The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 107,022 black Americans with Clark as their last name. That represented 19% of the total of 562,679 entries.
This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Clark in the last three centuries.
We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.
Clark Before The Civil War
The 1850 census was the first to record all free members of households together. Before this, people who were not white were not named in the federal census.
In 1850, there was a box to enter color on the census. There were three categories: white, black, and mulatto. The third term is the language of the time, and I will use mixed in this article.
If you are researching your black Clark ancestors in census archives, be sure to check the two non-white categories. Do not assume that the people recording the information were always correct.
1850 Federal Census
There were 1,083 people named Clark who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 615 were recorded as mixed.
Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.
There was a total of 80,468 free citizens named Clark that year. There would be one more census in 1860 before the Civil War.
After The Civil War
The 1870 census was the first survey after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. All African Americans were included.
Those who were omitted in 1850 and 1860 because they were enslaved were now recorded.
14,287 people named Clark were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 2,358 as mixed.
There was a total of 142,784 people with the name.
Clark In The 1900 And 1940 Census
The mixed category was dropped in 1900, so we just need to look at the black numbers this time.
The 1900 census recorded 30,152 people with the last name Clark as black within a total of 220,831 that year.
By the way, the mixed category returned in the 1910 and 1920 censuses. It was dropped again in 1930, but replaced with extra categories for colored and non-white in a way that seems confusing now.
This changed again in 1940 and we can simply focus on one black category.
The 1940 census recorded 42,957 people named Clark as black within a total of 321,070.
Historic Black Figures With The Clark Surname
Here are some notable African American people in history with Clark as their last name.
- Born: 1826
- From: Washington, Pennsylvania
- Died: 1891
Alexander Clark was born to free parents in Pennsylvania. He opened a barbershop in Muscatine, Iowa, and set up a timber business.
Clark was an agent for Frederick Douglass’ North Star newspaper, and the men were lifelong friends. He campaigned for the right to vote which was given in Iowa in 1868.
When his daughter was refused admission to a local public school, he took his case to the Iowa Supreme Court. His win in 1867 resulted directly in the integration of Iowa schools.
Clark was a renowned speaker and an influential member of the Iowa Republican Party. After he moved to Chicago in the late 1880s, President Benjamin Harrison appointed him as ambassador to Liberia in 1890.
This made him the first African American ambassador. Unfortunately, he died of fever in Liberia the following year.
Other lawsuits against school segregation
Another black leader had taken similar action in Massachusetts. Benjamin Roberts sued the City of Boston on behalf of his daughter, but lost. This was the first anti-school segregation case in U.S. history.
Over one hundred years later, Althea Mills won a successful lawsuit in Polk County, Florida that led to school desegregation in the county.
- Born: 1898
- From: Charleston, South Carolina
- Died: 1987
Septima Poinsette was born in Charleston and had a strict upbringing.
She worked as a teacher in black schools and was spurred into activism by the gross inequality in pay with the white schools across the street ($85 versus $35 per week).
She married Nerie Clark, a submarine cook, in 1923. Septima Clark joined the NAACP in Charleston and campaigned for teacher equality.
She taught at the Booker T Washington High School for seventeen years. When she returned to Charleston, she became Vice President of the Charleston branch in 1956.
She was blackballed from teaching positions when she refused to cease her activism. Undeterred, Clarke established citizen schools with her cousin Bernice Robinson to teach adult literacy.
More than that, they taught adults how to register to vote. She also established activism workshops. Some notable attendees and staff were:
- Rosa Parks
- Ella Baker
- Andrew Young
The SCLC, Dr Martin Luther King’s organization, expanded Clark’s citizenship schools program across the South. Clark was the first woman to be appointed to the board of the SCLC.
Clark In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research. Here are examples of the Clark surname from three different military services:
- Buffalo soldiers
- Black civil war sailors
- Tuskegee airmen
Five regiments for black soldiers were formed during the Civil War. They were known as the Buffalo Soldiers.
Their records are part of the national archive of military monthly returns. The information includes the year and place of birth, where they enlisted, their occupation, and their height.
One of the earliest military entries for Clark was in November 1867. Mandenus Clark was a Private in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in November 1867 at Washington, D.C..
One of the later entries was in November 1914. Andrew Clark was a Saddler Sergeant in the Ninth Cavalry.
If you are researching military ancestors, there is a free index of these records on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org.
You have to create an account on either website, but you do not need to pay for the Buffalo Soldiers archive.
Black Civil War Sailors
The National Parks Service has a free archive of African American sailors during the Civil War.
The information includes their age, height, rank, occupation, and where and when they enlisted. It also includes every ship that they served on.
You can search the database on the National Parks website.
One of the earliest entries for Clark was for Harrison Clark from Lancaster, Kentucky. He enlisted in December 1862 at Lexington when he was aged 29.
The record shows that Harrison was assigned on July 1863 to the ship Neosho.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Carpenter. His naval rank was 2nd Class Fireman.
Firemen in the Navy worked in the engine room and with other machinery.
One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at Providence in August 1862. Charles was aged 28 and was from Providence, Rhode Island.
He was assigned to the ship Seminole on August 1865.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Fireman. His naval rank was Landsman.
“Landsman” was the lowest rank at the time and was given to recruits with little sea experience.
The Tuskegee Airmen were military personnel who served at the Tuskegee Army Airfield or related programs.
Nearly one thousand black pilots graduated from the Tuskegee Institute. The photograph above (from the Library of Congress) shows a class in session.
They flew single-engine fighter planes or twin-engine bombers. 352 fought in combat.
Herbert Clark graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in July 1942. He qualified as a fighter pilot. Herbert was from Pine Bluff, Arizona.