Ohio History Journal



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.


80                                                       OHIO HISTOR'


blacks into its territory. By law, a black man entering the state had to

show a certificate of freedom and post a five-hundred-dollar bone

guaranteeing good behavior. Ohio statutes kept blacks away from the

ballot box and out of juries and militia units, barred them fron

testifying against whites, and refused to educate their children fron

general tax revenues. Beyond the letter of the law, a pattern of socia

and economic segregation walled blacks off from whites, condemning

the great majority to lives of poverty. In Cincinnati this situation o

chronic inequality was occasionally punctuated by white riots agains

blacks, which increased in frequency during the 1830s and 1840s, fed

by anti-abolition sentiment and economic rivalry between lower-class

blacks and whites. Antebellum Cincinnati deserved its reputation as the

most Negrophobic city in the Midwest.2

Peter Humphries Clark, whose life would be shaped by Cincinnati's

racial tension, was born there in 1829, the year of the city's first

anti-black outbreak. He was the eldest child of Michael Clark, a

barber and the offspring of a union between a Kentucky slave woman

and her white master. Michael Clark's owner-father had emancipated

him and sent him across the Ohio River in 1817.3 He provided his

son, Peter, with the best education available to a Cincinnati Negro. In

1844 Peter Clark graduated from a private black elementary school

established by liberal whites, and entered Gilmore High School,

founded and run by a white philanthropist. The first secondary school

for blacks in the city, Gilmore was conducted on a high scholastic

level. Peter Clark and his classmates enjoyed "a commodious

building of five large rooms and a chapel," as well as a gymnasium.

Students received "instruction in the branches usual to a full English

course of study, besides which, Latin, Greek, drawing and music

were taught." Clark excelled, and was appointed an assistant teacher

in 1846 while still a student; however, upon graduation two years

later, the young man had to find a job.4



2. John M. Langston, From the Virginia Plantation to the National Capital (Hartford,

1894), 62-67; Frank U. Quillin, The Color Line in Ohio: A History of Race Prejudice in a

Typical Northern State (Ann Arbor, 1913), 13-34; Carter G. Woodson, "The Negroes of

Cincinnati Prior to the Civil War," Journal of Negro History, I (January 1916), 1-22

Richard C. Wade, "The Negro in Cincinnati, 1800-1830," Ibid., XXXIX (January 1954),

43-57; Eugene Berwanger, The Frontier Against Slavery: Western Anti-Negro Prejudice

and the Slavery Extension Controversy (Urbana, 1967), 33-34.

3. Cleveland Gazette, March 6, 1886. Dovie King Clark, in "Peter Humphries Clark,"

Negro History Bulletin, V (May 1942), 176, identifies the explorer William Clark as Peter's

grandfather, a pedigree not mentioned in Peter Clark's lifetime and therefore dubious.

4. Cleveland Gazette, March 6, 1886; U.S., Congress, House of Representatives,

Special Report of the Commissioner of Education, House Executive Document 315, 41st

Congress, 2nd session, 1871, 371.

Peter H

Peter H. Clark                                           81


Discrimination against blacks in employment rendered a

high-school diploma of little practical benefit to a Cincinnati Negro.

Clark's father was fortunate enough to find an anti-slavery white

stereotyper willing to take Peter Clark on as an apprentice in return

for two hundred dollars, which was probably a large part of the family

savings. However, betrayal came quickly: the stereotyper sold his

business and decamped, with the two hundred dollars, to the

California gold fields. The man who bought the business refused to

keep a Negro apprentice. To make matters worse, Michael Clark

died, and Peter Clark had to take over the family barbershop. The

work was repugnant to him because it entailed catering to the

prejudices of white customers, especially their insistence that he not

serve any blacks. Disgusted, Clark left barbering forever, vowing that

"he would never shave another white man, and, if he did, he would

cut his throat."5 This violent rhetoric in response to prejudice was

just the first of many open manifestations of Clark's bitterness toward

a white world that treated him on the basis of color rather than merit.

While clerking in a store in 1849, Clark tried to enter teaching, the

field in which he ultimately would excel. This possibility became

available to Clark because the Ohio legislature that year, under

Free-Soil influence, allowed Negroes to organize and control their

own public schools, to be financed from general tax funds

apportioned on a per capita basis. Clark helped organize the first

black public school in Cincinnati and was its first teacher. But so

sharp was local white opposition to Negro public education that the

Cincinnati city council refused to appropriate money to pay Clark's

salary on the grounds that blacks, not being citizens, could not be school

trustees and handle public monies. While the issue was adjudicated in

the courts, Clark was again unemployed.6 Once more, racial prejudice

clouded his prospects.

