In the United States, segregation was not deemed illegal until 1954 with Brown vs. Board
of Education. This decision overturned the ruling of Plessy vs. Ferguson (1896) that said racially
segregated facilities were legal.Segregation of schools in Iowa was outlawed in 1868, 28 years
before Plessy vs. Ferguson and 86 years before Brown vs. Board of Education. The
desegregation of schools in Iowa, can be linked to other progressive movements at the time. In
1851, Iowa legalized interracial marriage and in 1867 African American men were given the
right to vote(LibGuides at Drake University Law Library). A link between these events can be
seen through Alexander Clark.

Muscatine County Iowa

Alexander Clark was the father of Susan Clark, an African American girl who was denied
entry into Muscatine’s Second Ward Common School Number 2 in 1867. Through the actions
of her father, Susan Clark’s case was brought to the Iowa Supreme Court. However, Mr. Clark
was not just any Iowan. By the time of his daughter’s denial of entry into the school, Mr. Clark
was an avid activist. He had attended the 1853 National Colored Convention, helped found
Muscatine’s African Methodist Episcopal Church, petitioned Iowa’s Black Laws, and had fought
for black suffrage (Frese 2006). All these events in Mr. Clark’s fight for equality led up to the
fight for desegregation in schools. This was a fight he won, a year after his daughter was denied
entry the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that school boards are not allowed to deny students
admission based on race, nationality, or religion. Benefiting from this decision, Mr, Clark went
on to earn his law degree in 1879 and was appointed as the U.S. consul general to Liberia in
1890 (Frese 2006).

Father of Susan Clark and civil rights activist

Though Iowa outlawed segregation in 1868, it was a slow process towards change. A
1977 staff report, 109 years after segregation in schools was outlawed in Iowa, showed that of 33
Waterloo schools only 11 schools had black students in attendance(United States Commission on
Civil Rights…1977). Protests against segregation in schools were still happening over a century
after it was deemed illegal. In 1875, the Iowa Supreme court reaffirmed its previous decision
after cases of segregation in Keokuk’s schools were brought to court (LibGuides at Drake
University Law Library). The decision of Plessy vs. Ferguson from the U.S Supreme Court
would not help Iowa’s path towards inclusiveness. It took until 1952 for Waterloo county to hire
it’s first African American teacher (United States Commission on Civil Rights…1977).

Justice Chester Cole, author of the Clark decision.

Despite setbacks, such as the 1896 Supreme Court decision Iowa’s courts upheld
equality. De jure standards were in line with progressive viewpoints though de facto did not
always follow. Sixty-six percent of the African American students in the eleven integrated
schools in Waterloo, Iowa were attending schools with black majorities (United States
Commission on Civil Rights…1977). In 1966, African American teachers made up only 0.8
percent of the faculty(United States Commission on Civil Rights…1977). Though Iowa appears
progressive due to the dates laws were passed, statistics reveal that it took just as long as the rest
of the United States to integrate.