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America's First Black Socialist

America's First Black Socialist: The Radical Life of Peter H. Clark

Nikki M. Taylor
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    America's First Black Socialist
    Book Description:

    In pursuit of his foremost goal, full and equal citizenship for African Americans, Peter Humphries Clark (1829--1925) defied easy classification. He was, at various times, the country's first black socialist, a loyal supporter of the Republican Party, and an advocate for the Democrats. A pioneer educational activist, Clark led the fight for African Americans' access to Ohio's public schools and became the first black principal in the state. He supported all-black schools and staunchly defended them even after the tide turned toward desegregation. As a politician, intellectual, educator, and activist, Clark was complex and enigmatic.

    Though Clark influenced a generation of abolitionists and civil rights activists, he is virtually forgotten today. America's First Black Socialist draws upon speeches, correspondence, and outside commentary to provide a balanced account of this neglected and misunderstood figure. Charting Clark's changing allegiances and ideologies from the antebellum era through the 1920s, this comprehensive biography illuminates the life and legacy of an important activist while also highlighting the black radical tradition that helped democratize America.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4078-0
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)

    Black Ohioans traveled to Dayton on September 22, 1873, to commemorate Emancipation Day—the day President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The celebration began on the railcars carrying African Americans into the city. People dressed in their Sunday best could hardly contain their excitement as the trains pulled into the station. The revelry followed them from the trains into the depot, where arriving travelers were greeted by two different bands blaring popular tunes. People gaily danced in the station. The Sons of Protection and Lincoln Guards, two black militia groups, wearing brightly colored regalia, marched with muskets resting against...

  5. Chapter One Launching a Life
    (pp. 16-41)

    A few months after Peter Humphries Clark’s birth on March 29, 1829, racial violence erupted in Cincinnati, Ohio. On several muggy nights between August 15 and 22, mobs of two hundred to three hundred men attacked the African American neighborhood near Columbia and Western Row Streets. Armed largely with huge stones, the mob destroyed black-owned or occupied buildings, homes, and shops.¹ Terror reigned. According to one source, “The houses of the Blacks were attacked and demolished, and the inmates beat and driven through the streets till beyond the limits of the corporation.”² African Americans found neither protectors nor friends in...

  6. Chapter Two Voice of Emigration
    (pp. 42-60)

    In Columbus on January 11, 1849, the Convention of the Colored Citizens of Ohio debated the advantages of leaving the United States through a colonization scheme to Liberia, when twenty-year-old John Mercer Langston took the floor. Taking exception to a proposed resolution that opposed emigration, Langston proclaimed: “I . . . am willing, dearly as I love my native land, (a land which will not protect me however,) to leave it, and go wherever I can be free. We have already drank too long the cup of bitterness and wo [sic], do gentlemen want to drink it any longer? The...

  7. Chapter Three Voice of Purpose
    (pp. 61-86)

    The most enduring legacy of Ohio’s private schools is that they succeeded in educating and grooming a generation of leaders, teachers, and activists, including Peter H. Clark. By the early 1840s, a core group of African American men and women had been educated in these private schools and were, in turn, educating others. This generation of educated African Americans also led the struggle for access to common schools. Beginning in the early 1840s, local activists shifted their focus from opening private schools to gaining access to public ones. After all, private school education had not been wholly successful: philanthropy could...

  8. Chapter Four “The Silver Tongued Orator of the West”
    (pp. 87-106)

    On May 28, 1856, Frederick Douglass did the honors of introducing Clark as a speaker at the Radical Abolition Party’s nominating convention in Syracuse, New York; it was only the second national meeting of the new party. Clark’s relatively short speech on the first day of the convention largely focused on America’s failure to honor the concept of “universal brotherhood.” According to him, the obligation to one’s fellow human had been mandated by God and the Founding Fathers. Emphasizing the relationship between universal brotherhood and antislavery efforts, he concluded, “To this great doctrine underlies the anti-slavery movement, and whatever triumphs...

  9. Chapter Five Voice of Equality
    (pp. 107-129)

    On the evening of April 11, 1870, Cincinnati’s African American community convened at Zion Baptist Church to discuss the upcoming local election the following Monday. The Fifteenth Amendment, which granted suffrage to African American men, had been ratified on February 3 of that year. Eager to exercise these new rights for the first time in history, these new voters and their families met before elections to outline the issues, debate the positions, endorse candidates, and advise one another on how to mark their ballots. According to one eyewitness, Zion was nearly filled to capacity with all classes of African Americans...

  10. Chapter Six Radical Voice
    (pp. 130-155)

    One evening in late November 1875, Peter Clark rose to deliver an address before the Sovereigns of Industry. Although cooperation was the main topic of his address, the better part of it focused on denouncing the middlemen—merchants, grocers, and bankers—who “derived not only livelihood, but wealth, by coming between the producer and the consumer.” For Clark, the middlemen were the chief culprits within the capitalist system. To illustrate how middlemen exploited people, Clark raised the example of groceries, which abounded in poor areas of the city and where grocers charged a premium on the inferior goods they sold....

  11. Chapter Seven Voice of Dissent
    (pp. 156-170)

    No sooner than announcing his resignation from the Socialistic Labor Party (SLP) in July 1879, Clark immediately revived his membership in the Republican Party. He earned a place within the party’s local leadership in short order—proof that he had lost very little political ground among Republicans during his time as a socialist.¹ In a speech before the Ninth Ward Republican Club one night in late September 1879, Clark rose to the podium. In what was only his second Republican speech since his break from the socialists two months earlier, he spoke at length about Democrats’ use of political murder...

  12. Chapter Eight Voice of Betrayal
    (pp. 171-195)

    On the eve of the 1884 presidential election, a “mob” led by Mike Mullen, a Cincinnati police lieutenant, raided the home of John Venable, a black boarding home operator who also happened to be president of the Colored Blaine and Logan Club—a political club dedicated to securing the election victory of Republicans James G. Blaine and John A. Logan ticket for president and vice president, over their Democratic opponent, Grover Cleveland.¹ Operating without warrants, Lieutenant Mullen and his squad seized twenty-four African American men from Venable’s home on Gilmore’s Landing, near the Ohio River, that evening. These men then...

  13. Chapter Nine A Still Voice
    (pp. 196-224)

    On March 10, 1886, Reverend Benjamin W. Arnett, of Greene County, and Jere A. Brown, of Cuyahoga County, delivered speeches before Ohio’s House of Representatives praying for the passage of his bill to repeal the state’s odious Black Laws. These laws, which mandated separate schools and prohibited intermarriage, had stalked African Americans’ freedom in the state and denied them equality under the law for decades. Since 1884, a few Ohio legislators had persistently tried to introduce bills to repeal the legislation. In his speech before the House, Representative Arnett decried the pernicious role that race played in society: “One would...

  14. Chapter Ten “A Painted Lie”: Autobiography and Historical Memory
    (pp. 225-233)

    In early 1885, Peter Humphries Clark relayed his life story to Timothy Thomas Fortune, editor of the African American journal theNew York Freeman.Fortune devoted two-thirds of the front page of his January 3 issue to Clark’s biography, signifying Fortune’s respect for his friend and political ally.¹ Although this was not the first time anyone had published Clark’s biography, he rarely ever discussed his personal life story publicly, especially his family history.² In that issue of theFreeman,Clark briefly recounted how his maternal grandfather, Samuel Humphries, a teamster by trade, had traveled to Erie, Pennsylvania, to help build...

  15. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 234-237)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 238-290)
  17. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 291-295)
  18. Index
    (pp. 296-308)