Clark responded to this frustration by a decision to turn his back on

America and emigrate. The idea was in the air; blacks across the

country, impatient with white America's toleration of caste, were

debating the pros and cons. In Ohio, Negro leader John Mercer

Langston told a black convention that they would never get their

rights in the United States, and pressed for a program of voluntary

colonization to some other area. The idea attracted the support of a

substantial minority of the convention delegates. The white American

Colonization Society, meanwhile, tried unsuccessfully to get an


5. Simmons, ed., Men of Mark, 374-75.

6. Ibid.; Special Report of the Commissioner of Education, 371; Woodson, "Negroes

of Cincinnati," 16-17.


82                                                      OHIO HISTORY


appropriation from the Ohio legislature to finance black emigration.7

Peter Clark, swayed by the emigrationist argument, wrote to the

Society in 1850 explaining that he and two friends wanted to settle in

Liberia. Willing to work there as teachers, they also were prepared to

take "a course in Bookkeeping and penmanship before we go" if such

employment were available, and, Clark added, "if so what salary."

Clark did begin the long journey to Africa in 1851, getting as far as

New Orleans, but, not finding the boat that was to transport him

across the Atlantic, he returned home.8

At about this time the Ohio Supreme Court decided that Cincinnati

would have to obey state law and support black schools. Clark

returned to his teaching, but not for long. In 1853 the city council

charged the Negro school trustees with incompetence and placed the

black schools under white overseers, who immediately fired Clark for

religious heterodoxy. On the basis of the scriptural texts that he had

pupils recite, Clark was charged with disbelief in predestination and

the Trinity. He was, in truth, a Unitarian, rejecting fundamentalism.

Clark's admirers, however, suspected that the allegation was at least

partially a smokescreen for the real fear that Clark was not

subservient enough to white dictation. At a mass protest meeting,

Clark, described by a newspaper reporter as "a fine-looking,

well-educated young man," told his supporters that they had the right

to employ teachers of their own choice. "For the place in the school he

did not care, but for the principle he did."9

Reinstatement came only after four years of storekeeping,

newspaper work, and lecturing. Clark was hired as principal and

teacher at the Western District Colored School in 1857, after the

black schools were returned to the control of Negro trustees. He was

promoted in 1866 to be principal of Gaines High School, the first

black public secondary school in Cincinnati. Clark ran Gaines for the

next two decades with great effectiveness, and influenced a

generation of young Cincinnati blacks.10

7. Howard H. Bell, "The Negro Emigration Movement, 1849-1854: A Phase of Negro

Nationalism," Phylon, XX (Summer 1959), 137-38; Jane H. and William H. Pease, They

Who Would Be Free: Blacks' Search for Freedom, 1830-1861 (New York, 1974), 257;

"Ohio in Africa," Quarterly Publication of the Historical and Philosophical Society of

Ohio, VII (June and September 1912), 93-102.

8. Clark to Reverend William McLain, September 17,1850, The Papers of the American

Colonization Society, Letters Received, April-June 1851, No. 191, Library of Congress,

also in Journal of Negro History, X (April 1925), 285-86; Cleveland Gazette, March 6,


9. Cleveland Gazette, March 6, 1886; Simmons, ed., Men of Mark, 376; Brown, Rising

Son, 450-51; Boston Liberator, September 30, 1853.

10. Cleveland Gazette, March 6, 1886; Simmons, ed., Men of Mark, 377; Isaac Martin,

ed., History of the Schools of Cincinnati and Other Educational Institutions, Public and

Private (Cincinnati, 1900), 187. Clark had meanwhile married Frances Williams in 1854.

Peter H

Peter H. Clark                                              83

From the 1850s through the 1880s "Professor" Clark became

something of a Cincinnati institution. Clark was short and wiry, and a

beard, "sharp features, bright eye," and "dyspeptic appearance"

gave him a distinctive presence. All who met him were struck by his

learning, eloquence, and straightforward if impolitic candor; qualities

which earned Clark a leadership role in the local and national black

community while also attracting white respect.11 Black historian

George Washington Williams, who lived in Cincinnati for a time,

caught the essence of the man: "Clark is a capital little fellow. He is

sarcastic, industrious, earnest, nervous, and even practical at

times."12 Industry and earnestness were the traits that enabled Clark

to achieve prominence; sarcasm and nervousness were the scars left

by white prejudice. The constructive side of Clark's character


11. Brown, Rising Son, 523-24; Linda Krane Ellwein, "The Negroes in Cincinnati: The

Black Experience, 1870-1880" (M.A. thesis, University of Cincinnati, 1970), 87.

12. George Washington Williams to Frederick Douglass, May 3, 1876, The Papers of

Frederick Douglass, Library of Congress.


84                                                  OHIO HISTOR


coexisted with a gnawing awareness that he and his race were denied

opportunities open to whites. Clark's unwillingness to compromise

with prejudice is probably what Williams perceived as impracticality

After 1852 Clark abandoned emigration as the answer to the race

problem and became a vigorous abolitionist and fighter for the lega

equality of northern blacks. He considered the effort to end slavery

in the South and the struggle to erase the word "white" from the

Ohio constitution as dual aspects of the same crusade.13 Clark's

linkage of the two goals was typical of most black abolitionists, but

his sharp, public denunciation of vacillating whites, even those most

sympathetic to his views, was not. He opposed the new Republicar

party formed to keep slavery from spreading. In July 1856, Clark

went to Syracuse, New York, to participate in a convention of radical

abolitionists, former Liberty party men who considered the

Republicans too conservative, and who were about to name their own

candidates and frame their own platform for the national election.

