From a simple family home, located on the corner of West 3rd Street and Chestnut, unfolded a story of groundbreaking significance. A story of Alexander Clark, a 23-year-old black man, who purchased this home with his own savings in 1849. A story of his and his bride’s progressiveness, determination, and focus overcoming barriers and pervasive discrimination.
This was a home that some didn’t believe could withstand the scorn of those that did not want to see a black man succeed, and that was ravaged by fire in June 1878. A home rebuilt, this time of bricks by the aged man and his wife now in their 50s.
The stories of toil, tears, resilience, love, learning, and vision that the walls of their homes witnessed is the story of loving parents, laborers, professionals, abolitionists, and civil rights pioneers.
Alexander and his wife, Catherine, who had been freed from slavery at the age of three, had five children, of which three lived past infancy and were raised in these homes. Two of those children, Susan and Alexander Jr., made history alongside their father.
Following the end of the Civil War, Alexander Clark and others actively petitioned Iowa legislators to amend the state constitution to remove the word “white”. In 1868, their efforts prevailed in a ground-breaking amendment allowing black men the right to vote.
The Clarks also strongly believed in education as path to a brighter future. In 1867, when the Muscatine school district rejected their 12-year-old daughter Susan’s admission on racial grounds, they began legal action which concluded with the Iowa Supreme Court ruling to allow her to join her fellow peers. This was in 1868, 86 years in advance of the landmark US Supreme Court decision of Brown -vs- Board of Education, the case which led to the desegregation of public schooling. Mark Cady, a chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court stated, “It became a bedrock for a greater understanding for justice in our state and later the nation…"
In 2019, 151 years later, the importance of this moment, which had been ignited from a spirit of love within the walls of the Clark home, was again celebrated as the Muscatine School District honored Susan Clark by naming the newly consolidated middle school in her honor. This serves as an unprecedented recognition, as this is the only school in Muscatine named after both a black individual, as well as a woman.
Susan went on to become the first black graduate of Muscatine High School, which at that time was located at the corner of West Third and Iowa Avenue. She graduated with honors in 1871, and unsurprisingly, was chosen as one of the graduation speakers for that momentous day.
Alexander, Jr. graduated from Muscatine High school and continued his post-secondary education at the University of Iowa. In 1879, he became the first African American to earn a law degree from the University of Iowa College of Law. Alexander Sr. followed in the footsteps of his son and graduated from the University of Iowa Law School in 1884, at the age of 58.
In 2018 the City of Muscatine established Alexander Clark Day to be observed annually on February 25th.
The family’s brick home was moved 200 feet up the street in 1975 to 203 West 3rd Street, making room for the development of the Clark House, 100 units of affordable senior housing.
The Alexander G. Clark Foundation, founded locally by several community members, has established the Alexander G. Clark Foundation Project Fund with the Community Foundation of Greater Muscatine to sustain the 138-year-old Clark legacies and the stories of its walls in part through preservation of the Alexander G. Clark House.
To support the work of this group, donations may be made to the Community Foundation of Greater Muscatine Alexander G. Clark Foundation Project Fund, 208 West 2nd Street, Muscatine, Iowa 52761.