Alumna speaks on local civil rights

James Heggen

There’s more to history than you think.

Modupe Labode, Public Scholar of African American History and Museums at the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis campus, spoke about local stories from the civil rights movement – which aren’t discussed on a national level – in front of an audience of about 80 people in the Sun Room of the Memorial Union on Thursday night.

She spoke on two major topics: the struggle for the equal education of blacks and the protest of “Birth of a Nation.”

“From the beginning of the Iowa territory, white Iowans consciously excluded African-Americans from the school system,” she said.

Labode told the story of Susan Clark, a 12-year-old black girl from Muscatine. When Clark was growing up segregated schools were common. During this time, black men were not allowed to vote. Clark was the daughter of Alexender Clark Sr., a journalist, politician and landowner.

Clark, an activist for equal rights and conductor of an underground railroad, brought attention to inequalities in the school system.

Labode said the segregated schools were often too far away for black children to attend and resources available were unequal.

White teachers were paid a base salary of $700 per year while black teachers were paid between $150 and $200.

In 1867, Susan tried to enter “grammar school No. 2.”

“But she was turned away because it was a white-only school,” Labode said.

This resulted in the suing of the school board, she said. The case, Clark v. The Board of Directors-City of Muscatine, eventually went to the Iowa Supreme Court, where it was ruled in favor of Clark, Labode said.

Alexender Clark Sr. and Jr. eventually enrolled in the University of Iowa’s law school. Alexender Sr. eventually became a U.S. envoy to Liberia.

Labode also spoke about the movie “The Birth of a Nation,” which promoted white supremacy and prompted protests throughout the country, some of which were organized by the NAACP. In larger cities, the movie was permitted to play despite the protests, she said.

“In Iowa, these protests occurred at various levels,” she said.

George Woodson went to Davenport to fight against the movie.

S. Joe Brown, legal partner of Woodson, was the “architect” of an ordinance that banned “entertainment that stimulated racial prejudice,” she said.

In Waterloo, there was a petition to withdraw the movie, she said. The petition failed in the city where there had also been an attempt made at banning black citizens from swimming in the Cedar River.

“The mayor ignored the petition and the movie had a five-day run in Waterloo,” she said.