Clark, addressing the mostly white group of political abolitionists,

heaped scorn on the Republicans, who, he said, had long condoned

slavery by silence, and were only taking an interest in the issue when

their own access to western lands was threatened. What followed

probably made even Clark's audience uncomfortable: there was little

difference, according to Clark, between free and slave states anyway.

He could not vote in Ohio, nor could he expect a fair trial, because his

black peers were kept off juries. He announced: "If you wish to

abolish slavery you must combat it wherever it is found, whether in

political parties, in churches, or in your own homes."14 Two years

later he told a black convention in Ohio that the Republicans, through

tacit acceptance of the Fugitive Slave Law, showed a willingness to

sell out principle in order to gain conservative support, and Clark,

therefore, "did not consider his rights any safer with Republicans

than with Democrats." Rejecting the major parties, he also denied the

utility of "failed Anti-Slavery Societies, State Organizations, etc." In

view of the recent Dred Scott decision, he "had about made up his

mind never to petition for a right again; but if he could seize it, he

would do so."15 The sentiment and its phrasing echoed his youthful

refusal to shave white men. Impatient with whites, Clark, as some

13. Simmons, ed., Men of Mark, 376; Brown, Rising Son, 523; Proceedings of the

Colored National Convention held in Rochester, July 6th, 7th and 8th, 1853 (Rochester,

1853), 6; BostonLiberator, February 15, 1856. His involvement in a key fugitive slave case

is recorded in Levi Coffin, Reminiscences of Levi Coffin (Cincinnati, 1876), 543-44.

14. Radical Abolitionist, I (July 1856), 98.

15. Proceedings of a Convention of the Colored Men of Ohio Held in the City of

Cincinnati on the 23rd, 24th, 25th and 26th days of November, 1858 (Cincinnati, 1858), 9,

13-14, also in Boston Liberator, December 3, 1858.

Peter H

Peter H. Clark                                              85


others of his race, used the rhetoric of physical resistance on the eve of

the Civil War.

The war years deepened Clark's sense of grievance. Angry that

emancipation was not made an immediate northern war aim, he used

his eloquence in the cause before a white audience in a Cincinnati

Unitarian church, evoking "round after round of irrepressible

applause."16 But Clark and other blacks were rebuffed when they

volunteered to form a military unit to defend Cincinnati. Then, in

1862, when a Confederate raid upon the city was expected, over

seven hundred blacks including Clark were dragged off the streets and

from their homes with no warning and forced to work on building

fortifications, as if they would not have served their community

willingly. This indignity inspired Clark to publish a stinging pamphlet

about the episode. He viewed the behavior of white Cincinnatians as

one more proof that "there is an ellipsis universal in American writing

or speaking. When an American writes, 'All men are created free and

equal,' he means all white men." Clark went so far as to claim that

had the Confederates captured the city, they would have treated local

blacks no worse than the white residents did.17 His account is so

clouded by cynicism toward whites that modern scholars consider it

an unreliable source.18

After the war Clark's quest for a solution of the race problem led

him to advocate political independence. Though Clark affiliated with

the Republican party during the 1860s, his original distrust of the

organization resurfaced during the Grant Administration. Clark

publicly attacked Ohio Republicans in 1869 for their avoidance of a

firm commitment to the pending Fifteenth Amendment which would

enfranchise Negroes nationally. However Clark, as other blacks, had

no alternative to Republicanism, since the national Democratic party,

long the main political support of slavery, was still unreconciled to

southern Reconstruction, and Ohio Democrats continued to use

anti-black prejudice to win votes. With ratification of the amendment

in 1870, however, and its creation of a potentially crucial black voice

in Ohio politics, Clark announced that if the Democrats "are willing

to forget and forgive, then I am willing to join hands with them in

promoting the glory of our country and the freedom of all our

people."19 Almost alone among black leaders in his lack of

16. Boston Liberator, February 28, 1862.

17. Peter H. Clark, The Black Brigade of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, 1864), 4, 7, and


18. Louis Leonard Tucker, Cincinnati During the Civil War (Columbus, 1962), 39 n. 33;

Edgar A. Toppin, "Humbly They Served: The Black Brigade in the Defense of

Cincinnati," Journal of Negro History, XLVIII (April 1963), 85 n. 30.

