The Doctor and The Cook
We are the Clarks. But Why? What’s behind the name? As various considerations were sifted in the quest for the origins of the African American Clarks of Selma, Alabama, it became evident that Dr. Courtney J. Clark was the logical starting point. Courtney J. Clark was born in Laurens District, South Carolina on Oct. 27, 1816. It is reported that he soon moved to Georgia where he first went to school.The motivations for the move and whom he moved with have not as yet been discovered. When he was 18 years old, he began his medical education by attending lectures at the Georgia Medical College. In 1843, he received his medical degree from the Louisville College of Medicine. The records state that he received another MD in 1844 from the Jefferson Medifcal College, located in Philadelphia, PA. He immediately established his first practice in Jacksonville, Alabama. Two years later, in 1846, he received an appointment as an assistant surgeon in the United States Volunteers and was attached to the First Alabama Regiment. One year later, he was promoted to surgeon and was assigned by President Polk to the famous Palmetto Regiment of South Carolina. In this capacity he participated in all the battles in the valley of Mexico receiving a gold medal from the state of South Carolina. Thus, it can be speculated that although he left South Carolina at an early age, he continued to maintain significant ties, especially political, to that area. In 1853, Dr. Clark married Nancy Walker Davis in Jacksonville, Alabama. He had met her there during the beginning of his medical practice. In 1861 he was commissioned a surgeon in the Confederate Army and at the special request of Governor Shorter of Alabama, he was placed in charge of the Alabama Hospital in Richmond. He was ordered to Montgomery in 1863 where he remained on hospital duty until the end of the Civil War in 1865. After the war, Dr. Clark returned to Selma and set-up what was to become a lucrative medical practice. His office was located at 21 Broad St, at the corner of Washington and Dallas Streets. Today the Telephone Company occupies that site. He was a member of the Selma and Alabama Medical Societies, later becoming chairman of the Selma Medical Society. It should be noted that in addition to being a successful physician, Dr. Clark was a skillful politician. Also, he was a prolific writer, publishing many articles that commanded national attention. His article on “Typhoid Fever in Alabama”, published in the New Orleans Medical Journal was particularly noteworthy and especially gave much beneficial information on that malady. An indication of his dedication to the welfare of Selma occurred while a member of the City Council. On October 10, 1873 he introduced a resolution banning any trains from coming to Selma during a yellow fever epidemic in Mobile. If the ban was ignored, the City Marshall was given the authority to tear up so much of the railroad tracks within the City of Selma corporate limits. Throughout the examination of what was written about Dr. Clark’s life it is certain that he was a multi-talented and perhaps highly driven individual. There are more layers of his character to be stripped away. He was elected to the Selma City Council on April 16, 1873 and re-elected June 4,, 1875-1877. During that four year period, he was deeply involved in helping to devise solutions to Selma’s financial problems. These problems were so severe that the City Charter’s future was in jeapordy. Instead of running for a third term for City Council, Dr. Clark ran for the School Board. He was elected to the Board June 12, 1879 and July 20, 1883 by acclamation. In 1885, he opted to run again for City Council.. He suffered an ignominious defeat. He received one vote, most likely his own. This was evidence that Selma’s citizens wanted him to remain on the School Board. A record of the city states, “In the fall of 1890 Selma’s City School Board was incorporated under its present organization. Dr. C. J. Clark was its first president. He was also Chairman of the Board of the Dallas Academy. He served in these capacities until his death.” Dr. Clark and his wife Nancy had one son, Percy and five daughters. One daughter, Julia Frances, was born in 1865 and died (Div 7, Lot 243) a spinster in 1933 at the age of 68. Another daughter Mary Lee was born Oct. 12 1864 and died August 23, 1870 at the age of six (Div 7, Lot 243).The fate of the three other daughters is unknown. However, history recorded that the son, P:ercy was secured in the cotton brokerage business. For a time he lived with the family at 21 Broad Street. Through these observations, we see the status of the Clark family at this time. Dr. Clark was well renowned in the community. He was intensely interested in civic affairs and was instrumental in creating the basis for the Selma Public School System. We now know that Dr. Clark had personal reasons for his develpment of that system. The following excerpt is taken from the “History of Selma”, p. 174: “As the reconstruction days drew to a close the City took a greater hand in some of its school affairs, particularly with Negroes. We have noted that the American Missionary Association held the title to the Negro School known as the Burrell Academy. The building was named for Jobez Burrell of Oberlin Ohio, who had contributed the largest sum. The Freedman’s Bureau gave a liberal donation to the building. was dedicated in May 1868 and the school started an operation at once. Later on the City School Board dealt with the American Missionary Association as it did with the Board of Trustees of the Dallas Academy. On January 1, 1877, the arrangements with the AMA were rescinded by the City Council. The City School Board leased the building from the AMA but the Board assumed exclusive control of the School itself. We shall see how other large Negro private schools outlived their usefulness in Selma and of their own accord withdrew in favor of the Selma Public