will answer several important questions in order to establish an understanding of the time in which Alexander Clark lived.


Primary Sources Used
Resources Needed





File alexander_clark.pptx, File discussion_questions.docx, File primary_source_analysis.docx
Lesson Target
  • Students will be able to understand the life of Alexander Clark and the impact he had on civil rights in Iowa.
  • Students will be able to analyze primary source documents to determine their historical significance.
  • Students will be able to analyze Iowa’s place in the broader struggle for civil rights nationwide.
Lesson Themes Civil Rights, Cultural Events, Services, African American Experience
Lesson Procedure
Step Procedure Time Differentiation plan / Additional Information
Bell Ringer

“Can anyone remind me what segregation is?”

“And we are familiar with Brown vs. Board of Education? Can anyone summarize for me what this Supreme Court case was about?”

“You may be familiar with Brown vs. Board, however, you probably have not heard of the case that desegregated schools in Iowa, and it happened over 80 years before schools were officially segregated nationwide.”

3 Minutes  
Introduction to Alexander Clark In order to provide students with the appropriate background knowledge to analyze the primary source documents, they will be given a short lecture on who Alexander Clark was, what he did, and why it was so revolutionary. This short introduction will include his early life, correspondence with Frederick Douglass, involvement in recruiting an Iowa colored regiment, his work to desegregate Iowa schools, and his appointment as ambassador to Liberia 15 Minutes  
Primary Source Analysis Students will be divided into groups with a maximum of four students to evaluate and analyze one of the three documents that is assigned to them. There will be groups analyzing the same document. They will use their assigned primary source analysis worksheet to answer some basic and some in-depth questions regarding Alexander Clark. The three artifacts from Iowa Museums will be used as the source of analysis, and each artifact will have one unique question. 15 Minutes  
Discussion Next, students will regroup to their regular seats to discuss a few things about Alexander Clark and their primary source documents. Refer to the discussion questions document as a means to guide their discussion. This discussion will serve as an informal assessment to gauge student understanding of the day’s lesson. 10 Minutes  
Summary/Recap For the last few minutes of class, the instructor will emphasize the significance of Alexander Clark. They will stress how he was a pioneer for civil rights in a time where such things where unheard of. Slaves had just gained their freedom, and Alexander Clark was successful in securing rights Southerners would not enjoy for nearly 80 years. Furthermore, Iowa will be presented as a leader in progressive civil rights issues since it was granted statehood (i.e. slavery, desegregation, suffrage, and LGBTQ rights). 2-3 Minutes  
Formative Assessment
(How will you use the formative assessments to monitor and inform instruction?)
  • The primary source analysis worksheet will allow students to do an in-depth analysis of their assigned documents. This will give them exposure to looking at historical documents and allow them to prepare for discussion contributions.
  • The discussion will be an informal assessment in order to gauge overall student understanding of the day’s lesson and the intended takeaways. There are some questions specific to Clark, some question relating to the documents, and some broader questions regarding connections to society both past and present.
Summative Assessment
(How does the lesson connect to planned summative assessment(s)?)
Author Information
Author Travis McBride Reviewer Chad Christopher, History Education, University of Northern Iowa Created 02/18/2020 Last Edited 02/19/2020
Lesson Plan Development Notes: Teaching Methods, University of Northern Iowa, Fall 2019

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