19. Dayton Ledger, September 24, 1869; New Era, May 5, 1870.


86                                              OHIO HISTORy


sentimental attachment to the party of Lincoln, and skeptical abou

whites doing anything for blacks out of humanitarianism alone, Clark

felt his race would benefit only if both parties could be made to

compete for its vote. Early in 1871 Clark became the only black to

join with several eminent local white Republicans in forming the

Cincinnati Central Republican Association, opposed to the Grant

Administration and favoring civil service reform, low tariffs, and

amnesty for former Confederates. This group was a precursor of the

liberal Republican movement of 1872. Addressing the Association

convention in April 1871, Clark claimed to have originally favored

keeping the defeated South in territorial status for a quarter-century.

Now, however, he advocated a return to power of "respectable"

ex-Confederates, who acknowledged the Reconstruction Amendments,

as the golden mean between Ku Klux Klan terror and rule by

southern white Republicans who allegedly manipulated Negroes for

selfish ends. Continued proscription of whites in the South, he

argued, only increased anti-black feeling there. Strangely, Clark's

political realism and refusal to compromise with Republican

half-measures were leading him toward an accommodation with

Democrats whose records on the race issue were more reprehensible

than those of Republicans. By August Clark reconsidered and drew

back, calling himself a regular Republican, because the Democrats,

despite recent verbal acceptance of Negro rights, were not yet to be


Clark had fresh complaints against the Republican party in 1872,

but continued an uneasy allegiance to the organization. He could not

see why Senator Charles Sumner's civil rights bill did not get solid

party backing: "when a white man had prejudices that interfered with

the comfort and convenience of the colored people, the law should

step in and curb those prejudices." Clark also wanted Cincinnati

Republicans to give blacks more patronage jobs, and in the spring

municipal elections he advocated that local Negroes, as a bloc,

support only those candidates, of either party, who pledged to employ

blacks if elected.21 But when the national campaign heated up, and

anti-administration Republicans joined Democrats in opposing

Grant's reelection, Clark decided that a national administration under

Democratic influence would leave the freedmen at the mercy of

southern whites. Clark played a key role in getting the convention of

black leaders held at New Orleans in April to endorse the regular



20. Cincinnati Enquirer, April 6, 1871; New National Era, August 17, 1871.

21. Cincinnati Enquirer, January 2, March 4, 1872.

Peter H

Peter H. Clark                                           87


Republican nominee, and he then worked hard for Grant's success.22

In recognition of his campaign efforts, and probably also to avert

future deviation from Republicanism, the party nominated him as a

delegate to the Ohio state constitutional convention early in 1873.

This maneuver backfired. Clark was not elected to the convention,

running far behind all the other Republican nominees: many

Republicans, unwilling to support a black, had scratched his name

from the ballot.23 Clark and a few friends organized a protest

convention attended by one hundred black Ohioans at Chillicothe in

August. Charging that the Republicans had only fought the slave

power in order to keep blacks out of the West and then to preserve

the Union, Clark claimed that the party had now dropped them, going

back on its 1872 platform. Therefore, "it is not only our right but our

duty to vote against it." Grievances about lack of patronage were not,

in Clark's eyes, mere selfishness "when that denial of office implies,

as it does undoubtedly, a denial of my equality as a citizen." But

then, as if fearful of shocking the solidly Republican blacks of Ohio,

he urged them only to vote against "those men who have crawled into

the Republican ranks under false pretenses." Despite the opposition

of a few blacks present who wanted to give the party more time to

fulfill the race's demands, the Chillicothe convention resolved that

blacks should use independent judgement in voting for local offices in

the fall election, because "the colored voters of the State do not

consider themselves under eternal obligation" to the Republicans.

Probably the only consideration that kept the convention from

extending this advice to the state ticket as well was the Democratic

nomination of William Allen, a veteran Negro-baiter, for governor.24

During the state campaign of 1873 Clark stumped Ohio spreading

the Chillicothe message, and since the black vote, though only about

2.4 percent of the electorate, was important in this hotly contested

state, Clark influenced the strategies of both parties. Alarmed

Republicans, after trying unsuccessfully to buy him off with

patronage, charged that Democrats were financing his activities,

which was probably true, and sent out their own black speakers to

counteract him. More importantly, the Republicans for the first time

nominated a black man for the state legislature in order to offset

Clark's charges.25 Meanwhile Ohio Democrats urged Clark on by



22. New National Era, May 2, 9, 16, October 24, 1872; Cincinnati Enquirer, August 16,


23. New National Era, April 17, 1873.

24. New National Era and Citizen, August 28, 1873.

25. Ibid.,September 11, October 2, 1873; Dayton Herald, September 13, 1873.


88                                                 OHIO HISTORY


stressing alleged Republican hypocrisy, and kept the race issue out o

the campaign even though the civil rights bill, anathema to

Democrats, was still pending in Congress.26 On election day the

Democrats won control of the legislature and elected their candidate

for governor by the thinnest of margins. Though officially the

Chillicothe movement had not advocated black independence on the

state ticket, it perhaps had enough of a spillover impact on the

governorship race to decide the outcome.27 Clark's effort in 1873

showed that blacks could get certain concessions from both parties it

it was not a foregone conclusion that they all were going to vote one

way. A precedent had been established for nominating a black

Republican for the legislature, and Ohio Democrats had dropped their

anti-black rhetoric. Clark had also enhanced his personal reputation

as a force in politics: the Cincinnati Republicans made a point of

seating him in a place of honor at their local convention the following


Though back in the Republican fold, Clark soon veered off on a

new, more idiosyncratic tangent-socialism. Again, it was a renewed

sense of grievance that touched off political rebellion. In 1877 he tried

but failed to win the presidency of Howard University. The old

charge of religious deviation was used against him, but evidently the

board of trustees had decided to name a white president in any case.

