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Iowa History Daily: September 12 - Susan Clark & Segregation

Iowa History Daily: On September 12, 1867, the principal of Grammar School No. 2, turned away Susan Clark, leading to a district court ruling eventually appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court. Initially denied admission due to the color of her skin, Susan’s father, Alexander Clark, sued in an act fundamental to desegregation of Iowa schools.

Alexander Clark, a true Renaissance man who truly valued the power of education was known throughout the Muscatine community as a real estate investor, political leader, barber, military recruiter, and conductor on the Underground Railroad. Clark served as the Iowa agent for Frederick Douglass’ newspaper The North Star, and fought against an 1855 law which prohibited the immigration of free African-Americans into the state. Father to three children, Clark fought to allow his daughter Susan to attend an all-white school located within the city instead of the segregated alternative nearly a mile away.

In a letter to the Muscatine Journal in 1867, Clark laid out his case: “My personal object is that my children attend where they can receive the largest and best advantages of learning.” Citing the discrepancy in teacher salaries ranging between $900 and $150, dependent on the school, Clark wrote further: “The white schools have prepared and qualified pupils by the hundred for the high school; the colored school has never prepared or qualified one that could pass an examination for any class in the high school.”

From the Court’s opinion: “(Iowa’s statewide board of education must) provide for the education of all youths of the State, through a system of common schools.” The opinion went on to proclaim: “[T]he board cannot, in their discretion…deny a youth admission to any particular school because of his or her nationality, religion, color, clothing, or the like.” #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar


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