Self Awareness Vehicle Who Are You
The Great Educator Peter Clark
Peter Humphries Clark 1829-1925
Peter Humphries Clark was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, around 1829, to Michael Clark, son of Lt. William Clark. Lt. Clark, a slave owner, who lived near Lexington, Kentucky, and fathered five children by his mulatto slave, Betty. Fearing he might die during the expedition, Lt. Clark resettled Betty and the children on free soil in Cincinnati. Michael, married an Irish-American woman, Ann Humphries, who became Peter Clark’s mother.
Obtaining an early education was difficult for Peter, who did not want to become a barber like his father, Michael. His opportunity arrived in 1844, when the Rev. Hiram Gilmore opened a high school for blacks. Peter’s scholastic ability earned him a job as an assistant teacher while he was still a student. After leaving school in 1848, he apprenticed to a white printer, Thomas Varney, for more than a year. In 1849, when the Ohio legislature enacted a law allowing blacks to organize and operate their own schools, Clark became a teacher. The prejudice he encountered so angered and disgusted him that he left for Africa in 1850.
After reaching New Orleans, however, Clark abandoned his emigration plans and soon returned to Cincinnati, where he became involved in politics and black civic groups. In 1853, he was Secretary of the National Convention of Colored Men in Rochester, New York. That same year, he drafted the constitution of the National Equal Rights League, a black organization.
In 1856, he joined the newly organized Republican Party and remained a member until 1872. Meanwhile, his black interests and Unitarian religious beliefs were in conflict with the Cincinnati school board, and he left teaching. He opened a grocery store, later became editor of the Herald of Freedom, and then worked on the staff on Frederick Douglass’ newspaper the North Star.
In 1857, Peter Clark returned to teaching and eventually became principal of the new Gaines High School in Cincinnati, a job he held for 30 years. His students were in great demand as teachers, and Clark was respected for his honesty and high principles. During this time, Clark married Frances Williams, a music teacher and graduate of Oberlin College in Ohio. One daughter, Consuelo, studied both art and medicine. The Clarks’ son, Herbert, became a deputy sheriff and a teacher.
Clark later became displeased with the Republican Party’s indifference to the problems of blacks. So, he became one of the first Black Socialists in the United States. He joined the Workingman’s Party of the United States and in 1877, the party nominated him for Ohio State Superintendent of Schools. Although he lost the election, he fared much better than the rest of the ticket. Because of his Socialist activities, Clark was called an “agitator” by people who feared change. In 1887, he was removed from his teaching position because of his political activism.
Clark left Cincinnati and took a job as principal of the State Normal and Industrial School in Huntsville, Alabama. Unable to tolerate the segregation of the South, he went to St. Louis, where he taught in black public schools until retiring in 1908. Peter Humphries Clark died on June 21, 1925, in St. Louis, at the age of 96.
Steadfast in his principles, Clark was frequently in conflict with the white establishment. He was sometimes called a radical, when actually he was ahead of his time. He willed his philosophy books to a St. Louis library and, as if to get in the last work, he willed his most beloved volumes – books of poetry by noted black writers – to Cincinnati’s Library.
Excerpt from A Salute to Historic Black Educators.
This is only a summary of the life of Peter Humphries Clark.