It was even more grating that the new Republican administration in

Washington refused to give him patronage despite his campaign work

in 1876.29 In late March 1877, Clark spoke at a meeting of the

Cincinnati Workingmen's party, a socialist group. Explaining that he

had always leaned toward their doctrine, Clark announced that "the

capitalist is the enemy." Indeed, from his perspective, exploitation of

northern labor paralleled the oppression that poor southern blacks

suffered from white landowners. That summer, wage cuts for railroad

workers induced by a chronic depression brought a wave of strikes in

rail centers across the country, in some cases leading to violence.

When the strike hit Cincinnati the Workingmen's party held a meeting

in support of the action, and Clark's speech, which made no reference

to specifically black grievances, was the highlight. After expressing

solidarity with the strikers, he said that only a socialist system could

avert the fluctuations of the business cycle. Clark rejected the


26. Cincinnati Enquirer, August 13, 16, September 6, 1873.

27. New National Era and Citizen, November 20, 1873.

28. Cincinnati Enquirer, March 27, 1874.

29. Clark to Alfonso Taft, October 24, 1876, The Papers of William Howard Taft,

Library of Congress; Rayford W. Logan, Howard University: The First Hundred Years,

1867-1967 (New York, 1969), 81-83; Cincinnati Enquirer, July 21, 1877, August 4, 1879.

Peter H

Peter H. Clark                                              89


American myth that any man could succeed through individual effort,

"for one man who is strong enough physically and mentally to break

through the hindrances of poverty, there are ten thousand who fail."

To the objection that socialism would grant the government vast new

powers, Clark answered that the federal authority should be "a

machine for doing for the citizen any thing which can be more

conveniently done by combined than by individual effort." He ended

the address with an appeal to the strikers to remain peaceful, which

cooled the situation and helped avert violence.30

Clark became a fixture at local socialist meetings, and, as one of the

few native-born Americans in the movement, did what he could to

channel it away from doctrinal fixation and revolutionary rhetoric and

toward political organization, urging it to broaden its base beyond the

working class. Nominated by the Workingmen for the post of Ohio

school commissioner in 1877, he polled 12,515 votes statewide,

running ahead of his ticket.31 Achieving a place on the national

executive committee of the Socialist Labor party in 1878, he ran for

Congress from Ohio's first district as a Socialist that fall, and received

275 votes out of over 25,000 cast. His devotion to the cause lapsed a

year later, and he declared himself a Republican in September 1879.32

But this interlude had shown that, in Clark's iconoclastic mind,

nothing in white America was beyond question, not even capitalism

and the self-help ethic, which held the unwavering allegiance of all

other black leaders. His socialist speeches were undoubtedly sincere.

Nevertheless, it is probable that Clark's political talents and

ambitions, frustrated by the racial prejudice of the mainstream

parties, helped propel him toward a disproportionately

immigrant-based splinter movement desperate for effective leadership,

in which he could rise quickly to influence.

Clark's next sojourn in the Republican camp lasted only three years,

and he switched to the Democrats in 1882. This time he was not alone

among northern blacks in playing the maverick. A number of influential

blacks were disgusted by President Chester A. Arthur's neglect of the

southern blacks. The Supreme Court's decision of 1883 striking down

the Civil Rights Act of 1875 furthered black disenchantment with the

Republican party, whose Presidents had appointed all the court's


30. Cincinnati Enquirer, March 27, July 23, 1877; Robert V. Bruce, 1877: Year of

Violence (New York, 1959), 231.

31. Cincinnati Enquirer, August 12, 19, 1877, February 4, September 1, 1878;

Appleton's Annual Cyclopaedia, 1877, 620.

32. Cincinnati Enquirer, February 14, October 16, 1878, September 7, 1879. On Clark's

socialist phase also see Herbert G. Gutman, "Peter H. Clark: Pioneer Negro Socialist,

1877," Journal of Negro Education, XXXIV (Fall 1965), 413-18.


