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America's First Black Socialist

The Radical Life of Peter H. Clark

Nikki M. Taylor

Publication Year: 2013

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.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Front Cover

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pp. c-ii

TItle Page

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p. iii-iii

Copyright Page

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p. iv-iv


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pp. v-vi


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p. vii-vii

List of Illustrations

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p. viii-viii

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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 ...

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Chapter 1. Launching a Life

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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...

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Chapter 2. Voice of Emigration

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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...

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Chapter 3. Voice of Purpose

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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 ...

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Chapter 4. "The Silver Tongued Orator of the West"

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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 ...

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Chapter 5. Voice of Equality

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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 ...

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Chapter 6. Radical Voice

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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,...

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Chapter 7. Voice of Dissent

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pp. 154-170

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...

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Chapter 8. Voice of Betrayal

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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...

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Chapter 9. A Still Voice

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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 ...

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Chapter 10. "A Painted Lie"

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pp. 225-233

In early 1885, Peter Humphries Clark relayed his life story to Timothy Thomas Fortune, editor of the African American journal the New 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...

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pp. 234-237

The late Walter P. Herz, a lay historian living in Cincinnati, resurrected Pe-ter H. Clark. A member of Clark’s Unitarian church, Walter was complete-ly fascinated by the life Clark led, so he decided to tell the world about him. After retiring from another career, Walter spent more than ten years familiarizing himself with the literature, methods, and the discipline of ...


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pp. 238-290

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 291-295


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pp. 296-308

E-ISBN-13: 9780813140780
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813140773

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2013

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Subject Headings

  • Clark, Peter Humphries, 1829-1925.
  • Ohio -- Politics and government -- 19th century.
  • African Americans -- Ohio -- Politics and government -- 19th century.
  • African Americans -- Ohio -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
  • Political activists -- Ohio -- Biography.
  • African American political activists -- Ohio -- Biography.
  • Educators -- Ohio -- Biography.
  • African American educators -- Ohio -- Biography.
  • Socialists -- Ohio -- Biography.
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