The Gazette is partnering with the African American Museum of Iowa in Cedar Rapids to celebrate Black History Month. During the month of February, we’re featuring information on the people who have shaped black history in Iowa. To learn more about black history in Iowa, visit the museum at 55 12th Ave. SE.
The son of parents who were freed from slavery, Alexander G. Clark left his mark as a civil rights leader in Iowa who went on to be appointed United States Ambassador to Liberia.
Born Feb. 25, 1826, in Pennsylvania, Clark eventually settled in Muscatine, where he opened a barbershop at age 16. In 1848, he married Catherine Griffin of Iowa City and the couple had two children — Susan and Alexander Jr.
When Susan was 12 years old, she was denied admission to the school located nearest the Clark’s home. Clark filed a lawsuit against the Muscatine school district and won. The school board appealed that decision to Iowa’s Supreme Court, but the verdict was upheld.
“Let us watch well our beginnings and results will manage themselves.”
- — Alexander G. Clark
Susan Clark graduated from Muscatine High School in 1871 and Alexander Jr. followed two years later.
Susan went on to marry the Rev. Richard Holley and the couple moved to Cedar Rapids when Richard accepted a job as pastor at the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Alexander Jr. went on to be the first African American to graduate from the University of Iowa Law School. He later practiced law in Muscatine and Chicago before settling in Oskaloosa.
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Alexander Clark and his son purchased the Conservator newspaper in Chicago and the elder Clark earned his law degree in 1884. They sold the paper three years later.
In 1890, Clark became the first black U.S. ambassador after being appointed by President Benjamin Harrison. He took charge of the office in Monrovia, Liberia, on Nov. 25, 1890.
Clark died in Liberia on May 31, 1891, at age 65.
His Muscatine home was saved from demolition and moved to a new location on West Third Street in Muscatine some years ago. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.