90                                                    OHIO HISTOR


members. Clark's old idea of an independent black electorate able to bi

for benefits from both parties was catching on.33 In Clark's words, "a

soon as we have a few thousand colored men in each of the evenl

balanced States . . . who will vote for the friends of the race, withou

regard to the party label they bear, the fight will be won ... for neithe

party can afford to despise such a political body actuated by suc


In Clark's case allegiance to the Democrats worked out well at first

The Cincinnati Democratic machine appointed Clark's son, Herbert,

deputy sheriff, and financed a black Democratic newspaper edited b

both Peter and Herbert Clark, the Cincinnati Afro-American which

appearing only during election campaigns, lasted into the 1890s. Th

Afro-American hammered away at alleged Republican betrayal c

blacks and the evils of black reliance on one party only. The paper als

magnified the significance of Democratic patronage apportioned to Ohi

blacks.35 After serving as an alternate delegate to the Democrati

National Convention of 1884, Peter Clark was almost alone among blac

leaders and the Afro-American was equally isolated among blac

newspapers in supporting Democrat Grover Cleveland for president.3

Upon Cleveland's victory, Clark dismissed fears that the first nationa

Democratic administration in a quarter-century would impair black

rights. Clark wrote that events had proven federal intervention in the

South powerless against white public opinion there. Blacks should stop

looking to the federal government for salvation. Rather, they should

practice more self-reliance, ingratiate themselves with their white

Democratic neighbors, and work on the state level for legal protection.3

The emphasis on federal impotence and the affirmation of self-help were

inconsistent with his attitudes during the socialist years. Also, his sense

of grievance and impatience with Republican equivocation had pushed

him again into advocacy of accommodation with southern whites. A,

with Booker T. Washington in the next decade, Clark can be criticized

for easing the way toward acceptance of the disfranchisement and

degradation that came to southern blacks. Yet, if the strategy of alliance


33. Vincent P. DeSantis, "Negro Dissatisfaction with Republican Policy in the South,

1882-1884," Journal of Negro History, XXXVI (April 1951), 148-59.

34. New York Freeman, July 18, 1885.

35. Washington Bee, March 3, 1883. The only extant issue oftheAfro-American, that of

September 19, 1885, is located at The Ohio Historical Society, but other black newspapers

such as the Washington Bee, Cleveland Gazette, and New York Globe, quoted the paper


36. Cleveland Gazette, July 5, September 13, October 4, 1884; New York Globe, July

19, October 18, 1884.

37. Frederick Douglass et al., "The Democratic Return to Power-Its Effect?" African

Methodist Episcopal Church Review, I (January 1885), 235-39.

Peter H

Peter H. Clark                                                91


with Democrats backfired on the national level, it did work in the state of

Ohio, where Clark used it to erase the legal color line.

The laws of Ohio in 1883 did not protect the equal access of blacks to

places of public accommodation, and with the Supreme Court's decision

of that year nullifying the federal law, Ohio blacks had no protection of

their civil rights. Also, remnants of the Ohio black laws encouraged

racial segregation in public schools, a pattern that characterized most of

the state, and also banned interracial marriages. In 1880 and 1883 black

Republican state legislators suggested repeal of the black laws, but their

white Republican colleagues, in control of the legislature, would not let

the matter come to the floor.38 Only the Clark-led rebellion against

Republicanism brought action.

Enjoying the allegiance of Peter Clark and hoping to make large

inroads into the black electorate, Ohio Democrats nominated George

Hoadly for governor in 1883. A former law partner and disciple of

Salmon P. Chase, and a distinguished advocate and judge, Hoadly had

been a vocal anti-slavery man before the Civil War, and then a Radical

Republican. He moved into the Democracy during the 1870s, but

retained a commitment to equal rights for blacks.39 His chances of

attracting black support rose when the Republicans nominated Joseph

B. Foraker to oppose him. Foraker allegedly had left Ohio Wesleyan

University because of the admission of a black student, and had, in 1882,

been prominent as the defense lawyer for the Springfield, Ohio, school

board against a civil rights suit filed by a black who wanted his child

admitted to a white school.40 With Peter Clark and the Afro-American

working for the Democrats and Foraker's record demoralizing black

Republicans, Hoadly won the election by 1,318 votes. He attributed the

result to the crossover of "from three to seven thousand" blacks to his

column. Because he claimed to have "broken the color line" in politics,

Hoadly could be expected to press for black rights in Ohio that

Republicans had neglected.41

Hoadly and Clark were old friends, and the governor understood the

heartbreak of the black schoolteacher: "His color has kept him in the

shadows: had be been a white man, there is no position in the State to


38. Ohio, General Assembly, House of Representatives, Journal of the House of

Representatives, 1880, 49, 61; John P. Green, Fact Stranger Than Fiction (Cleveland,

1920), 178.

39. George Hoadly, Jr., "George Hoadly," Green Bag, XIX (December 1907), 685-88.

His racial egalitarianism is evident in George Hoadly to Daniel S. Lamont, March 28, 1885,

The Papers of Grover Cleveland, Library of Congress.

40. Joseph B. Foraker, Notes of a Busy Life, 2 vols. (Cincinnati, 1910), I, 176.

41. Cleveland Gazette, October 13, 20, 1883; New York Tribune Almanac (New York,

1884), 79; Hoadly to Daniel S. Lamont, March 28, 1885, Cleveland Papers.