Schools.” As previously outlined, Dr. Clark was president of the Selma School when the Burrell School was taken over the Selma Public Schools in 1877. Moreover he was presidentof the Dallas Academy where his daughter, Julia was a student from 1884-1885. Interestingly, immediately after the takeover of the Burrell School, the name was changed to the Clark School. There is another facet to Dr. Clark’s character. In addition to being a physician and politician who was applauded and esteemed by the white gentry, he was a proficient family man. In fact, he managed to raise two families in tandem on the same site. He appears to have been as energetic in his person life as he was in his professional and civic life. The truth is that in the Clark household, there was a cook. Her name was Mary Clark. In addition to her official job as listed in the Selma Census, Mary quietly bore Dr. Clark five children– three sons and two daughters. Together Nancy and Mary presented Dr. Clark with eleven children. This paradoxical state of affairs represents an open secret that seems to have been an accepted part of the Selma culture. The open secret did have its limitations. Nancy’s family records are more accessible to public scrutiny. Mary’s are more obscure. Therefore, the quest for specific and precise data will unfortunately contain many gaps. Mary’s five children were George, Fannie, Elizabeth, William and Jefferson. The focus here will be on William Frank Clark. William Frank Clark or “Billy”, as he was known, was born in 1859, seven years prior to his father, Dr. Courtney Clark, bringing his family to Selma. Billy was not the oldest child. That position in the birth order belongs to Geroge. Therefore, it can be assumed with some degree of confidence that if Billy was born in 1859, Dr. Clark married Nancy in 1853 and Billy is not the oldest child Dr. Clark began his association with Mary prior to or soon after his marriage to Nancy. Further, he brought both families to Selma, Alabama at the same time and co-existed on the same parcel of land, even thogh both women had finished having children. It was obvious that Dr. Clark had love and affection for Mary’s brood, as well as Nancy’s. Both sets of children had positive interactions. However there is no information about the personalities of Nancy and Mary or whether theirs was a harmonious or contentiuous relationship. Dr. Clark made a business arrangement for Nancy. Likewise, he financed a downtown barbershop for Billy. The barbershop was restricted to white clientele, only. Billy was also bequeathed a substantial parcel of land extending from Parkman to King Street in Selma, even though some of the land was later sold to pay for the childrn’s relocation. Billy maintained a close relationsihip with his white kinship. His younger half sister, Julia frances, born in 1865 (D7, L243) was epecially interested in his children. She and another unidentified half sister were highly distraught by his passing and visited his “lay-out” at 205 Parkman. Billy Clark had eleven children. They were born in approximate two-year intervals from 1884 to 1904 and they were in order, as follows: Dr. William Frank Clark, Jr., DDS (Maegene) – Mayme Clark Norris, R.N. – Grace Clark Taylor (Helen) – Augusta Clark Lewis (Ann) – Helen Ida Clark – Edwin Bracey Clark – Bessie Clark Burnett – Osceola Clark Brown – Mattie Clark Cason (David, August, Iris and Larry) – Ruby Clark Thornton (William, Joseph Benjamin Jr. Sybil Barbara and Oscie) Sidney Bryant Clark Esquire (Sidney Jr., Marilyn and William) All of Billy’s children attended Clark School. William, Jr. and Mayme were in the first class. Grace, for several years, taught at Clark School. The rest of the girls, except Mattie taught at various surrounding rural schools. As a part of his education, Bracey was taught at the age of eleven to be a barber. Sidney became an attorney, graduating from the Detroit College of Law. The Clark children were contemporaries of two other prominent black families in West Selma – the Williams and the Phillips. These three families formed the pillars of “Colored Society” during that early 1900 period. Their lifestyle mimicked the white gentry in spite of their allied master/servant affiliation, often with covert support. Additionally, the Clarks were a talented musical family and formed a family-style mandolin band. It is evident that they had close family bonds. However, these bonds, like the rest of society, diminished over time due to circumstances and as the family gradually left the south. Much of the movement north happened after World War I. Mayme continued her employment with the local Selma Negro hospital. Frank, J. married and set-up a successful dental practice in Opelika, Alabama. Grace married and immediately moved to Detroit. Helen, Bracey and Bessie soon followed. Augusta, who had married and moved to Pratt City, Alabama eventually moved to Detroit, also. Mattie married and left for Indianapolis, IN. Ruby studied at Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, Alabama and at Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia. While at Hampton, she visited her uncle Jeff’s home in Washington, DC. She later married and subsequently settled in DC. The search for racial freedom and economic opportunity took its toll on what had been a cohesive family group. Aunt Oscie was left in Selma to become the “communication center” and the catalyst for the resurrection of this family’sties. She worked for many years at the Selma Branch of the Atlanta Life Insurance Company. William Frank Clark, Sr, “Billy” died in 1927 from post-operative prostrate surgery. All of his children came to his funeral. There is another dimension to this search that relates to Billy Clark’s siblings. They were George who had no children; Frances had three children, Paulie, Katherine and Elizabeth; Elizabeth had no children; Jefferson Clark the youngest, had nine children- Walker, Lawson, Sister, Margaret, Emma, Minnie Carol and Willie.