Ohio History Journal

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
  • 11
  • 12
  • 13
  • 14
  • 15
  • 16
  • 17



In His Veins Coursed No Bootlicking

Blood: The Career of Peter H. Clark


Peter H. Clark was one of the most prominent black leaders of the

nineteenth century. Working as a schoolteacher, he emerged as a

champion of the antebellum Negro community in Cincinnati, achieved

recognition after the Civil War as one of the leading black men of

Ohio, and became a figure of national importance in racial matters by

the 1880s. Though Clark's fame proved ephemeral, an understanding

of his career illuminates nineteenth-century black history. The

development of Negro life in Ohio, especially in its political, legal,

and educational aspects, is incomprehensible without consideration of

Clark's effective leadership. Though lack of a consistent racial

outlook and inability to sustain long-term political connections limited

his influence, these very weaknesses made Clark's career a

microcosm of the manifold ideological tendencies in black America.

Through a long life, Clark touched every programmatic base on which

his contemporaries stood. At one time or another he advocated

absolute integration into American life, independent institutions for

his race, cooperation with southern white racists, and emigration to

Africa. He drifted back and forth between the two major parties, and

even espoused, for a while, Marxian socialism. These twists and

turns, which some observers dismissed as idiosyncracies, do form a

pattern: they were a series of desperate attempts to dispel the effect

of white prejudice upon him, and, by extension, upon his race.1

Early nineteenth-century Cincinnati was a haven for newly-freed

blacks as well as runaway slaves because of its location across the

Ohio River from slave-holding Kentucky. But the influx of Negroes

evoked anti-black sentiment among whites, many of whom were from

the South. Though a free state, Ohio discouraged the migration of


Dr. Grossman is Assistant Professor of History at Yeshiva University.


1. The neglect of Clark by historians probably is due to his lack of identification with any

specific ideology or institution, the absence of a collection of his personal papers, and the

obscurity that covers the last thirty years of his life. Basic biographical information is

available in William Wells Brown, The Rising Son: or, The Antecedents andAdvancement

of the Colored Race (Boston, 1874), 522-24; Cleveland Gazette, March 6, 1886; William J.

Simmons, ed., Men of Mark: Eminent, Progressive and Rising (Cleveland, 1887), 374-83;

Dovie King Clark, "Peter Humphries Clark," Negro History Bulletin, V (May 1942), 176.