92                                                     OHIO HISTOR


which he might not have aspired."42 Hoadly shattered precedent b

naming Clark the first black member of the Board of Trustees of Th

Ohio State University, explaining that Clark's "accomplishments as

scholar ... made him especially suited for the post." Despite fear tha

white trustees might resent him, Clark worked in perfect harmony with

the others.43 Hoping to develop further their new, positive relationship

with blacks, Hoadly and the Democratic legislature gave out othe

patronage jobs to members of the race.44

Just as Clark had predicted, when both parties wanted black suppor

they competed for it. Governor Hoadly's inaugural address asked the

legislature to pass a civil rights law to replace the invalidated federa

statute, and he brought Clark to speak to the Democratic legislative

caucus on the issue. With Republicans fearful of losing black votes,

bipartisan bill passed guaranteeing equal access to places of publi

accommodation, and when blacks expressed dissatisfaction at its limite

scope, the legislature enacted another bipartisan law relating t

barbershops and restaurants.45 Hoadly then tried to get the Democrati

legislature to outlaw segregated schools, but Clark had doubts abou

this. Comparing separate black schools to black churches, he felt tha

integration would be acceptable only when black children and teacher

were treated as equals in the regular public schools. Clark's opponent

among Ohio blacks, notably Harry C. Smith, editor of the Cleveland

Gazette and a firm integrationist, charged that he was trying to retain hi

job at Gaines High School, which would cease to exist with integration

Under Hoadly's urging, Clark agreed to a compromise which would

allow local black communities to opt for separate schools. This bil

passed the Ohio House of Representatives, but barely failed in the


The gubernatorial election of 1885 was a replay of the 1883 contest

with the incumbent Hoadly taking on Foraker again, but this time the

Republicans took no chances with the black vote. Against Clark's

campaign work for Hoadly, the Republicans stressed that the

Democratic party in the South terrorized blacks. Foraker also pledged


42. Hoadly to Grover Cleveland, April 25, 1885, Cleveland Papers.

43. Hoadly to W. S. Chamberlain, April 7, 1885, The Papers of George Hoadly, The

Ohio Historical Society.

44. Hoadly to Daniel S. Lamont, March 28, 1885, Cleveland Papers; Cleveland

Gazette, February 9, May 31, 1884.

45. Ohio, Inaugural Address of Governor George Hoadly, 1884, 8; Cincinnati

Afro-American, reprinted in Washington Bee, February 16, 1884; Ohio, Genera

Assembly, General and Local Laws and Joint Resolutions, 1884, 15-16, 90.

46. Ohio, Governor, Annual Message of Governor George Hoadly, 1885, 7-8; Clark, in

Cleveland Gazette, April 26, 1884, and the integrationist view of the paper in bid., March

22, 1884; Hoadly to Daniel S. Lamont, March 28, 1885, Cleveland Papers.

Peter H

Peter H. Clark                                                        93


to push for an end to the black laws. This time sweeping the election,

Foraker gave out substantial patronage to blacks, and demanded and

achieved the end of legal public school segregation and the ban on

intermarriage in 1887.47

Peter Clark, more than any other man, was responsible for all that

happened since 1883, and he proudly claimed the credit. Taking the

unpopular course of entering the Democratic party and urging other

blacks to do so, he had made that party sensitive to black desires. By

happy coincidence the Democrats, led by Governor Hoadly, valued

black favor. The resulting civil rights bills from a Democratic legislature

impelled the Republicans to bid higher. Neither party could ignore the

black man any longer.48 Clark, often so erratic and impractical, had

accomplished much.

But it was done at tremendous personal sacrifice; Clark's prominence

as a Democrat cost him his job. When the Republicans captured control

of the Cincinnati Board of Education in 1886, they fired him on political

grounds.49 Ironically, his removal meant that a year later it was not

Clark, but his successor, who was the last principal of Gaines High

School when it disappeared with the end of the black laws. Clark spent

1887 and 1888 as principal of the State Normal and Industrial School in

Huntsville, Alabama, but could not get used to the sycophancy expected

of him by local whites, and he moved permanently to St. Louis, where

he worked as principal of the Sumner Negro High School.50

Clark gradually lost interest in active politics after leaving Cincinnati,

and he emphasized instead the economic development of the black

community, much in the spirit of Booker T. Washington.51 He still


47. Joint Debates between Hon. George Hoadly and Hon. Joseph B. Foraker at

Toledo, Ohio, October 8, 1885 and Cincinnati, Ohio, October 10, 1885 (Columbus, 1887),

77-78,114-16; Benjamin W. Arnett and Jere A. Brown, TheBlackLaws (n.p., 1886), 15,27;

Cleveland Gazette, January 16, 1886; Everett Walters, Joseph Benson Foraker: An

Uncompromising Republican (Columbus, 1948), 36; General and Local Laws and Joint

Resolutions, 1887, 34.

