Muscatine County, Iowa
Muscatine Journal & News-Tribune
Centennial Edition
31 May 1940

Section 6 - Page 21, Submitted by Shirley Plumb, June 12, 2012

Muscatine Negro Served Nation as Consul to Liberia

The fact that Muscatine, approximately half a century ago, was represented in the American diplomatic service by a resident minister and consul to Liberia, Negro republic on the west coast of Africa, provided Journal readers of that day with a reason for being interested in foreign affairs, comparable with that provided today by the tension in international events.

Although Negroes have played only a minor part in Iowa politics, Alexander Clark, Muscatine Negro, who held the Liberia consul post back in the 1890’s gained some prominence in field of politics. Old files of The Journal reveal that Cark, who came to Muscatine in May, 1842 at the age of 16, subsequently climbed to an important position in political circles. He gained a wide reputation as a colored orator, was prominent in fraternal circles, and active in republican circles.

Climax Came in 1890.

The climax to his career in politics came in 1890, when Clark was chosen by President Harrison for the diplomatic position in Liberia. Samuel McNutt, also of Muscatine, was, at the same time, named consul to Maracaybo, Venezuela.

The Muscatine Journal of Saturday, Aug. 9, 1890, chronicled the appointments under a heading “MUSCATINE HIGHLY HONORED—Two of Her Deserving Citizens Highly Honored,” extracts from which follow.

    “Muscatine was highly honored yesterday by President Harrison, who sent to the senate for confirmation the names of Hon. Samuel McNutt as consul to Maracaybo, Venezuela, South America, which commands a salary of $ 2,000 per annum and over $ 3,000 in fees, and Hon. Alexander Clark as minister resident and consul to Liberia, Africa, a position that commands a salary of $ 4,000 and fees.” Some of Mr. Clark’s background was also included in the story, which noted that he “was born in Washington County, Pennsylvania Feb. 20, 1826. He received a limited education in the common schools of his village and at the age of 13 removed to Cincinnati, where he learned the barbering business and applied his spare time to books.

    To Muscatine in 1842.

    “In May 1842 he came to this city and has resided here since, at times living in Chicago, where he has business interests. He was a member of the colored men’s committee who waited upon President Grant and Vice President Colfax to tender congratulations of the colored people of the nation.

    “President Grant appointed him consul to Aux Cayes, Hayti, but he refused the position owing to the meagerness of the salary.

    “He has always been a stalwart republican and has been repeatedly honored with appointments as delegate to various conventions—both state and national.

    “These appointments will be well received here and hearty congratulations are extended Messrs. McNutt and Clark.”

The Journal of Tuesday, Sept. 16, 1890 reviews a reception extended to Mr. Clark shortly before his departure to assume his diplomatic duties. It said, in part:

    “The appointment of our long-time fellow citizen Alexander Clark as minister-resident and consul general to Liberia was thought by a number of his friends a fitting occasion to give him a complimentary reception, and so it was announced that on Monday evening, Sept. 15th they would meet at the African M. E. church for that purpose.”

    Resolutions were adopted at that time as follows:

    “Whereas—We have learned with much pleasure and satisfaction that it has pleased the president in making his wise and unbiased diplomatic appointments to make selection of one of our citizens in the person of Hon. Alexander Clark; there be it

    RESOLVED, that we the colored citizens of Muscatine do, by these resolutions express our sincere and heartfelt gratitude to God that such a day has dawned upon our race, and especially upon the colored citizens of Muscatine, to be so highly honored and able to produce such a worthy person; therefore be it further

    RESOLVED, that we tender him our earnest prayers and best wishes that God may protect and guide him in his journeyings.”

    Signed in behalf of the citizens of Muscatine:
    S. Barnes, F. White, Committee.

Mr. Clark, in his response, alluded to his efforts in behalf of the advancement of his race, and alluded to the decision in a lawsuit he had commanded in behalf of his daughter, Susan B. Clark, who had previously been denied admission to a grammar school in Muscatine, which decision, Mr. Clark noted, “opened the doors of the schools of this great commonwealth to colored children.”

Death Cuts Services Short.

Clark’s services in the diplomatic field were cut short by death. He died at Monrovia May 31, 1891, Journal files reveal, and his body was returned to Muscatine for burial the subsequent year.

The Journal of Feb. 16, 1892 reveals that high honors were paid Mr. Clark at funeral services conducted here on that date. It said:

    “This afternoon, according to appointment was held the funeral obsequies of Alexander Clark, late U. S. Minister and Consul-General to Liberia, who died at Monrovia on the 31st of last May.

    “At about 1 o’clock a procession, headed by Eichoff’s Cornet band, escorted the remains from the A.M. E. church on Seventh Street to Stein’s musical hall, which was soon filled with citizens.”

    Burial was in the family lot in the Muscatine city cemetery.

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    Served as Consul

    Photo of George W. Van Horne ~ Among Muscatine’s early citizens who gained world prominence in the diplomatic field was George W. Van Horne, who served as United States consul at Marseilles, France, for a period of years.

    Appointed during the first week of President Lincoln’s administration he continued in service until 1866 when he returned to Iowa. Later he held political positions in Arkansas for a time going from there to Massachusetts, his old home before returning to Muscatine in the winter of 1870.

    In that year Mr. Van Horne began the publication of The Muscatine Tribune and subsequently purchased The Muscatine Courier, retaining the favorite name “Tribune’ for the joint publication. For a long period he did miscellaneous editorial work on both The Muscatine Tribune and Journal. Later he was an officer in The Muscatine News Company, serving as secretary of the company and editor-in-chief of the Muscatine Daily and Weekly News.

    Born in Springfield, Mass., Oct. 12, 1833, he came to Muscatine first in 1855. His wife was the former Miss Mary Morrow, daughter of Dr. J. G. Morrow, whom he married Sept. 15, 1895. His wife died in 1904.

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    “A new enterprise has been started in Wilton by William A. Russell of Chicago. He has leased the old flax mill in the southwest part of town and put in necessary machinery for a first class lard mill.” –Muscatine Journal, April 5, 1878.

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