Alexander Clark House

Running River Trail System (Riverside Park)

Black History Politics, Policy & Justice

Street view of the brick double-home built by Alexander Clark after his original home was burned down in 1878.

Photo courtesy of Farragutful/Wikimedia

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that “separate but equal” access to public accommodations—upheld by the court in the 1896 case of Plessy v. Ferguson—was unconstitutional, finally making segregation based on race illegal in the United States. This verdict had been unanimously decided in the landmark cases known collectively as Brown v. Board of Education—in which five lawsuits had been filed against school districts who denied students based on race. Before this monumental civil rights victory, the 1896 “separate but equal” ruling had been used in court as a precedent to argue for the segregation of Black Americans—in schools, train cars, water fountains and waiting rooms. [1]

Prior to the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, however, small victories would help pave the way for integration. One particular case, which took place nearly a century before—Clark v. Muscatine Board of School Directors—would have a major impact in Muscatine, Iowa, and across the state. [2]

In 1868, a successful Black businessman in Muscatine named Alexander Clark filed a lawsuit against the Muscatine Board of Education on behalf of his 12-year-old daughter, Susan. At that time, the public school in the Clarks’ neighborhood only admitted white students. When the school refused to admit Susan Clark based on her race, Alexander Clark sued. The eventual ruling in the case favored Clark, stating that racial segregation of public schools was unconstitutional under Iowa’s Bill of Rights. This decision allowed Susan to enroll in the public school of her choosing and prompted the racial integration of all public educational institutions in the state of Iowa. After winning the case, Alexander Clark went on to pursue a career in law. Eventually, he and his son, Alexander Clark, Jr., became the first two Black men to graduate from the University of Iowa’s law school. [3]

The Alexander Clark House still stands in Muscatine's West Hill Historic District, just a few blocks from the Mississippi waterfront. If you visit, please limit yourself to looking at it from the sidewalk. The home is privately owned and occupied by residents.



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