48. New York Freeman, March 26, 1887. A more detailed account of these events is

Lawrence Grossman, The Democratic Party and the Negro: Northern and National

Politics, 1868-1892 (Urbana, 1976), 80-93.

49. "Peter Clark has gone down in Cincinnati with the party of his choice" (Cleveland

Gazette, June 26, 1886). For Clark's side of the story see New York Freeman, June 19,


50. Cleveland Gazette, September 3, 1887; William Hooper Councill to Booker T.

Washington, September 3, 1887, and Peter H. Clark to Washington, January 16, 1888, in

Louis R. Harlan et al., eds., The Booker T. Washington Papers, 15 vols. (Urbana, 1972),

II, 382,408; ClevelandGazette, August 4, November 24, 1888. Also see David A. Gerber,

Black Ohio and the Color Line, 1860-1915 (Urbana, 1976), 242-43.

51. Clark to Frederick Douglass, May 13, 1889, Douglass Papers. Clark's interest in

black self-help goes back at least to 1875, when he chaired a meeting devoted to the topic.

Convention of Colored Newspaper Men (Cincinnati, 1875), passim.


94                                                       OHIO HISTOR


campaigned for the Democrats in 1888, but the swelling tide o

disfranchisement and anti-black violence in the South made him see tha

political independence, so effective in Ohio, could not accomplish muc

on a national scale. Throwing up his hands, Clark turned toward the on

strategy he had never advocated before. In the spring of 1892 he

organized a day of national prayer and fasting to evoke God'

intervention against southern lynchings, because governments and

parties were impotent. By 1901 he was recalling John Merce

Langston's old argument that natural antipathy between the racer

dictated black emigration, and Clark commented that "time has

vindicated" that view.52 He taught for two decades in St. Louis. Nearly

eighty years old and after over a half-century of teaching, he retired in

1908, reporting that "my general health is good and I may last a year o

two longer." He lasted much longer than that, dying in 1925 or 1926, in

his tenth decade.53

It is impossible to categorize Clark within the context of

nineteenth-century black leadership. He fits into no ideological

"school." Sometimes an integrationist in the Frederick Douglass mold,

at other times willing to accommodate himself to white racism as did

Booker T. Washington, Clark also went through emigrationist and

socialist phases. But all of these strategies were principled, if desperate,

efforts of a talented and ambitious man to escape the stifling influence of

racial prejudice which dogged him. Though usually held in tight check,

the full degree of his resentment spilled out in a remarkable 1873 speech

which explains his life, if anything can:

I do not forget the prejudice of the American people; I could not if I would. I

am sore from sole to crown with its blows. It stood by the bedside of my mother

when she bore me. It darkens with its shadow the grave of my father and mother.

It has hindered every step I have taken in life. It poisons the food I eat, the water

I drink and the air I breathe. It dims the sunshine of my days, and deepens the

darkness of my nights. It hampers me in every relation of life, in business, in

politics, in religion, as a father or as a husband. It haunts me walking or riding,

waking or sleeping. It came to the altar with my bride and now that my children


52. Indianapolis Freeman, July 28, October 27, 1888; Carter G. Woodson, ed., The

Works of Francis J. Grimke, 4 vols. (Washington, 1942), I, 280-81; Peter H. Clark to John

W. Cromwell, December 21, 1901, in Cromwell, The Negro in American History: Men and

Women Eminent in the Evolution of the American ofAfrican Descent (Washington, 1914),


53. Clark to William Howard Taft, December 30, 1908, Taft Papers. The mystery about

Clark's death probably stems from the fact that he outlived almost everyone who knew

him in his years of prominence. Wendell P. Dabney, Cincinnati's Colored Citizens

(Cincinnati, 1926), 114, states that Clark died "this summer, when near the century

mark." A search of the obituary columns of St. Louis newspapers for the summer months

of 1925 and 1926 proved fruitless. Dovie King Clark, "Peter H. Clark." could only say that

he died at "a very advanced age."

Peter H

Peter H. Clark                                                       95


are attaining their majority, and are looking eagerly with their youthful eyes for a

career, it stands by them and casts its infernal curse upon them. Hercules could

have as easily forgotten the poisoned shirt which scorched his flesh, as I can

forget the prejudices of the American people.54

After Clark's death, one Cincinnati black who remembered the old

days called him the city's "greatest colored product from the

standpoints of intellectuality, courage and racial loyalty. In his veins

coursed no bootlicking blood."55 Obsessed by the indignity of living in a

land permeated with prejudice, Clark strove to exorcise the demon. The

fact that he could not indicates not his weakness but the demon's power.




































54. Dayton Herald, September 26, 1873. In reference to his children's careers: Clark's

daughter, Ernestine, was the first black woman to graduate from the Cincinnati Normal

School, and his other daughter, Consuelo, graduated from Boston University Medical

School, and became one of the first female black physicians in the country. His son,

Herbert, seems to have gone from one political patronage job to another. Simmons, ed.,

Men of Mark, 382.

55. Dabney, Cincinnati's Colored Citizens, 114.