Muscatine Black History, Spirituality Interwoven with Liberty

Almost from the beginning Muscatine had a small black population. Early in Muscatine black history, a church was built at the riverfront. The black church prospered so well that the first all brick church building was built. The black community has a wonderful history of Prosperity and Liberty in Muscatine. All of the history books record the story of liberty.

This account was written by William Randall and involves Alexander Clark, a free black man that later became the U.S. Minister of Liberia. In 1848, a Montpelier doctor owned a slave named Jimmy White, a young black boy. The doctor and Jimmy had an agreement that Jimmy would work for two years on a southern steamboat to gain his freedom. After Jimmy was injured, he was sent back to the doctor who was living near Muscatine. Shortly after arriving here, Jimmy and the doctor had an argument in which the doctor ordered Jimmy off his property. Jimmy thought he was then free and got a job at a local hotel, but the doctor sent for a detective to bring him back. When the detective tried to arrest Jimmy, a man disarmed the detective allowing Jimmy to escape. Jimmy ran to Alexander Clark’s house. Clark filed a paper against the detective because he did not have a warrant. Later the doctor got a warrant and had Jimmy arrested. There was a trial that ended with Jimmy being released because Muscatine was considered a free state and the doctor allowed Jimmy to come here thus gaining his freedom.

Emotions ran high over the slavery issue and over this case of the run away slave. There was a failed attempt to get Jimmy out of Muscatine and arrested. Later, the detective tried again to have Jimmy arrested but Clark again intervened. Afterwards, the doctor allowed the matter to drop and Jimmy was free. He later became an enthusiastic member of the African M. E. Church and was called a great shouter. Not only was this the first in Iowa but west of the Mississippi as well.

Muscatine black history includes being the first place of another liberty for the black people. In 1867, Alexander Clark decided his twelve year old daughter, Susan, should go to another school that had better grammar scores. Susan was denied admission to the Muscatine Public Schools because she was African American. In 1858, a state law had been passed providing African Americans separate schools. Susan and her father sued the Muscatine school board and the case went to Iowa’s Supreme Court. The court said that Iowa’s constitution does not speak to the manner of local school boards, but decided that school boards cannot deny any youth admission to a particular school because of color, nationality, religion, or the like. In 1874 all Iowa’s schools had gone through desegregation. Muscatine is truly a birthplace of liberty. Praise Your Holy Name for Muscatine is a place of Liberty both Physically and Spiritually!

Alexander Clark House 2008

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