Peter Humphries Clark was born in Cincinnati, the son of a barber who could afford to send him to the private Gilmore High School in the absence of public schools. After his father died in 1849, Peter ran the barbershop for a brief time until the Ohio legislature authorized Black schools due mostly to the efforts of his uncle, John Isom Gaines.
Peter H. Clark then became the first teacher in the Black school but was fired in 1853 by the white Board of Education. During the next four years, Peter was an abolitionist writer and public speaker. He was appointed secretary of the 1853 National Convention of Colored Men, where he drafted a constitution of the National Equal Rights League. He also served as a conductor for the Underground Railroad.
In 1854, Clark married Francis Ann Williams and worked as a journalist until the Black trustees of the colored school rehired him as the principal of the Western District School in 1857. While in Cincinnati, he also founded a union for Black teachers and, at some point, received a master’s (A.M.) degree from Wilberforce University.
Clark became principal of Gaines High School in 1866, a post he held for 20 years until he was fired on political grounds. He left Cincinnati in 1887 to serve as principal of the Alabama State Normal and Industrial School and, in 1888, he went to St. Louis to teach at the segregated Sumner High School for the next twenty years.
Clark was an abolitionist who aided escaped slaves and free Blacks charged with being runaways. He later became the first Black socialist to run for Congress in the United States in 1878.
Peter and Francis had three children, daughters Ernestine and Consuelo, and son Herbert. His legacy is one of Ohio’s most influential Black abolitionist writers and speakers. For his accomplishments, he was named the nation’s primary Black public school educator. He is also the namesake of the Clark Montessori School in Hyde Park.
The First 28, graciously sponsored by the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, celebrates Black Cincinnatians who were the first in their fields. Each day during Black History Month, we will celebrate athletes, artists, business leaders, civil rights activists, educators, physicians and politicians.
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